Thursday, July 10, 2014

15 Things To Know If You're Friends with a Writer

Yes, we are different. So are you.

1. We don't all write books. Some of us do. Others write ad copy, webicles, columns, poetry and the like. If I had written "Just do it," I'd be blogging from somewhere in Kaua'i, with my toes in the sand and a liveried servant bringing me tall, rummified tropical drinks with umbrellas in them.

2. Writing is work. If you think all we do is lounge around and pick up a pen when we get a great notion, think again. Ask a reporter who has a few minutes to dash off 500 words. Term papers were a walk in the park compared to this. Although we don't wield pickaxes, after a few hours of agonizing over a short story, we are fried. And so you would be.

3. "Will you put me in one of your stories?" No.

4. We notice things. It might be the wrinkle of a nose or the cranky sound of a beat-up Pinto. We will use it all. Or not. I recently copied a friend's appearance as a model for a character in a short story. She was flattered.

5. "My cousin's husband writes poetry." Swell.

6. We are pretty much like you. Not all writers wear berets and chug absinthe in an atelier on La Rive Gauche. We need charcoal for our grills, have thimble collections and emit flatus. But what we do might be more intense and personal than your job.

7. We get paid for this. A far-from-BFF acquaintance once asked me to pen a cover letter. I quoted her a price. When she got her panties in a knot, I said, "You work for the cable company. Can I get a free box for my sunporch?"

8. Yes, we bristle at bad grammar. It's our nature. Words are our currency, our Linus blanket, our friends. If we write, "They should have went elsewhere ..." an editor might have our heads on a platter. Or force us to watch Swamp Bachelors. So when you speak or write in this fashion, it raises flags. Like white socks with a tuxedo.

9. Not all writing is "fancy." Neil Peart of Rush has 387 drums and plays them loud and fast. He's not the best drummer. Pick up anything by Elmore Leonard. You won't need a dictionary. And you will be enthralled.

10. When we use an unpopular word, there's a reason. Sometimes will agonize over a single adjective. So, a weak descriptor like "pretty" becomes stronger with "winsome." Once, a woman slapped me because I said "milieu." It was the exact word I wanted to use in the situation. And she hit hard, too.

11. This gets to us. Perhaps we are moodier, more introspective or more fragile than, say, mechanics. But we are both trying to fix a Bentley. Bear with us. Most writers—heck, just about all truly creative people—I know have poured their lives into what they do. This path is not for everybody.

12. "What are you reading?" Sometimes nothing, especially if I'm in the midst of a major project. My brain just gets too tired. A Yuengling or two will do. But we read people you read. With the possible exception of some of the white-zinfandel writers. If you want to delve into some serious writerly writing, try Don DeLillo.

13. No, you can't read what we're working on. It isn't done yet. When we make love, we usually undress. Yes, I trust my WIHL (woman I hopelessly love) with snippets. If we do share something with you, we need a reaction.

14. Yes, the rewards are fabulous. There is no joy I have experienced that even touches on the frisson I feel when I truly reach a reader. An ex-con once told me (early in my career) to drop everything in my life and keep writing. A dear cousin—whom I have met just once—said she feels she knows me after reading my scribbles. You can't replace this.

15. "I always wanted to be a writer." To quote the great H. L. Mencken, "Go write."