Writing Tip #6 – Delicious Words

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

Delicious words. My friend Susan Fletcher is a beautiful writer. And she says that every manuscript, every story deserves its very own bag of delicious words. Words that each character loves to say. Words that activate the story. Words that make the reader smarter and richer for having read them.

Thinking Out Loud* – Planned Obsolescence

I can’t remember the exact moment I first heard those two words—Planned Obsolescence—put together. It was a while ago. The Eighties? Probably when something (printer? dishwasher? vacuum?) broke and I learned it was cheaper to throw out the broken thing and replace it with a newer thing because it cost less and was more available than a part to fix the old broken thing.

Planned Obsolescence. What is it? According to numerous sources on the internet, it is “a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials.”

I had no idea it was an actual policy. It seems incredibly stupid and wasteful, doesn’t it?

Where did it start?

I have a theory.

Thor Power Tool v. Commissioner

A few years ago, I wrote a four-part article for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog Cynsations about books going out of print. While researching it, I learned that there was a Supreme Court decision in 1979 (Thor Power Tool v. Commissioner) which ruled that all inventory is taxable at the same rate. Thor argued that old inventory should be deducted for tax loss because it was deducted for accounting purposes. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Commissioner (the Internal Revenue Service) basically saying that back stock could not be taxed at a lesser rate unless it was proved defective.

This decision had a devastating effect on the book publishing industry. Essentially it made it more expensive for publishers to carry poor selling inventory from year to year. As a result, publishers cut print runs to minimize inventory and decided more quickly to dispose of books before the end of the fiscal year. Books had to earn their keep. Publishers had to work harder to justify the bottom line of books staying in print. Authors often had to choose between promoting their books in print, writing their next one or trying to do both.

Books aren’t the only industry affected by this decision. Consider vacuum cleaner parts for the vacuum you purchased five years ago. Or the dishwasher? Or the printer you simply replaced because it was more expensive to replace a broken printer head. Consider every time you want to get something repaired and the person behind the counter says, “It would be cheaper to buy it new.”

I’m a small cog in this big wheel of life but it seems to me this 1979 decision should be challenged in the name of climate health, in the name of intellectual health, in the name of good sense. Do we really want to continue to be a disposable society? Do we want to stop making well-made things? Do we want to disenfranchise repair people? Do we want books to go out of print after an average of five years?

The Value of Books

Books provide the narrative of our lives. They document us. They remind us of where we have been. They give us a glimmer of what’s possible. Planned Obsolescence is like manufacturing amnesia. Planned obsolescence is a kind of censorship. If as George Santayana says, “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” then I wonder if this policy condemns us to living in a land with burgeoning landfills and intellectual memory loss.

 

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was a late talker. The walking talking tribe of my older sisters and my parents were paragraphs and sentences ahead of me when I arrived. I was hesitant to speak up, to think out loud. I thought I had to be perfect. Hah!  This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud. 

Writing Tip #5-Tell Yourself The Story

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click Here

 

“Someday, I need to write Stephen King a letter and tell him how much I love his craft book ON WRITING.I remember I came to it with trepidation. Like he was going to-what?-scare me into writing by saying mean and horror-filled edicts to the tender hearted writer. Uh, no. It’s a wonderful book. It feels like he leans toward the writer reading his book and says, “hey this is how I did it. It worked for me. Try it.” One of his counsels that I quote the most often is: Tell yourself the story. That’s the first draft. I love that bit of advice. Tell yourself the story. That’s the first draft.”

Thinking Out Loud*- Triggers

Last week, I was in a meeting where all the participants were asked to take a test survey and give our responses to it. The survey administrators wanted to know if the questions were clear or confusing.

The issue of triggers came up. One person said: “Some of the questions kind of triggered me.” While I was wondering what questions provoked that response and why? Another person said, “I have to say I appreciate triggers because it tells me there is something there for me to work on.”

I thought about this exchange a lot. And the notion of trigger warnings. Do we need to warn people when content is violent or sexual? Do we need to sanitize our language so that no one is emotionally provoked? Is it a good idea that newscasts warn us when footage might be disturbing? Have movie and television ratings limited our viewing and storytelling abilities or made us more responsible for our content choices?

When I worked as a journalist, we knew the papers and news stations whose ethic was: If it bleeds, it leads. They knew shock sells. They knew the people who slow down and rubber neck at auto accidents are the people that want to see those new stories. I have to say the choices of those news organizations felt demeaning to me as if I wasn’t interested in the causes and results of the accidents.

I used to believe that it is okay to lace a character’s language with profanity if it is the way that character expresses themselves. I used to believe that if sexual exploration is part of a character’s desire line then that character’s sexual exploits had to be part of the plot. Now I hesitate. I worry. I equivocate. Does writing for young people mean I should disinfect the world for them? Or does writing for young people place a greater responsibility on being honest and writing true characters? (Full disclosure: my novel EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN could probably have “TRIGGERS INSIDE” slapped on the cover.)

I recently received a critique note on a middle grade novel which asked “Do you think this character’s view of nursing homes might be a trigger for people who had family members die in nursing homes during CO-Vid?” As much as I wanted to say ‘fuck it’ to the note, I considered it. Ultimately, I kept the character’s bombastic view intact. She ninety-two. She’s seen a thing or two. And she’s highly opinionated.

Where I land is the word ‘gratuitous.’ If the language or the sex is not a part of the story or the character’s life and story and only serves to shock, then either I cut it or I have to take another look at ways to make the language or the scene deepen the world of the story. It’s all about serving story.

But here’s the thing: as writers, I do not think it is our job to cleanse the world for our readers or viewers. I do not think any art should be decontaminated for potential triggers. I do think it is the readers and the viewers responsibility to look deeper when a character or a story or a line of dialogue evokes a memory or thought that feels awkward or uncomfortable. I do think that when we sterilize our fictional worlds, we rob the reader of asking the important questions like what did that film, piece of music, book make me feel and why?

 

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was a late talker. The walking talking tribe of my older sisters and my parents were paragraphs and sentences ahead of me when I arrived. I was hesitant to speak up, to think out loud. I thought I had to be perfect. Hah!  This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud. 

Writing Tip #4-Lower Your Expectations

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

“My friend Brian Yansky always gets a laugh when he is asked: how do you get a first draft done? And he says, I keep my expectations low. I used to want to disagree with him. No Brian, your writing has to be good. You have to be inspired. You have to—Yeah, right. Get the words on paper. Commit to showing up on the page. And yeah, no great expectations. Sometimes 1500 words that need editing and shaping are better than no words.”