ABNER!!! Are You a Gladys Kravits?

Do you remember her, that strident, snoopy busybody who lived across the street from Darren and Samantha Stevens on the old TV show,  Bewitched? She shrieked at her poor, long-suffering ol’ hubs, Abner, reporting every tidbit of odd goings-on, then likely as not, she’d go snoop in the Stevens’ mailbox, or kitchen, or hall closet.

They call me Gladys Kravits. “They” being my husband and daughters. Why? Because I notice what happens in our neighborhood. I observe. I speculate. Sometimes I call the police. (Like at 4 a.m. when prowlers were snooping around the beauty salon next door.) A year or so ago, I watched while police raided the house across the street. They strung up crime scene tape then brought in cadaver dogs. In fact, I’ve seen more people arrested out of that one house in a few months than I’d seen in my whole life. Thank God the landlord finally stopped renting his rather new, perfectly nice house to meth-heads. Maybe he got tired, cleaning and repairing his property every time the newest tenant got hauled off the pokey. . . about every two or three months.

Being called Gladys Kravits is an insult. She was a nosy, shrill, and intrusive neighbor who caused problems and created strife. I do not go into my neighbor’s yard and peek in their windows or sneak into their homes. When I’m invited into their homes, I do not pilfer in their cupboards and closets or ask inappropriate questions. I’m not nosy. I’m curious.

I admit to eavesdropping at restaurants or gatherings. I’ve garnered some great dialog and tidbits for stories doing that. I also people-watch and study body language. I speculate, speculate, speculate. I might want to know what peculiar thing that is you have on your front lawn, or where your ancestors came from, or why you hate your job, or why you’re afraid of spiders, or if twins run in your family or where you bought your car. I’d probably ask you these things given the opportunity. Does that make me nosy? No, I’m curious.

I might like to know (but would never ask) any of the following: what is that peculiar thing you have on your nose, why have you been married four times, do you color your hair, how much did you pay for that new car and why did you buy it when you complain about how little money you have, and why did you name your baby girl after a city in Texas? (Fort Worth seems like such a strange name for a little girl) Don’t worry. I won’t ask. How many times must I say it: I’m curious, not nosy.

Nosiness has no boundaries; it seeks to judge and condemn. It can create shame and resentment. There is nothing positive to be gained from being nosy. If you are a writer, you need to be curious, always. Curiosity sparks imagination. It leads to investigation and discovery. It prompts “what-ifs” and eventually shapes a story that keeps readers turning the pages. 

If you’ve done a good job priming reader curiosity, and if you offer them a satisfying end of the story, they’ll eagerly await your next book, curious as to what new tale you will unfold for them.

Stockpiles in the Warehouse

Maybe I’ve been writing too long, or maybe I’m just grumpy, but I have little patience with writers who write one piece then sit on their hands, waiting to be accepted or rejected before moving forward. If someone really wants to be successful in whatever line of work he or she chooses, taking one step toward that goal, then sitting down on the chosen path to wait is foolish.

If you write, do not stop at one story, poem or article. As soon as you’ve queried or submitted work, get started on your next piece. When an editor likes what you’ve done, they will want to see more of your work. It’s nice if you have something ready to offer. Waiting until you write and edit a new story gives that editor time to forget all about you.

Next year I will have at least five books coming out. And why is that? Because I kept writing, even when rejections  piled up. The stockpile in my warehouse is now selling. I recommend you forget “waiting to hear” and start your own stockpile, right now.

One Reason You Might Be Blocked

I’ve found if you can’t make the story work, there’s a good reason: you’re forcing something that isn’t supposed to happen. Sure, you want your character to take that road over there where it’s all wide and clean and nice sign posts along the way so she doesn’t get lost, but instead she looks over her shoulder and spots a shadowy path, full of holes and rocks. She can’t see more than a few feet of it and she wants to go to it. You shove her toward the road, and she digs in her heels. You try to haul her with every ounce of strength you own. It’s like dragging an elephant uphill by its toenail. STOP IT! Let go and let her have her way. Forcing your story to cooperate with you makes writing an unpleasant drudgery. If that’s what you want, go mop the floor.

The Best Place to Write

Ah yes! The perfect writing spot. A mountaintop overlooking rivers and valleys. Or along a rugged shoreline where the ocean spews its powerful mists. For someone else, the penthouse view in a bustling city is ideal. Perhaps you prefer the dark, mysterious quiet of the forest. Any or all of these spots is perfect for writing. In fact, when we close our eyes and imagine our ideal writing space, more than likely one of the above images come to mind.

In reality many of us write in less than ideal places, surrounded by family, pets, noise and clutter. We may write at the dining room table. Or a little corner of our bedroom. Some might have a writing nook in the basement where we never see the light of day. There are those of us who are lucky enough to have our own office, away from distractions.

I once had my own writing space: a spare bedroom which I turned into a lovely office, complete with bookshelves, a nice desk, a stereo, and a big, south-facing window. I got a tremendous amount of work done in there. Then my mother, God rest her soul, shamed me into turning that space into a bedroom for my younger daughter – who by the way, really, really did not want to sleep in it by herself and preferred sharing a room with her sister. That was 25 years ago, and I’ve never had my own writing space since.

I miss an office of my own, where no one else’s clutter-piles hide my works-in-progress, or where my computer isn’t “borrowed” for half a day, or where I can find my pens and paperclips and dictionary without a search party.

I write where I can find a place to park myself. And guess what? I’m still productive. An office isn’t absolutely necessary, though it would be lovely to have. I would get a lot more work done in my designated space, and I would probably be a more pleasant person to be around. However, I haven’t let lack of privacy, space or convenience stop me. And you shouldn’t let it stop you, either. Don’t wait for the ideal conditions before you start writing. If you do, you may never begin.

Spoiled Characters Stink

When the temperature is not 110 in the shade with humidity at 99%, I enjoy walking. I have a nice 3.5 miles mapped out that gives me shade and sun, hills and level areas, and plenty of interesting bits and pieces to observe as I walk. I don’t know about you, but when I’m walking, all kinds of ideas come into my head. Most of them end up relating to writing in some way.

This morning, as I walked, I saw kids trekking to school. Some had to walk several blocks, some came in on a bus, and I watched one mom drop her child off then drive about a block and pull into her own driveway. Seeing that roused an old memory from my own school bus riding days. The bus dropped off a brother and sister at the end of their driveway less than 200 feet from their front door. During the winter, and on rainy days, their mother would meet them in the car and drive them that tiny distance to the house. It probably took longer to get them in the car than it would just to let them walk to the house. I lived a couple miles farther along the road. The bus did not take me to the driveway. I disembarked where the highway and our old dirt road intersected, then I walked to the house. Even if my folks weren’t at their jobs, I doubt they would have picked me up on rainy days. I had galoshes, a rain hat and a raincoat. Those other kids were spoiled. I thought it then, and I still think so.

So what does this have to do with writing, you ask. Sometimes we spoil our characters. We pick them up and tote them across the mud puddles where they might get dirty, or we provide them safe passage across an icy path where they might fall and get hurt. We tuck them safely and snugly in our warm, comfy vehicle and transport them exactly where we want them to go, and guess what? They haven’t learned how to go through mud and clean themselves up afterward, or learned where to step to avoid falling on the ice. In fact, they are dull and impassive and no one wants to read about them.

 

If feedback from readers tell you that your characters are dull and lifeless, maybe you’ve spoiled them. Let them make that trek on their own, allow them to be covered it grit and slime, let them fall and bust their bottoms and/or dignity. Step back and let them grow up.