Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Best and Worst Things about Being a Writer

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately, possibly because I’m set to begin work on my fourth installment in the Alison Bergerson mystery series. I already have a title—“Extra Credit”—so that’s a start. My editor and I are usually throwing around words and phrases long after the manuscript has been submitted and approved, hoping to land on that one turn of phrase that will pique a reader’s interest. The third novel—out in December of this year—will be called “Quick Study” and many thanks to my friend Kelly, optometrist extraordinaire, who came up with that one.

I’ve also been thinking about the things I like the most about writing and some of the things that I’m not so crazy about and have compiled a list. Here are my top three:

1. My home office: One of the best things about being a writer? My home office. One of the worst things about being a writer? My home office. Being able to amble up to the third floor and sit at my pine table and work away for the day is really a blessing; I’m here to ship the kids off to school and here when they come home (is it three o’clock ALREADY?). But truth be told, I haven’t really left that attic space to do anything approaching physical activity in a really long time. I had a friend over the other night for a glass of champagne (no occasion; I think drinking champagne should make its way into the normal and mundane days just as often as it makes its way into the celebratory and exciting ones) who is a personal trainer. I asked her her secret to having abs that you could bounce a quarter off of. Apparently, scientists haven’t invented a secret pill since I stopped exercising that will guarantee you abs like my friend’s. Her advice? Eat less fat, cut out the Chardonnay, watch your carb intake, and take a brisk walk every day. My advice? Personal Trainer Friend, do not ever set foot in my house again. That solves that.

2. Talking about writing: One of the best and worst things about being a writer is talking about writing. I love talking to other writers, hearing their secrets, bouncing ideas off of them. I like how a great conversation about writing can get the juices flowing for everyone involved. I admire other writer’s work ethics, their ability to write through writer’s block, and how they turn a phrase. What I do not enjoy is people asking me what it takes to be a writer or when they devalue what writers do. Usually the people asking me about writing discuss the excuses they have for not writing first: “I have a full-time job,” (me, too); “I have kids,” (got two of my own); “I have a great idea for a novel but am way too busy to write,” (join the club). But you know what? Just like there’s no secret pill to having rock hard abs, there is no secret pill that will allow you to sit down and write a novel. It’s hard work and requires a bit of skill. And if you want to write, you have to write (just ask my fellow Stiletto-ites). Nothing will get in your way. Let’s revisit this in nine months when novel #4 is due, the abs are still the consistency of Jello, and I’m really cranky. Make sure you’re not the person I run into at the grocery store who announces to me that writing is easy, they have a book in them (that’s gotta hurt), and after they’re done, they’d love to have me edit it for them.

3. Book reviews: Good reviews? The best thing about writing. Bad reviews? Do I even have to answer that? A good review will make my day. The birds will sing, I’ll make cornbread from scratch—just because!—and I will be whistling a happy tune. But get my day started with reading a bad review and I’ll turn into a beast that should only show its face during the full moon. Why do I let reviews—both good and bad—affect me like this? I don’t like everything I read and I don’t have to. Neither should anyone else out there (and I’m thinking of those reviewers on Amazon for whom one-star is a rave). There’s some kind of saying involving not believing the good reviews or the bad reviews and all will be well, but I haven’t been able to listen to this sage advice and continue on this roller coaster of emotion for the few months after I publish one of my novels.

The best thing I’ve done in the past several months related to writing is visiting the book club at my husband’s school. This group is comprised of about ten teachers who read and discuss the chosen book at length. They have just finished “Extracurricular Activities” and we had a spirited discussion about the book, mysteries, and writing in general. It was a fabulous evening, with some of the best refreshments I have ever seen at a book club. (Braised short ribs? Potatoes au gratin? Asparagus? I guess I’ll work all of those butter-filled calories off at some point but for today, I am salivating just thinking about that meal. Don’t tell Personal Trainer Friend—who, incidentally, I adore—she’ll have me in exercise boot camp before long.)

But since this is a combo best/worst list, I can’t leave out the part of the evening that will live in infamy: I got up to say goodbye to an old friend, tripped in my new high heeled giraffe-print shoes and took a header into the dessert table. I don’t think that even having perfectly sculpted abs and a killer rear end would have kept me upright or from grabbing the Shop teacher’s leg in an effort to ward off a head wound.

Even though it was the worst thing for me, I’m going to hope that that was the best thing about the book club meeting for the book club members. Because, let’s face it, how many times do you get to have the writer at your book club AND see her do a face plant?

Maggie Barbieri

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