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Bad Advice

Bad Advice Wednesday: The Memory Game, Redux

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Bill and friends, August, 1972#


One of the many curious things about the act of writing is the way it can give access to the unconscious mind. And in the hidden parts of consciousness lie not only hobgoblins and neurotic glimmers, but lots of regular stuff, the everyday stuff of memory. The invisible face of your grade school bully is in there, somewhere, and the exact smell of the flowers on vines in your grandma’s Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Keeping Happy and Healthy on Tour

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Last book tour I found myself getting depressed at times, a dark feeling overcoming me.  I’ve talked with a number of friends including Dave who have felt the same: you’re alone out there, and the great events (big turnouts, smart media, a feeling of partnership with your hosts) don’t always balance out the inevitable bad ones (Oh! We forgot you were coming!).  But also, may I repeat: you’re alone.  Alcohol, as always, is helpful and harmful in equal measure.  Food, the same.  Even a great meal and martini alone for the fifth night in a row is no boon.  But neither is an ascetic sandwich and early to bed.  Up at dawn! To the airport!  To the next city! Find the hotel! Grab a shower, and with luck a nap!  Find the bookstore or college or library! And then: it’s show time!  And repeat. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Tear Through That Second Half

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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vintage manuscript

I’ve been talking to several friends who are in the same spot as me–a novel or other book maybe half finished, 150 or 200 pages under the bridge (and awaiting revision), and that feeling of slowing down, of weeks turning into months, and months starting to look like years.  My big idea, which I’ve often done with shorter work, is this: I’m just going to bust out a very rough pile of pages, get myself to a (no doubt tentative) end, then go back and really write. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Do Something For Someone Else (from the archives)

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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How to get published, how to get an agent, how to be a better writer, these are all high on the list of common questions we get asked here at Bill and Dave’s.  Where there’s not a bit of desperation in the question there is often anger, and where the anger has faded there’s sometimes sadness, maybe a whiff of self-pity.  Or is that me, feeling all those things no matter where the writing takes me, often in equal measure with pleasure, even elation (but that comes most often in the making, sitting at my desk alone, lovely, soon to be dashed).  What I’m proposing today is forgetting about our own careers (or lack) and thinking about what we can do for others, what we can do to make the world a more hospitable place for art, and for artists, which is to say for writing and writers.  Doing for others may be your key to success, and is certainly the key to happiness.  Herewith, 30 suggestions for writers, and an invitation to suggest more.  Karma, anyone? Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Need a Job? Be a Writer First

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Do not listen to this man…

Oh, I’ve seen such anguish on FB and elsewhere about the thin market in college jobs for writers.  More jobs will turn up, of course, and somewhere, right now, someone’s writing up a job description that sounds a lot like you.  But that September job list really is depressing. Then again, if you’ve set out to be a writer, why let the job statistics for teachers bother you?  Yes, you need a way to make money, but what difference does it make how you get there, if the whole point is to buy time to write? Continue reading →

Bad Advice All-Stars: Lose the Suitcase!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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There is almost nothing more frightening for a writer than the idea of losing one’s work. This used to mean losing one’s work physically when, say, your house burned down.  (I actually remember reading, and following, the advice of another writer who suggested placing final drafts wrapped in plastic in the freezer, where they might survive a fire.)  Of course the world has changed and now the anxiety is focused more on forgetting to hit SAVE or having your computer crash. Here at Bill and Dave’s its been an anxious few days as we try to recover lost posts, but we consider ourselves lucky not to have lost the entire content as both of us do our final revisions on line.


But that’s not the kind of loss I want to talk about today. While there is nothing more frightening than losing your work, for the development of a writer it is not always a bad thing.  The most famous story in this regard was that of Hemingway and his wife Hadley.  As the tale goes, Hadley was on a train to Spain and lost the suitcase containing many of Hemingway’s earliest short stories.  And as the tale goes, narrated of course by Hemmingway himself, our macho hero greeted this news with stoicism.  (Why is it that I imagine there might have been a temper tantrum or two?)  Of course he was devastated, but later he could look back and see this tragedy as less of one, as in fact an opportunity to grow beyond his apprentice work. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday All Stars: Write a Fan Letter!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Actual Photo


Let us start with Robert Browning’s fan letter to Elizabeth Barrett, January, 1845:

“I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart — and I love you too. Do you know I was once not very far from seeing — really seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning ‘Would you like to see Miss Barrett?’ then he went to announce me, — then he returned . . . you were too unwell, and now it is years ago, and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels, as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel or crypt, only a screen to push and I might have entered, but there was some slight, so it now seems, slight and just sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be?” Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday Greatest Hits: Finding Time to Write

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Two missives this week, one from WriterMom, the other from Jean Witlow in Corvallis, Oregon, with very close to the same question.  WriterMom: “I teach four sections of composition at two different colleges, and have three kids, 6-8-12.  My husband is deceased.  I write an infrequent column for the local paper.  But that’s it for writing.  I want to know how to get my book written when I have no time and never will.”  She goes on to describe the book (almost a pitch—first advice: don’t do that—you come off like an infomercial or a flight attendant).  And it sounds good, a memoir of her husband and the risk taking that finally killed him.  Next, with as little punctuation as possible, Jean Witlow says, “Here I am finally with my MFA and my book basically written it was my thesis but needs some work and I’m goingcrazy because I can’t work on it half the time and I get a whole day and just sit there and don’t even write.  Very depressing, so I avoid it.” Continue reading →

My Shadow Syllabus

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns

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  1. I’ll tell you exactly how to get an A, but you’ll have a hard time hearing me.
  2. I could hardly hear my own professors when I was in college over the din and roar of my own fear.
  3. Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.
  4. I had bookmarked a citation for that fact, and now I can’t find it anywhere.
  5. The only way to seek knowledge is to open your hands and let your opinions drop, but that requires even more fear. Continue reading →