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Bad Advice

Bad Advice Wednesday: Don’t Believe What You Think

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Actual photograph

Actual photograph of Jesus dancing with the Disney kids

A great place for a personal essay to start is with a long-cherished belief.  Like that vitamin C helps colds, or that Jesus wasn’t married, or that the ocean is too vast to harm, or that such-and-such a writer is great or horrible, or that such-and-such type of music is boring, or that such-and-such city sucks.  And on and on. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Avoid Literary Postpartum Depression

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vintage manuscriptSo for weeks, months, maybe years you have been pushing toward the end of the book you are writing. It has been your main goal, your driving purpose. Not a few times each day you fantasize about being done.  What could be better?  It sounds like heaven.


And this morning, miracle of miracle, you have finally finished. You’re done!  Maybe you will drink some  champagne and tell some people and try to make an occasion of it. But maybe you also feel, instead of elation, a kind of depression setting in. Immediately. What the hell is this?


What is the root of this strange depression? It is emptiness. It turns out that all this time, even when you were griping about it and dreaming of the end, this book was keeping you full. And while you thought there was nothing you wanted more than to be done with the book, without it your life feels empty.  The  book has filled  up your days, even if you only work on a it for a couple of hours in the morning. And even if you don’t know you are, you are Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Need a Job? Be a Writer First (from the archives)

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 Wednesday: Fifteen Things for When the World is Shitty and Terrifying

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns

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Laquan MacDonald was seventeen and murdered by a Chicago police officer in cold blood. I watched a video of his murder, along with most of America, right in between reading about how Americans are terrified of letting refugees from war-torn Syria into the country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, and now hearing about San Bernadino.

I can’t think of anything else to say that hasn’t already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and shitty and unfathomable all of those things are. I can’t. I don’t have the words for that today. So instead, here are fifteen things that you can do to make your world just the tiniest bit less shitty and terrible.

Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Walk a Mile in their Shoes

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Ooh, those people and groups and activities and works of art and parts of the country and professions and foods and music and movies we hate.  Musicals!  Someone said to me recently, just the one word, meaning how awful.  But I like musicals.  Always have.  And here’s an acquaintance assuming I agree with her–because who in their right mind wouldn’t?  These days I’m always ready to answer with the truth, and did, trying to sound affronted: “I like musicals.”  I like lots of stuff that you don’t like.  That doesn’t make me crazy.  Anyway, bad advice for writers this week is to like something you hate.  Danny Kaye movies?  Sushi?  HipHop?  Camping?  Cats? Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Make Your Own Work

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Movies

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Vasilios Cray

Vasilios, cast and crew, Sixty Grades of Cray


Last November, I directed a movie from a script I had written.


I wrote the damn thing- a comedic short meant to send up trashy literature-  two years ago, then was at a loss for how to produce it.  The actor I wrote it for moved across the country.  I shelved it to focus on my own acting endeavors.  After appearing in dozens of indies, industrials, and commercials, I wrote and acted in another short and learned a bit about bringing people together.  Continued to act, but the work dried up.  Grew despondent and looked for a way to kick the millstone feelings.  Started listening to a podcast featuring an array of names from the entertainment industry.  They all said the same thing: “make your own work.”  A local actor doing just that inspired me and I was resolved.  And who would direct?  “I’ll direct it,” I declared, surprising myself most of all.

Bad Advice Wednesday: One Sentence on Getting Back to Work, September Style

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Like Daughter Like Father

I still get that September back-to-school feeling about now, even though I’m not teaching anymore, that feeling of gearing up, getting ready, pencil boxes and notebooks and ink for the fountain pen (I started grade school in 1958), a dog to walk you to school Norman Rockwell style, maybe even a lamb, as in Mary had a Little, all with a stout resignation—summer might not be over, but the time to work is here, the time to stack projects like cordwood, the time to make those calls, finish that book, wake the slumbering beasts, polish an apple or two, look out for the red-haired girl, be a writer at the desk and not so much a writer at the beach, a writer who’s gonna get it done, and get it done, and get it done, then ask for more. Continue reading →

Good Advice Thursday: Authors, Keep your Copyrights!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Most agents and many writers know to strike any clause in a contract that gives away copyright, but not all. Here, from the Author’s Guild (which you might want to join if you’re not already a member) is the straight poop on a terrible practice that seems to be growing.  And ask your university press to cut it out. You can also read it here, on the Author’s Guild website. [Used by permission.]

Authors should not assign their copyrights to publishers. As our Model Contract emphasizes:

“CAUTION: Do not allow the publisher to take your copyright or to publish the copyright notice in any name other than yours. Except in very unusual circumstances, this practice is not standard in the industry and harms your economic interests. No reputable publisher should demand that you allow it to do so.” Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Summer Writing

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Americans who weren’t rich started taking vacations before the civil war, and by the turn of the 20th Century, the middle class vacation had been perfected to an art form.  Already at that time there were newspaper articles and library recommendations for summer reading, and already the summer reading recommendations were for fiction, preferably light, plot-driven, no “heavy biographies.”  But let me propose something I’ve been trying to perfect into an art form: summer writing. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: A Lot at a Time

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Okay, this one is the opposite of last week’s Bad Advice, “A Little at a Time,” in which I suggested celebrating incremental writing, since that’s mostly what we get time for.  “We” being we humans…  But let’s say you’ve got a novel started, or other book (or really any project humans get involved in, though hold off on the mass killings, please)… At some point, it’s going to be time to blast out a rough draft.  So accrete as you will, but when you’re well in, I suggest a draft vacation. Continue reading →