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Bad Advice

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

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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

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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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 →

Bad Advice Wednesday: A Little at a Time

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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A few years back--can we do it again?  Yes.

A few years back–can we do it again? Yes.

Every year it’s the same–I look out over my garden and wonder how on earth I’m going to get it ready and then planted in time to have any chance of food from it at all.  And every year, an hour here and five minutes there, a morning next week and an hour last week, the thing gets done.  And all the other things.  Including, like, parenting.  And novels. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Naming is Knowing

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I always noticed it in student work, but you see it in the big-time books, too.  “He stood under a tree.”  My question as a reader is always: what kind of tree?  It’s a lot different standing under a white pine and a white ash.  Your feet are in needles in case one.  In case two, old leaves.  The woods are darker among pines, too.  If it’s a Douglas fir, you’re in the Pacific Northwest.  What’s the right tree for Tokyo?  For Kolkata?  For Brisbane?  For your town, as well.  A bird flies by.  What kind?  Gray Jay?  That tells us something too–those camp robbers like wild places, a bit of elevation.  A bug bit him.  A bug?  Not a mosquito?  Horsefly?  Blackfly?  Was it cloudy?  What kind?  I like the precision, I guess, but there’s something more, the names of things. And the names of things carry within them states of being, unstated inferences, geographies, even eras, also music, the rhythm of the particular, of a place. Continue reading →