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Writing wisdom from Tina Fey and Bossypants

Monday, May 30, 2011

I gobbled up Tina Fey's Bossypants this past week. Not only is it hilarious, but so many parts hit wayyyy too close to my neurosis. For instance, that part where she discusses how young girls become women when men scream at them from cars. So happened to me when I was 14 and buying candy from the local gas station with my friends. Also, it happened to me yesterday. 1) TINA. YOU ARE WISE AND SAGE. 2) GUYS. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

From Bust magazine, which Tina in Bossypants calls her best ever Photoshop job.

But the best quote came in reference to her time as head writer at Saturday Night Live. The lesson, imparted by Lorne Michaels, was "The show doesn't go on because it's ready; it goes on because it's 11:30."

To that end, Tina Fey writes:

"You can't be the kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. (And I'm from a generation where a lot of people died on waterslides, so this was an important lesson for me to learn.) You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated."

As you know, I'm on my 567,999,987 edit of my book. And I'm also that person logging on to work at 10 at night to read my newspaper stories for the 80th time, messaging copy editors with changes while they call me bad names. It's good to a certain extent, until it veers into mentally ill. So this passage sort of daggered me in the chest and made a lot of sense.

I think I might frame part of this quote and hang it up in my house. To remind me about the prevalence of waterslide injury in America, I mean.

That's not the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Speaking of psycho editing... 

When I'm not taking names out of dialogue this week, I'm taking out "that."

I never thought about "that" very much until I started reading Query Shark (which anyone who has ever considered writing a query letter should do religiously). Every so often, Janet Reid gets a query for a book to the effect of, "A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND SPACE, my steampunk paranormal horror romance YA novel set in Brooklyn, is complete at 400,000 words." And then Janet is all, "WHOA WHOA WHOA, too long. That's a prison doorstop." And then she tells the eager letter writer to, for starters, search the document for "that" and hit delete.

Since this revelation I've been kind of obsessed with "that." When I let them slip in, which I did in a story recently, it bothers me. They're jumping out when I read books, too. This is probably not a big deal for some other writers. I might need more meds.

Anyway, let us examine this phenomenon by using actual lines from my dime piece. Read it with the "that," then without. You'll find they're not really beneficial.

I walked into the bathroom and cranked the shower, hoping that a hearty flood of water rushing through the pipes would disturb Ted and Desiree’s post-sex sleep patterns, even though they were probably just passed out from all the drugs.

I was furious that these people even existed, let alone right beside me.

His tone suggested that everyone had a solid foundation in the “usual” works of Eddie Money.

I stampeded to the bathroom to wring the period and eyeliner and rain out of my clothes, to locate some green apple Lysol that I could huff and take away the pain.  

Hmm. I just realized my character does a lot of stampeding to the bathroom. Anyway.

These nasty guys are all used as subordinators, which makes them kind of wordy and unessential. But it's not an across-the-board thing. You can't simply search and delete every single one. For instance: 

I’d have that really good hair that’s shiny and looks like it tumbles and smells great, but in reality is sprayed so severely that a monsoon would not disrupt a single wisp.

The first one is a demonstrative adjective, and I'm using it to add emphasis, to imply everyone knows about this famous type of hair (and why don't I have it, WHY?). The second is a contraction, and... I'm not crazy about it. "Is" is kind of weak, generally, but I'm not sure how to get rid of it and I have fingernails to paint and whatever. Moving on. The third one is trash.
DISCLAIMER: Please don't go searching my blogs, stories and excerpts for grammatical errors and "that," because I assure you, you'll find a million and five. My formal grammar is shaky at best. All I know is, throwing away crappy words sure feels good. THAT'S what I'm stepping in, if you smell me. (See what I did there?)

Name dropping: Taking names out of dialogue

Monday, May 23, 2011

I keep chipping away at this manuscript, trying to carve it until only the very best remains. I want it so tight I can bounce a quarter off it (my new favorite bad writing joke -- get used to it, kids!).

I'm just about there, but one thing I've been super vigilant about throughout this edit are names in dialogue. I think there's a tendency to make characters say names a lot, because it just helps establish rhythm and pacing and who has the line while you're writing. It's helpful, actually.

But... who says names in real life? I've probably said my boyfriend's name to him a total of four times
over the 11 years we've been a thing, and that's only to get his attention in, like, a crowded Target or whatever. You use humiliating pet names, or you don't use any name at all. You just... say what the frick you want to say. You don't go:

"Hi, Jim, how was your day?"

And he doesn't go:

"It was great, Steph, how was your day?"

And you don't go:

"You know, Jim, I could really go for a huge Winghouse sandwich with ranch tonight."

And he doesn't go:

"I totally agree, Steph. Let's go postal on that buffalo chicken like whoa, Steph."

So that's what I've been doing lately. Deleting names. I don't want to get too crazy about it, or make it unclear who's speaking. Once in a while it's fine. But I've found most of them were really unnecessary. The sentences read fine (dare I say, BETTER) without them.

Two reasons to celebrate before the rapture

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The world is allegedly ending later today, so here are a couple good thoughts I will leave behind:

Two of my friends stayed up late this week reading OBITCHUARY to the end, texting or e-mailing me with rando "OMG" and "NO" and "WTF" along the way. It could be they're just lying to me and being super nice because I have pictures of them drunk on tequila they're fearful I'll release. Google footprint ain't no joke, y'all. Or it could be they actually really liked it so much they read it that fast, and that basically makes me pee with glee.

Hope for the future, friends. There's nothing better than entertaining someone.

Oh, except there is. I ordered my first ever Coach purse today as an early birthday gift, with a donation from the BF's parents who heard through the grapevine (his sister) I wanted one. It is leather and  fancy and SEXUAL. So beautiful. Clicking "purchase" made me feel this wonderful sense of... false fulfillment. Like I had the world at my fingertips for approximately one hour. This must be how shopping addicts feel. Material things are so great, you guys. The bag of glory should be arriving to my doorstep shortly. I can finally fit in at the rich mall. The rest of my life should be just fine.

Oh, but RIGHT. Armageddon might come today. Totes inconvenient. If it does, I want my money back from Coach.

Here's a little something for you in the mean time.

Chocolate bunny did not deserve to live

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I don't like cliches. Howevs...

They start for a reason, right? They become cliches because people actually, at one point, did them.

Like, I'm just saying. SOME PEOPLE, if they're having painful lady problems, might desperately rampage into the pantry with the Crazy Eyes, pull out a half-eaten chocolate rabbit left from Easter and DESTROY that sumbitch while watching J.Lo movies on demand.

Some people might do that. I'm just saying.

Words to work out by (Bieber fever!)

Friday, May 13, 2011

My pal Mary asked me for some suggestions for workout songs the other day, and I sent her a big list of my favorites. Then I realized making that list was a lot of effort to only show one person. So. Here, Internet!

I actually have about 600 songs I play in my car on random, and I usually just put that same list on shuffle at the gym. Inevitably, though, I end up skipping through 87 trillion slow wine-and-cheese numbers. I should probably make a playlist. But. Nah. I barely have time to put on pants.

Here is what I sent Mary, plus a few extra. Mary was highly distressed, disillusioned, confused and betrayed that I let the Biebs slip in. But what can I say? That song is catchy as a mitt, and anyone who disagrees is LYING. Try it. Your biceps will be jacked.

I find it also helps to imagine a giant, floating publishing contract while working out, or whatever else you may desire (a cheese danish, a raise, gender equality, etc...). Then, throw on the tunes, furrow your brow and run toward the giant, floating pastry/contract/money/lofty ideal.

This is not a playlist for a single workout, mind you. That would be like four hours, and if I did that every time I went to the gym, I'd look like Giselle Bundchen. Minus two feet of legs. And minus the sexy Brazilian genetics. Plus some cheeseburgers.

Right. Those songs.

1. All I do is Win - DJ Kahled (obvs)
2. A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
3. Rude Boy - Rihanna
4. Battlefield - Jordin Sparks (for slow climbing)
5. Cousins - Vampire Weekend
6. Crush Crush Crush - Paramore
7. Bad Romance - Lady Gaga
8. I Don't Wanna Be In Love - Good Charlotte
9. How Do U Want It - Tupac
10. Baby - Justin Bieber (just give in)
12. Feel Good Inc. - Gorillaz
13. Thanks for the Memories - Fall Out Boy (for running)
14. Imma Be - Black Eyed Peas
15. Remember the Name - Fort Minor
16. Anything from Girl Talk
17. Everything's Wonderful - Lily Allen
18. Bamboo Banga - M.I.A.
19. I Don't Wanna Dance - Hey Monday
20. Hey Ya! - Outkast
21. Girlfriend - Nsync with Nelly (duh)
22. Crash - Gwen Stefani
23. Get a Life - Lil Wayne
24. What you Know - T.I.
25. Tighten Up - Black Keys
26. In My Head - Jason Derulo
27. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab (for walking)
28. Through the Wire - Kanye
29. When I Get You Alone - Robin Thicke
30. Your Love is my Drug - Kesha
31. Empire State of Mind - Jay Z
32. No Hands - Wakka Flocka Flame
33. Blood Red Summer - Coheed and Cambria
34. Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon
35. Like a G6 - Far East Movement
36. Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat - Beck
37. All of the Lights - Kanye
38. Express Yourself - Glee cast
39. Grace Kelly - Mika
40. Bulletproof - La Roux
41. Kanye's Workout Plan - Kanye
42. Days Go By - Dirty Vegas
43. Dead - Pixies
44. E.T. - Katy Perry
45. Burning Up - Glee cast
46. Animal - Neon Trees
47. Portions for Foxes - Rilo Kiley
48. Baby Boy - Beyonce
49. Pretty Green - Santogold
50. Like a Virgin - Glee cast
51. Dog Days are Over - Florence and the Machine
52. Rolling in the Deep - Adele
53. Hang Me Up to Dry - Cold War Kids
54. Telephone - Lady Gaga
55. There Goes My Gun - Pixies
56. White Houses - Vanessa Carlton
57. Uprising - Muse
58. I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
59. Super Massive Black Hole - Muse
60. Paris (Ooh La La ) - Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
61. Firework - Katy Perry
62. Let the Beat Build - Lil Wayne
63. Down - Jay Sean
64. Misery Business - Paramore
65. Born This Way - Lady Gaga

Always best to end on Born This Way so you can remind yourself that, YES, you were BORN with an inner tube where your abs should be, and GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES.


I heard Starbucks is hiring...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I have some updates to share in my literary quest, but no time to share them right now. So in the mean time, how about you read this delightful essay explaining how writers are poor bastards? In all seriousness, it's informative with a lot of detailed information about how writers are paid. Sing it with me... "THE MORE YOU KNOWWWWW."

Get money-money, get money.