I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was in the third grade I wrote a story called "The Pencil Who Grew Up to be a Stub." Although the assignment was to write a one-page story with a pen, I wrote my 4-page story with a pencil…in first-person. The plot was very Stephen King-ish, all about a pencil menaced by a pencil sharpener. My teacher gave me a very low grade ("It was supposed to be in ink, Deni!") I was, of course, devastated.
But it didn’t stop me. When I was 12, the Village Voice published one of my poems. I’ll share it with you:
It makes you sneeze;
I’d rather skin my knees
But it tastes good.
It was years before I understood why the Voice had published "Grass." I, of course, had meant a blade of grass.
In high school I wrote and illustrated a children’s book called HERBERT THE GIANT, about a giant who lived in a town of nearsighted people. The townspeople didn’t know he was a giant until, one day, a peddler came to town — selling eyeglasses. I once said my books had no socially redeeming values whatsoever, but I forgot about HERBERT.
My sister Marianne has always wanted to be a writer. She’s the subject of my Quibbles & Bits this week. It’s called:
WALKING THE DOG
Once upon a fairly long time ago, my sister Marianne phoned and asked how I found the time to write my books, especially since I had 3 kids (like she did), no child support, and I worked days at a video store and nights waiting tables.
I said, "Here’s what you do, Marianne. Every day you get up an hour before Eddie and the kids. Sit at your computer and write for that hour. Even if you finish one page, by the end of the year you’ll have a book."
"But," she said, "I already get up an hour earlier than Eddie and the kids. I have to make breakfast and fix the kids’ lunches."
"Okay, Marianne," I said. "When Eddie takes off for work and the kids leave for school, sit at your computer — every day at the same time — and work for an hour. Even if you only write one page, by the end of the year you’ll have a book."
"After Eddie and the kids leave," she said, "I have to clean the house. You know how Eddie is if the house is dirty."
"Okay," I said, "after you clean the house, sit down at the computer and work for an—"
"After I clean the house, I have to change the sheets and do the laundry. Then I eat lunch."
"Okay, Marianne," I said, glancing at my clock. "After you do the laundry and eat lunch, sit down at your computer and work for an hour. If you produce even one page a day, by the end of the year you’ll have a book."
"After I do the laundry and eat lunch," she said, "I have to walk the dog."
Walking the dog has become a catch-phrase in my family. If my daughter says she wants to join the local community theatre — possibly audition for a role in a production of My Fair Lady — but she
can’t seem to find the time, I say, "Sandi, you’re walking the dog."
Even Gordon has picked it up. When I procrastinate — or even worse, justify the procrastination — he says, "Deni, you’re walking the (insert expletive) dog."
There’s a PS to my tale. I told my "walking the dog" story at an RMFW Colorado Gold conference. The following year a woman came running up to me. I didn’t recognize her. I hate it when that happens. As I searched for a name, a reference, anything, she said, "You don’t know me."
I swallowed a sigh of relief.
"I was here last September," she continued. "I don’t remember what I ate or what I wore or what so and-so said on her panel about conflict, but I remembered your walking-the-dog story." She paused. "And last year," she said, "I wrote a book."
Every time I tell THAT story, it’s an effort not to bawl. Even writing it, I feel goosebumpy.
So if you remember nothing else from my weekly blogs, remember my walking-the-dog story. It’s magic. And it works.
Over and out,
Walking the dog is excellent shorthand for the excuses we can make not to write. It’s really a matter of prioritising. When I first started writing I was juggling parenthood, two demanding jobs – and writing. I’d lie on my settee at night and write in longhand, I’d scribble on buses and trains, I’d launch myself out of the bath and grab a scrap of paper and a pen …In retrospect, it seems a bit insane and I’m not convinced it was healthy. (It WAS exciting though!)Now I concentrate on the parenting and writing – yet there STILL doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day … Something inevitably has to go – our home isn’t as clean as I would wish in an ideal world. And I NEVER iron!Thanks, Pari – procrastination really is the thief of time …
Perfect timing, Deni. I just spent an hour “walking the dog” when I should have been writing!!! I’m putting that on an idex card right now and taping it to the wall.
You are an inspiration to anyone who has a list of legitimate excuses (children, single parenthood, spouse, work, etc.) NOT to write that book. Somehow, on that crowded kitchen table, closet, work cubicle, etc., people are able to steal away some moments to develop that story.
Loved the GRASS poem!
Nice to meet you, Debi.One thing…although I admire Pari tremendously, love her books, and wish I possessed her youth and enthusiasm, I’m Deni…or sometimes I’m Beatrice Brooks
.But Deni or Pari [or Bea], your comments about procrastination were spot-on, and I love your last line. Thank you!
Brett, you’re such a sweetheart. I plan to read all your books. Twice!
I’m glad you enjoyed GRASS, Naomi. If the Voice had known I was only 12…GRASS was my first “legit published work,” and it took me another 21 years before my second came out -if you don’t count letters to editors when I was a political activist.I write poetry for fun. But sometimes I make a book character a poet. Then he/she gets all the flack. As we speak, I’m flogging a “literary historical,” circa 1860, with a Robert Burns clone-poet. Any takers?And next year heralds the arrival of THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, a “paranormal history-mystery romance” that takes place in the late 1700s. The heroine is a successful gothic romance author.Hugs,Deni
Man, Deni, this one hit home. It is so easy to get caught up in all the OTHER things that need to be done, I sometimes find myself when I have time to work on my books. But I’m shifting my priorities around so I don’t get caught “Walking the Dog.” Great post, great story. Thank you for sharing, and putting it all in perspective!
You’re welcome, JT. I suppose checking all the feedback [comments] on my blog could be considered “walking the dog,” but I don’t care. It’s fun! And now…back to tweaking the scanned version of BEAT UP A COOKIE [originally written on an Apple 2C and published by Walker and Worldwide]. Wildside Press will be publishing my “diet club” backlist in tpb, and the scanner likes to substitute “Elbe” for Ellie. Go figure!Hugs,Deni
Oh I’m sorry, Deni! The penny’s just dropped. Sometimes takes me a while …
Deni,Given all the excuses I had this week not to write — and last week, too — well, this piece came at a marvelous time. Thank you.
Hey, and btw, Debi’s mistake made me feel like a million buck; I wish I’d written on this subject as beautifully as you just did.
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