Tuesday, July 27, 2010
A sackful of writing lessons
Bagging groceries is a lost art.
Some years ago, Tawna Fenske gifted me with a few reusable shopping bags, way before they were popular in my neck of the woods. I use those and an insulated shopping bag to pack my groceries in. Even now, the cashier and bagger will give me sort of quizzical looks, as though I've just asked them to stand on their heads.
This past Saturday the bagger totally ignored the chill bag and just tossed things harem-scarem into any bag she could get her hands on. The bathroom cleaner was chunked in with my bread. My frozen chicken tenders were in a bag all by their lonesome. And my chill bag? Well, the bagger held it in her hands and said, "Uh, guess I could have used this for the cold stuff."
I'd sorted the cold stuff as I put it on the register's conveyor belt. I'd asked the cashier to put my cold stuff in the chill bag. But bagger and cashier both looked lost as haints, as my grandmother used to say, so I pushed my cart out of the way of the next person in line and started re-bagging my groceries.
Yes, a tad OCD, but the temps were hovering in the 100-degree neighborhood, and I did have 30 minutes of drive-time in front of me to get home. As I rescued my bread from the bathroom cleaner -- which later proved to be leaking -- I thought about how baggers used to take such care with groceries. When I was little, paper bags were the rule, and cold things like ice cream went into a super-heavy small paper bag. Baggers took pride in filling the sacks so that, if the bag were ripped away, the contents would almost be able to stand in a tightly-packed tower.
I blame it on those infernal plastic bags. Baggers now toss a few items in each bag and stick your bread and your eggs on top of the pile. They've never learned the intricate art of assembling a bag of groceries -- or even that it mattered.
Computers, in a way, have made writing novels seem easy and accessible, just like those plastic bags. People think that writing a book is something you can just toss together: you open up a word processing document and start with Chapter One. No planning. No thinking of plot. No need to develop characters.
I'm not talking plotter vs. pantsers here. Pantsers do all the thinking and planning and character development after they have the framework done, whereas plotters get it done first. I'm not talking about people who are just starting out and don't know beans about writing - everybody's got to start somewhere.
Nope, I'm thinking instead of people who SHOULD know better but don't. They think a first draft is the ONLY draft they need to write before they send it off to a publisher, with the next stop Number One on the NYT Best-Seller List. They think that their manuscript should never be subjected to an editor's tender mercies, and that any suggestion of improving their story is a request for them to sacrifice their art on the altar of commerce.
Nobody reading this would fall in that category -- the folks I'm arghing about are too hard-headed to read blogs about writing. But as you continue to write, I can guarantee that you will run into these sorts of people -- the equivalent of my Saturday bagger who couldn't understand that cold stuff should go into a chill bag.
My advice? Smile and say, "Oh, you're writing a novel? Wow. That's great." If they're really interested in learning, they'll ask YOU questions that will signal that they understand the cardinal rule of being a writer: no matter where you are in learning the craft, there's always SOMETHING you can learn.