James Scott Bell

Apr 062014

One of the great bon-mots of popular cultural history occurred during the 1974 Academy Awards ceremony. David Niven was at the podium when a "streaker" (an inexplicable fad at the time was someone getting completely naked and running through a public forum) jogged across the stage.

The unflappable Niven calmly waited for the laughter to die down, and then remarked in his impeccable English accent, "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings."

Thankfully, the streaking fad is kaput. But there are other places where shortcomings are wont to appear.

Some time ago veteran editor Alan Rinzler posted on Writer Unboxed about "issues" writers today are facing. While the post itself was solid, I was more intrigued by one of his comments. Rinzler was asked a question in the combox by none other than super agent Donald Maass. Don wanted to know what the #1 shortcoming Rinzler, as a developmental editor, saw in manuscripts. Rinzler's answer was:

I see disorganized stories of excessive complexity… intrusive narrative voices that come between the reader and the story by inserting ongoing commentary, explanation, and interpretation…a failure to research and do the homework necessary to come up with something truly original and not reinvent the wheel… two-dimensional stereotype characterization…dialogue that all sounds like the same person.

I like this list. Let's take a look at each item:

1. Disorganized stories of excessive complexity

I once picked up a bit of screenwriting wisdom that applies here. The best movies (and novels) consist of simple plots about complex characters. That is, while the plot may contain mystery and twists (and should), it is, at its core, a basic story with understandable motives. The real meat and originality comes from putting truly complex characters into those stories. The secret to originality can be found in the limitless interior landscape of human beings.

2. Intrusive narrative voices

Learning how to handle exposition, especially when to leave it out entirely, is one of the most important and early craft challenges. So get to it. Revision & Self-Editing for Publication has a whole section on this, but here's one tip: place exposition seamlessly into confrontational dialogue. Instead of: Frank never wanted to have a baby. Not until he was a success as a writer. But Marilyn thought his quest was foolish. After all, it had been five years since he left his job at AIG. Marilyn dearly wanted him to try to get his job back.

"You never wanted a baby, Frank."
"Shut up about that."
"All because of your stupid writing obsession!"
"I'm not obsessed!"
"Oh really? What do you call five years of typing and no money to show for it?"
"Well, practice time is over. Tomorrow you're going to beg AIG to take you back."

3. A failure to research  . . . to come up with something truly original

Rinzler is talking about the concept stage here, which is foundational. Hard work on fresh concepts will pay off. And remember, freshness isn't just a matter of something "unfamiliar." All plot situations have been done. It's how you dress them up and freshen them that makes the difference. Remember Die Hard? After it became a hit, we had Die Hard on a ship (Under Siege) and on a mountain (Cliffhanger)and so on. Take a standard rom-com about a writer struggling with writer's block and set it in Elizabethan England and you get Shakespeare in Love. Heck, take an old dystopian cult plot like Deathrace 2000 and put it among kids and bingo, you've got The Hunger Games. 

4. Two-dimensional characters

We all know that flat characters are a drag on an otherwise nice plot idea. Such a waste! As Lajos Egri put it in his classic, Creative Writing: “Living, vibrating human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing.”

My favorite book on characterization is Dynamic Characters by my former colleague at Writer's Digest, Nancy Kress.

5. Dialogue that all sounds like the same person

Ah! One of my sweet spots. In my workshops I always say the fastest way to improve a manuscript is via dialogue. It's also the fastest way to get an agent or editor to reject you, or readers to give you a yawn. When they see good, crisp dialogue, differentiated via character, it pops. It gives them confidence they're dealing with someone who knows the craft.

The place to start, then, is by making sure every character in your cast is unique. I use a "voice journal" for each, a free-form document of the character just yakking at me, until I truly "hear" them in a singular fashion.

So there you have it. Five vital areas where shortcomings might be a problem. The streaking guy at the Oscars couldn't do anything about his own vital area, but you as a writer can.

Anything you'd like to add to the list?
Mar 302014

There's been a lot of blogosphere chatter about writing success being like a lottery. Something about that metaphor has always bothered me. For in a true lottery you can't really affect your odds (except by buying more tickets, of course). But is that true for writers?

I don't think it is. Just putting more books out there ("buying more tickets") won't help your chances if the books don't generate reader interest and loyalty. Productivity and prolificacy are certainly virtues, but to them must be added value.

Hugh Howey had some interesting thoughts recently on timing and luck. Citing Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, Howey highlighted a fascinating factoid:

A list of the 75 wealthiest people in history, which goes all the way back to Cleopatra, shows that 20% were Americans born within 9 years of each other. Between 1831 to 1840, a group that includes Rockefeller, Carnegie, Armour, J.P. Morgan, George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Jay Gould were born. They all became fabulously wealthy in the United States in the 1860s and 1870s, just as the railroad and Wall Street and other industries were exploding.

From this Howey explains how he benefitted greatly from being in the right place at the right time, Kindle-wise. He had started writing in earnest in 2009, just as the neo-self-publishing movement was taking off. He did some things right, like early adoption of KDP Select and serialization. Look at him now.

But there is one thing he says I disagree with: "I know I’m not that good."

Wrong. He is good. Very good. Woolwould not be what it is without the quality. Which Howey has worked hard to achieve.

Reminds me of the old adage, "Luck is where hard work meets opportunity." I believe that wholeheartedly.

I went to school with a kid named Robin Yount. He was a natural athlete and an incredible Little League baseball player. In fact, my greatest athletic moment was the day Robin Yount intentionally walked me. Because Yount is now a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame.

But it wasn't just his natural giftedness that made him what he was. He happened to have an older brother named Larry, who made it to the big show as a pitcher. I remember riding my bike down to the Little League field one day and seeing Larry pitching ball after ball to his little brother. Robin Yount was lucky in the body and brother he was given. But he still had to work hard. Because he did,he was ready when, at age 18, he got the call from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Hard work meeting opportunity.

So I wouldn't call the publishing biz a lottery system. What metaphor would I use? It hit me the other day: writing success is more like my favorite game, backgammon.

Backgammon, which has been around for 5,000 years, is brilliantly conceived. Dice are involved, so there's always an
element of chance. Someone who is way behind still might win if the dice give him a roll he needs at a crucial moment.

On the other hand, someone who knows how to think strategically, can calculate odds, and takes risks at the right time, will win more often than the average player who depends mostly on the rolling bones.

Early on I studied the game by reading books. I memorized the best opening moves for each roll. I learned how to think about what's called the "back game," what the best "points" are to cover, and when it might pay off to leave a "blot."

And I played a lot of games with friends and, later, on a computer. I discovered a couple of killer, though risky, opening moves. I use them because they can pay off big time, though when they don't I find myself behind. But I'm willing to take these early chances because they are not foolhardy and I'm confident enough in my skills that I can still come back.

This, it seems to me, is more analogous to the writing life than a lottery. Yes, there is chance involved. I sold my first novel because I happened to be at a convention with an author I had met on the plane. This new acquaintance showed me around the floor, introduced me to people. One of them was a publisher he knew. That publisher just happened to be starting a new publishing house and was looking for material. I pitched him my book and he bought it a few weeks later.


But I was also ready for that moment. I had been studying the craft diligently for several years and was committed to a weekly quota of words. I'd written several screenplays and at least one messy novel before completing the project I had with me at the convention.


Thus, as in backgammon, the greater your skill, the better your chances. The harder you work, the more skill you acquire. Sure, there are different talent levels, and that's not something we have any control over.

But biology is not destiny, as they say. Unrewarded genius is almost a cliché. Someone with less talent who works hard often outperforms the gifted.

Now, that doesn't mean you'll always win big in any one game. If the dice are not your friends, things might not turn out as planned. That book you thought was a sure winner might sink. Or even stink.

But that doesn't mean you have to stop playing.

Don't ever worry about the dice. You cannot control them, not even if you shake them hard and shout, "Baby needs a new pair of shoes!" The vagaries of the book market are out of your hands. You can, however, control your work ethic and awareness of opportunity.

Writing success is therefore not a lottery. It's a game.

Play intelligently, play a lot and try to have some fun, too.

So what about you? Do you believe in pure luck? Or do you believe there is something you can do to goose it?
Mar 282014

A Kill Zone regular, Steve Hooley, asked about sharing favorite writing craft books. Sounds like a good idea. So list two or three from your library and why you'd recommend them (for purposes of today's comment section, please exclude the writing books by any of the blogsters here at TKZ. We don't want you to feel obligated!)
Mar 232014

There are writers who write only for money. There's nothing illegal about that. Indeed, I strongly believe in writers making dough.
There are other writers who write primarily for artistic expression, and don't seem to care about money at all. That's not illegal, either.
And then there are writers who write as a source of income but sometimes just want to write something for love of the writing itself, even if it's not going to generate revenue.
That's how I would describe my new short story, which I am making free for the next five days.

This story is different from my other work. It's not a genre piece. Let me explain.
I admire great short-story writers, because the form is so challenging. Among my favorites are Hemingway, Saroyan, Irwin Shaw and John D. MacDonald.
The latter author is not usually thought of as a short-story writer. He's best known for his brilliant Travis McGeeseries.
But I contend that MacDonald was one of America's great literary talents. That he chose pulp and paperback originals for most of his work had to do with his need to make a living as a writer, and fast, after World War II.
I have an extensive MacDonald collection. A few weeks ago I pulled off the shelf his volume of literary-style short stories, The End of the Tiger. I turned to a story I'd not read before, "The Bear Trap." A man is on a road trip with his wife and children. When they stop at an isolated gas station a seemingly innocuous event triggers a memory in the man. His "shattering moment" comes back to invade his present. It tells us about who this man really is and, in the way of great short stories, something about ourselves.
It reminded me, once again, that a great short story can have an emotional resonance as powerful as a novel. I still remember the strong emotions I felt after finishing stories like "Hills Like White Elephants" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (Hemingway); "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" and "A Word to Scoffers" (Saroyan); "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses" and "The 80-Yard Run" (Irwin Shaw); "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" (Joyce Carol Oates); "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" (Raymond Carver).
And speaking of Carver, many of you know I got to be in a workshop with him when he taught for a time at U.C. Santa Barbara. What I recall most is that I couldn't do what he did. Or what some of the "star students" in the class were doing. And no one was able to teach me. I felt like a failure, like I didn't have any true literary talent at all.
It took me years to discover you could actually learn the craft. I've also written about how I came out of the movie Moonstruck wanting (needing, really) to write something that would make others feel the way I felt just then.
A similar feeling overtook me when I finished the MacDonald story. 
So I wrote "Golden." Once again, it's free for five days for Kindle and Kindle apps.
I have no idea if it's any great shakes. I feel a little of the old knee knocking I experienced in that classroom with Raymond Carver. 
But maybe that's a good thing. If your knees aren't knocking on occasion, maybe you're not stretching enough as a writer. 
Maybe you're not risking love.

So what about you? Do you write for love, for money, or some combination of both? 
Mar 162014

There was a bit of a dustup recently over the issue of who should be "allowed" to be called an "author." The incendiary post can be found here. A response, here.

Personally, I've always preferred the term writer. But I think it does come with a qualification. That is the subject of this post.

One comment I've often seen is, "Writers write." Or, "If you write, you're a writer." That always reminds me of Jack Torrance in The Shining, and his page after page of All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. That ain't writing, it's typing.

If someone takes a nine iron, with no clue how to grip it or swing it in any reliable manner, and goes out hacking up perfectly good grass day after day after week after year, I would not call that person a golfer. To play golf so it doesn't harm flora, fauna or people on the next fairway requires at least minimal practice and instruction.

This kerfuffle over labels reminded me of a journal handed down to me by a family friend, written sometime in the 1940s. It is the unpublished memoir of a pulp writer named William "Wild Bill" Armbrewster, who was born in 1893 and made his bones with the legendary Black Mask. Note: This paragraph is fiction. I made up Armbrewster the other day and typed out the following entry. I like the guy. I may bring him back in a future post. In any event, here's a clip from his journal.

   The afternoon crowd at Musso's was loud and obnoxious, like a haberdasher with a hangnail. I sat in the corner with my typewriter, pounding away at the new story for Black Mask. It was fighting me. It was pummeling me into the canvas. I was a bleeding mess. So I gave the business to my Martini and cursed the page mocking me from the roller. That's when I noticed the kid. 
He was just standing there, holding his hat. He was maybe twenty-two, twenty-three, which made him a kid to me.
"Are you Mr. Armbrewster, the writer?" he said.
"Right now I'm Mr. Armbrewster, the stinker. Who are you?"
"My name's Benny. Benny Wannabe."
"May I sit down?"
"If you buy me a drink. See that man over there behind the bar? In the red coat? His name is Joe. Go tell him to make another for Mr. Armbrewster and then you can sit."
The kid romped off like a happy puppy. I looked at my typewriter and tried to make my detective say something witty. But he just sat there, the piker.
The kid came back and set a fresh one before me.
"Now, what can I do for you?" I said.
"Well, I...I'm a writer. I've read every story you've ever written. I think you're the best. Even better than Hammett and Chandler."
I was starting to like this kid.
"And I just wanted to meet you," he said. "Somebody at the hotel said you like to work here, and so I took a chance and here you are."
"You say you're a writer, eh?"
"That's right."
"What have you written?"
"A short story."
"One short story?"
He smiled, nodded. I took a snort of Martini. Then I popped the olive in my mouth, chewed, and scowled.
"Don't call yourself a writer just yet, kid," I said.
"But a writer writes," he said. "So I've been told."
I ripped the sheet I'd been working on out of the typewriter, crumpled it, and tossed it on the pile on the floor. "No," I said. "A writer works."
Benny Wannabe cocked his head, like that dog listening to the gramophone.
"Look, kid, it's fine to want to write. It's a hell of a business, though, and if you want to make any money at this thing, you have to work, and hard. You have to look at it as a craft, not some ethereal vapor dancing through your noggin, and sweat and fight until you figure out how to do it. Then you have to put your stuff out there, get rejected, fight some more and keep on writing and fighting and typing, until you die."
"Gee," Benny said.
I closed my eyes.
"I have my story with me!" The kid fished out some folded pages and handed them to me. I scowled again, then read the first paragraph.

The wind was a torrent that day, the day of my birth, the day of my beginning life's sad yet remarkable sojourn, and the trees were golden with leaves that looked like little pots of gold with rainbows coming out of them, full of the promise of life and song and the iridescence of possibility. Suddenly, a shot rang out.

"I'm going to need another drink," I said.
"Right away!"
When the kid came back I said, "Listen, Benny, do you really want to be a writer?"
He nodded.
"Not just so you can call yourself one. I mean, so you actually have a chance to make some lettuce at it. You do want to make lettuce, don't you?"
"Oh, yes sir. I believe in lettuce."
"Do you have a job, Benny?"
"I'm a writer!"
"Not yet you're not. I mean, do you have any source of income?"
He shook his head.
"What are you using for dough?"
"My savings. I bought a train ticket, then got a hotel room down the street. The last of it I used on, um, your drinks."
"You want my advice, Benny?"
"Oh, yes!"
I took a fin out of my pocket and slapped it on the table. "Buy yourself a train ticket home. Go back and get a job and marry the girl next door. Run for mayor or dog catcher. Join the Elks. Do anything but write."
Benny's face fell harder than Max Schmeling in the second Louis fight. He said nothing, trembled a little, and tears starting pooling in his eyes.
I looked at him for a long time. Fresh-faced kid, right off a turnip truck, but with a dream. Sort of like a kid I once knew a long time ago. Born in Cleveland, dropped out of college to ride the rails and see life, hoping to gather enough material to make himself a real writer, going off to war and coming home and writing for years without a sale, but never stopping because of the hunger for it, the love of it. I could see just a spark of that in the kid's misty lamps.
"Okay," I said. "You'll need a job to keep a roof over your head. Go on over to Al's Market on Sunset, tell him Bill Armbrewster sent you. Only don't embarrass me."
"I won't, sir!"
"Then you agree to meet with me once a week, and write what I tell you to write, for a year. You willing to do that, Benny?"
"Yes, sir!"
"All right then. Now you can call yourself a writer. Take the fin. Go tell Joe we want a couple of egg-salad sandwiches and some soup. And between here and the bar make sure you grow a thick skin."
"Yes, sir!"
I liked it that the kid's enthusiasm was back, but enthusiasm only gets you so far in life. The ones who make it are the ones who can get kicked in the teeth, have all the stuffing knocked out of them, and still get up and come back typing.

If this Benny Wannabe could do that, he'd maybe make a real writer yet.

So what about you? When do you think someone should be called a writer?

Mar 142014

You are an alien who has just landed. And you're holding a book (no, it's not a cook book). It's a book from Earth that impressed you, and you wanted to meet the author. Which book and which author? 
Mar 092014

My grandfather, Arthur Scott Bell, was born in 1890. He grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he was an outstanding high school athlete. 

He won an athletic scholarship to DePauw University, later transferring to the University of Michigan to play football. He joined the Army in World War I, during which time he met my grandmother, Dorothy Fox. One of the treasure troves I have is the box of love letters he wrote to her from Fort Sheridan, Illinois. My grandmother kept them all, bound with ribbons. When my father was little he'd hear his father call his mother Dot, and he combined that with Mama, so ever after my grandmother was known as Mama Dot. Later on, my dad started calling his father Padre.

And that's how all his grandkids knew him.

One of Padre's favorite phrases was, "Go your best." He said that to me a number of times—when I was off to a new school year, or starting Little League. 

During the Great Depression, Padre fed his family as a field salesman for the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was a stellar salesman, rising to become one of the top ten in the entire company.

From what Padre and my dad told me about those days, I gather five lessons that apply to writers (and anyone else) trying to peddle their wares.

1. He believed in his product

Padre loved the Britannica. I have a full set from 1947, passed down to me. [NOTE: if you have one, don't get rid of it. The entries in these volumes are often better and more authoritative than anything you can find today.]

Do you believe in your product? Are you convinced that what you're writing is the best you can make it? Or are you going out there with something less than that––and still expecting good sales?

2. He believed in self improvement  

Padre was a life-long learner. On my shelf I have Padre's dictionary, the Webster's New Collegiate, 2d Edition. In the front of the dictionary, on one of the blank pages, Padre had written himself a note on a new word: psycho-cybernetics. That would place this note around 1960, when the book by Maxwell Maltz first came out. Padre was 70 years old then, but still interested in growing his vocabulary.

He was of the Dale Carnegie school of self-improvement. Another treasure I own is the hardcover copy of How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplethat Padre and Mama Dot gave my dad upon his graduation from Hollywood High School. They each inscribed it. Padre wrote:

To have a friend is to be a friend. I am sure you are getting to be an expert at it. Don't let down!!

And from Mama Dot:

You can do more than strike while the iron is hot. You can make the iron hot by striking.

Are you growing as a writer? Are you spending some part of your week in purposeful study of the craft? Padre and Mama Dot's generation believed anyone could succeed if they studied and worked hard enough.

3. He concentrated on the best prospects

Padre had a definite strategy when he pulled into a new town. He looked up all the lawyers and doctors. These would be the people most likely to have some disposable income during the Depression. Thus, they would be the most likely to buy.

Simple enough. But when it comes to marketing, how many writers out there are trying to cast a wide net in the hope of snagging some random fish? The difference between 100,000 robo-gathered followers, and 10,000 quality followers, is huge. Don't try to be all things to all people, but be a value add-on for those who are most likely to want to sample your work. 

4. He made people feel good

My grandfather was a natural storyteller. He had a deep, resonant voice. I can hear it now. And when he started spinning a tale you sat mesmerized.

I remember one story he told about a football player at Michigan named Molbach. The fellows called him "Molly." He was a fullback, a powerhouse runner who just would not be stopped in short yardage situations. Padre told about one tough game where Molly put his head down and ran so hard he kept going over the sideline and ran right into a horse––and knocked the horse down!

Padre's storytelling made you feel good. Got you into the moment. The legend in the family was that Padre had a story for every occasion.

Does your marketing make people feel good? If someone sees you're tweeting or Facebooking, will they generally be pleased at what you've posted? Or do you depend on a barrage of value-less "buy my book" type messages?

Work at making your social media a pleasure for others to read. "To have a friend is to be a friend."

5. He could laugh at life

Padre was a man "at home in his own skin." He'd been through plenty in his life, the Depression not least among them. But he always came out all right in the end.

He had the greatest laugh in the world. It came from deep in his chest and rumbled out in joyous reverberation.

You need to be able to laugh and not stress over outcomes and expectations. If you follow Padre's lessons, you'll work hard on yourself and your writing. You'll be smart about marketing and refuse to let setbacks stop you. You simply won't worry about the things that are outside your control.

Manage your expectations, don't let them rule you. Concentrate on what you can do, not what is out of your  hands.

Keep working.

Keep writing.

Go your best.

Mar 072014

Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town. 
Ask the Dust by John Fante (1939)

Describe your home town: where you grew up, or where you live now. How has it influenced you as a person and as a writer? 
Jan 192014

I love writers who never stop, who keep on pounding the keys no matter what decade of life they're in. Writers like Herman Wouk, one of America's greatest storytellers, who had a new book come out at the age of 97.

Don't you love the way he looks in this photo? (Captured by Stephanie Diani for The New York Times. Used by permission.) "I'm not going anywhere," he seems to be saying. "Not with all the stories I have yet to tell."

That's what I want to be like when the deep winter of life rolls around. Still writing. Still dreaming. Still publishing. Thus, I was intrigued by a story with the provocative title Is Creativity Destined To Fade With Age? It begins:

Doris Lessing, the freewheeling Nobel Prize-winning writer on racism, colonialism, feminism and communism who died recently at age 94, was prolific for most of her life. But five years ago, she said the writing had dried up.

“Don’t imagine you’ll have it forever,” she said, according to one obituary. “Use it while you’ve got it because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plug hole.”

Uh-oh. Does that mean older writers are destined to have a dry well? One researcher cited in the article says No:

“What’s really interesting from the neuroscience point of view is that we are hard-wired for creativity for as long as we stay at it, as long as nothing bad happens to our brain,” Walton said. (Lessing had a stroke in the 1990s, which may have contributed to her outlook.)

Another researcher, however, added a caveat:

But repeating the same sort of creative pursuit over the decades without advancing your art can be like doing no exercise other than sit-ups your whole life, said Michael Merzenich, professor emeritus of neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco and the author of Soft-Wired, a book about optimizing brain health.

One-trick artists “become automatized, they become very habit-borne,” Merzenich said. “They’re not continually challenging themselves to look at life from a new angle.”

This is one reason I love our self-publishing options. We can play. We can go where we want to go without being tied to one brand or type of book. We can write short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels and series. When I'm not working on suspense, I like to challenge myself with a different voice for my boxing stories, my kick-butt nun novelettes, my zombie legal thrillers. I'm currently planning a collection of short stories that will be of the weird Fredric Brown variety. Why? Because I can, and because it keeps my writing chops sharp.

Which appears to be the key to this whole longevity business:

Older artists can also be galvanized by their own sense of mortality. Valerie Trueblood, 69, a Seattle writer who did not publish her novel, Seven Loves, and two short story collections until her 60s, said age can bring greater urgency to the creative process.

“I think for many older people there’s a time of great energy,” Trueblood said. “You see the end of it, you just see the brevity of life more acutely when you’re older, and I think it makes you work harder and be interested in making something exact and completing it.”

People with regular jobs usually can't wait to retire. A writer should never retire. Fight to be creative as long as you live. Do it this way:

1. Always have at least three projects going

I wrote about this before ("The Asimov"). I think all writers should, at a minimum, have three projects on the burner: their Work-in-Progress; a secondary project that will become the WIP when the first is completed; and one or more projects "in development" (notes, concepts, ideas, character profiles, etc.). This way your mind is not stuck in one place.

2. Take care of your body

The writer's mind is housed in the body, so do what you have to do to keep the house in shape. Start small if you have to. Eat an apple every day. Drink more water. Walk with a small notebook and pen, ready to jot notes and ideas.

3. Stay positive and productive

Write something every day. Even if it's just journaling. Know that what you write to completion will see publication, guaranteed. It may be via a contract, like Herman Wouk. Or it may be digitally self-published. Heck, it could be a limited printing of a memoir, just for your family. Writers write with more joy when they know they will be read, and joy is the key to memorable prose.

4. Do not go gentle into that good night

Write, write against the dying of the light! (apologies to Dylan Thomas). Refuse to believe you have diminished powers or have in any way lost the spark that compelled you to write in the first place. If they tell you that you just don't have it anymore, throw your teeth at them. Who gets to decide if you can write? You do. And your answer is, I've still got it, baby, and I'm going to show you with this next story of mine!

So just keep writing and never decompose.

What about you? Are you in this thing to the end?