Orange Juice and The DON’T Do Lists
One morning last November, I strolled into the Market Basket just over the Sagamore Bridge, the entrance to Cape Cod, to pick up a few items on my way home to the tindominium. Right in front of me stood a display filled with various sizes of freshly squeezed orange juice with a sign saying, “Squeezed Today.” I headed right for it, reaching for one of the largest size bottles. Then I heard the voices of the invisible committee, sitting on my shoulders, whispering in my ears. “Orange juice, Michele?” asked one. “All that sugar,” said the one on my other shoulder. I silently told the orange juice was good for me. Vitamin C. “Sure, if it survived the pesticides,” chortled a voice. “How old do you think those oranges were before they were squeezed?” sniggered the other. I told them to shut up and placed the bottle in my basket, wheeling it quickly away into the bakery section before I was shamed out of buying orange juice by them. I glanced at a package of fresh baked pecan cinnamon rolls, which I had never noticed or purchased before, and defiantly put them next to the orange juice. The next morning, my husband and I sat in the toasty November sun, reading the Sunday papers, welcoming a new week with fresh orange juice and warmed pecan rolls we even buttered. I refused to listen to the committee of “they.” You know who that is. It’s the preface to a sentence that starts with, “They say you should never eat these three items if you want to rid yourself of belly fat” or “Always tell your children the truth about…” They is a very diverse and busy committee, especially now with the Internet and social media. Sometimes they can be identified as a source from Huff Post or even the New York Times, but often the committee’s roots are vague and its name an acronym no one had the time to figure out. They tell us how to spend our money, raise our children, what foods we must and must not eat, and what to read before we die with such authority, it’s hard to resist. The committee’s advice is often distilled into lists. “Ten Reasons Never to Drink Milk in Your Coffee.” “The Twenty Things You Must Do to Live Longer.” It’s exhausting. Writers are faced with these lists all of the time. On any given day, Facebook will have a dozen lists telling a writer what she should do to become successful. Some of these lists are from professional agents and editors and can be very help, but others come from less reliable sources and can cripple a writer. In 57 seconds, Google handed me more than 93 million choices for advice for writers. I certainly take Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writers that the New York Times had to persuade him to share seriously, probably because it isn’t dished out as dogma. “Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip.” But even one of Leonard’s rules was a myth debunked by Lee Child, who pointed to successful authors who start with weather, another Leonard prohibition. Child says the rule that a writer must show, not tell a story is wrong and that it’s fine for a writer to tell a story. Getting an agent can be as difficult as writing an entire book, so advice from professional agents like my own, Paula Munier, who has penned three excellent books on writing, can be helpful. Agent Jessica Faust of Book Ends recently blogged five very helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” for writing a query letter. Jane Friedman’s blog is filled with great information. There is wonderful information available for writers. You just have to remember three things (and now I’ve slipped into writing a list of my own): 1. Consider the source of the advice and its credibility. 2. Remember that some of the most successful writers have hit the NY Times best seller lists by abandoning well established writing conventions.3. Writing advice, be it in a list or any other form, should help you to write. It should not shut you down. Take one example on this last important point. “You must write every day” is a rule spouted by many wonderful and successful authors. When I worked as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct professor, I would arise early to review my case for the day, head out to court, return to the office to meet clients and conduct mediations. At the end of the day, I’d drive to Boston to teach law students who miraculously invigorated me. When was I supposed to write? Oh, I listened and watched lawyers, clients, court officers, and judges and took notes, jotting down ideas. But writing everyday wasn’t going to happen. Did I quit because I wasn’t a real writer if I couldn’t write every day? No. I’d write for ten hours on weekends, considered writing a priority when I’d take a vacation, and managed to write eight books, two of which were published during that time. So go ahead, read the advice after you’re sure it’s coming from a reliable source. Then, start writing. And while you’re doing it, treat yourself to a glass of orange juice.