Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Waste Time

When I still worked for a paycheck, either in an office or as a freelancer, I learned to be efficient. I began the day with a short (or long) list of things that had to be done, people to contact, and reminders of tasks to come. I blocked out time, nibbled way at huge projects and lunged for the small job to be done in ten or twenty minutes. In short, I got things done. Now I’m retired and write at home. I have learned the art of wasting time.

First, as we all know, there is Facebook. Enough said.

Second, and the worst, is a book I picked up at my local library book sale. The original owner lived in San Francisco, and it looks like she never even opened the book. It was pristine when I bought it. I’m careful with my books, but this woman is really careful.

The title is a sure-fire time waster. Writers on Writing by Jon Winokur contains 347 pages of quotes organized in 52 topics, and two indexes. The subjects are the expected ones—advice to young writers, censorship, money, words, and more. Some quotes are pithier than others. Compare “All art is a revolt against man’s fate” (Andre Malraux) and “Poets are born, not paid” (Wilson Mizner). And then there’s this “Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure” (Oliver Herford).

You see what I mean? You’ve just read an entire paragraph of disconnected quotes and you’re wondering if I’ll add more.

Yes, I will.

My next best time waster is a book I save for certain special occasions. Rotten Rejections: A literary
Companion edited by Andre Bernard is only 101 pages (of which 88 contain quotes), the pages almost the same size as the book above. This could give the beginning writer the very misleading idea that more writers are accepted than rejected, but we all know this to be untrue. But the humiliation and, I like to think, poor judgment of unnamed editors is visible on every page for us all to savor.

An editor once wrote to Erle Stanley Gardner on The Shrieking Skeleton, “The characters talk like dictionaries, the so-called plot has whiskers on it like Spanish moss hanging from a live oak in a Louisiana bayou.” And poor Rudyard Kipling didn’t fare much better. An editor wrote, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

Many editors are short and to the point. “Too pedestrian,” on In My Father’s Court by Isaac Bashevis Singer. But they get their licks in. Consider this on C.P. Snow’s The New Men. “It’s polite, literate, plodding, sententious narrative of considerable competence but not a trace of talent or individuality.”

But my all-time favorite tidbit isn't a quote but a report. In the Authors Guild Bulletin, Fall 2000, the editor recorded that John Creasey received 743 rejection slips before a publisher accepted one of his mystery novels. He went on to write 564 books under 13 pen names.

And now, I feel inspired, ready to take on the day and the blank page.

12 comments:

  1. I'm just as guilty as you LOL!

    Good luck and God's blessings
    PamT

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so easy to keep reading those quotes!

      Delete
  2. I love the comments from reviewers regarding a lot of talented writers. It just shows we can't take the negative reviews to heart when we get them because really they are just one person's opinion. A pity though that certain review pubs can do so much damage to book sales. As to wasting time, social media is the worst, and it tempts us all away from actual work.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Social media is a blessing and a curse for sure. I've learned that fair minded reviewers are to be cherished; they are rare indeed. But these books are certainly a lesson in not letting others tell you what to think. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Jacquie.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A fun post, Susan. I can relate to everything you said.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jan. I had to force myself to stop adding quotes.

      Delete
  5. Love this piece, Susan. I waste time on much less thought-provoking and interesting pursuits than reading these excellent books

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marian. These are my "comfort" books.

      Delete
  6. Oh thanks. I had good intentions and just wasted . . . wait a second. No I didn't. Good blog. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Reading this blog is considered educational, Molly. So no wasting time. But replying to comments . . . Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Susan, have you never heard of Free Cell?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have heard of it and I have a friend who plays Solitaire all the time on it. So far I've managed to avoid it. And no, I'm not downloading it. I have enough trouble sticking to my to-do list. (My mother kept a deck of cards by the phone and played Solitaire whenever she was on the phone or on hold.)

      Delete