Years ago, when I only worked on short stories, one of my writer friends told me that if I were ever going to have a serious career, I had to write a book. That’s the first time I thought of writing as a long term thing or even a possible career. After all, I’d gone to our local library to hear Kurt Vonnegut, and his advice for new writers? “Don’t quit your day job.”
My friend took her work very seriously. She wanted to not only sell, but she wanted to win awards and accolades. She wanted to expand minds by tackling gripping topics and concepts. She wanted to be an author. I wanted to be the best I could be, too, but my goals weren’t nearly as lofty. I wanted to be the next Agatha Christie instead of the next Pulitzer Prize winner. I wanted to be a writer. (My differentiation, but “author” sounds so much loftier to me.) We ended up renting a movie one night, Rich and Famous, starring Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. It was perfect for us. Jacqueline Bisset portrayed a brilliant, literary writer with a distinguished career, and Candice Bergen wrote gossipy books that became bestsellers. Neither of us have achieved those goals yet, but it was clear which one of us was which.
A fun scene in the movie shows Candice Bergen and her husband getting “friendly” in bed, and Candice Bergen pushes him away, jumps up, and hurries to a chalkboard she uses to jot down story ideas. I told my husband about it, and he shook his head. “That’s what you need,” he said. “It will replace the pen and paper you keep on the nightstand.” (NOT that I ever use it when John’s feeling “friendly.”) But the very next weekend, he put a green chalkboard on the wall in my office. And I have to say, I use the stupid thing all the time. I list deadlines I set for myself to finish scenes and chapters. I list ideas or important dates. Sometimes, I list a new character for a story with a description and “tag” to remind me how I want to portray him until he becomes “real” to me.
I know computers are wonderful things. They can copy and paste, search and find, and all sorts of useful things. But I’m here to tell you, a chalkboard’s not bad either.