Maybe I Should Retire

Working on a book that I know I don’t have to finish is one of the most creative things that’s ever happened to me.

Basically, I’m playing around with a ridiculous story that’s fun to write and probably not publishable. That means that all the tension, all the pressure, is gone with this story because it’s not the one I’m officially writing, it’s really almost a conversation with you all, definitely a conversation with myself. And that means that I can stand to one side and observe the process I’ve been struggling with for over twenty years as a fiction writer. The lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again, smacking my head into the keyboard, are emerging effortlessly this time, like old friends stopping by to remind me how this works.

Like Use It All. Stuff bubbles up to the surface and I used to think “That doesn’t fit” or “I should save that for later” or “I don’t know what that means.” Doesn’t matter. Write it anyway. If it turns out to be useful later, great. If it doesn’t, I got it out of my head. I have no idea why Nita is drunk in the first scene. I’m not worried about it. The reason will either emerge or I’ll take it out in the rewrite. It showed up in the scene, I used it, moving on now.

That ties in with something Ron Carlson, a great teacher and writer, taught me: Don’t Look Down. Back when I was explaining why I couldn’t write this, I mentioned that I didn’t know anything about running a nightclub, about LA, about police departments, yadda yadda. I forgot and looked down, which Carlson taught us never to do. He talked about writing a scene where a character is in the British Library and he realized he didn’t know anything about the British Library, so he stopped. And then he thought, “Don’t look down, keep going,” because he could find out about the British Library later. There are a million things I don’t know about this book, but I’m not looking down because I don’t have to. I’ll probably never finish it anyway, why screw up a good time by worrying about something I’ll never have to deal with? Besides, I probably can deal with it. I’m really good at this stuff.

And then there’s Embrace Sticky Time. There’s a time at the start of a story that’s just marvelous fun because everything I see and hear either sticks to the story or slides off and becomes irrelevant. It’s like one of those special effects in the movies where all the parts rush together and make something new, Ironman or some other intricate thing forming before my eyes, except it’s all moving in slow motion, like drifting through space and gathering things up. I don’t know what Nita’s apartment looks like, but I saw a picture on the net that’s the place where Nick’s living so I grabbed that as it floated past me, and suddenly I was writing scenes there and collaging in things that I saw in the scenes. I didn’t know I needed two evil henchmen until I saw a picture of the Trump sons and thought, “Oh, yeah, they’re in there.” Food, music, the cold in the air, the election, a you tube video on heists, something somebody said . . . this story is amazingly sticky and so much fun because of it. Fun is good. Embrace the fun.

It’s important to become a packrat during Sticky Time because it leads (if I’m lucky) directly into Magic Time which is when the world of the story begins to take on a glow. It’s not just that the characters are talking in my head all the time–there’s always somebody talking in there, my voices are constant and varied–it’s that I can see the people and the places and I hear them and I need to write down just that part, that snippet I got that turns into five hundred or two thousand words because, hey, Use It All. I know I’ve moved into Magic Time when I put down the TV remote–and I LOVE story on TV–because I’d rather be with the story in my head than with the characters I love on the screen. That’s the big rule here: Let go of reality and Move into the Magic. Reality will always be there, lurking in the background, but when the story world takes that first golden breath and rises like the dawn, I damn well better go toward the light.

In the past, I’ve had to learn those things over and over again, but this time, since this isn’t a real book, since this is just me having fun, I saw them coming and thought, “Oh, yeah, I remember you, how’ve you been?” and kept writing. Which is leading me to believe that maybe I should just retire and stop taking myself so seriously.

I could probably write a lot of books that way.

Summary:
1. Use it all.
2. Don’t look down.
3. Embrace sticky time.
4. Move into the magic.
5.
6. Retire. Profit.

60 thoughts on “Maybe I Should Retire

  1. I love Magic Time.

    Happy to see you having so much fun with this. A couple of years ago on my birthday, I decided to recognize that I was never going to get published, that writing was just going to be this very fun hobby. And that worked really well until the GH last year, and then there were Expectations again (Mine. It’s pretty clear from the deafening silence my queries receive that no one else sees it that way.)

    I’ve been pressuring myself to Finish This Trilogy so I can self-pub. And it’s so much less fun than it was.

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe retirement is the way to go.

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    1. Jeez, was that ever whiny. Sorry–my mother-in-law passed away over the weekend and her viewing is today. It’s left me in a gloomy state of mind.

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        1. Golden Heart. It is the award that Romance Writers of America gives for unpublished books, like the Rita for published ones. It is a BIG deal to win one, so congrats, Jeanne!

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          1. It was the manuscript I worked at McDaniel with Jenny mentoring me, so I had a definite advantage over the other entrants. Still felt good, though!

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  2. You should definitely retire!

    My personal mantras lately have been “embrace the weirdness” and “let the story go”. There’s a part of me that knows I’m a terrible writer. I break all the rules. My scenes don’t have enough conflict — my books don’t have enough conflict! My beats are wrong and my motivations are a mess and my plots… yeah, I won’t even go there. And that’s the part of me that’s been working on the same book since 2013 and still hasn’t finished it.

    But back in 2011, when I wasn’t worried about being a terrible writer because I was just having fun and no one except the twenty or so people I was playing with was ever going to read what I wrote anyway, I wrote a book in three months. It’s very light on plot. (It got a review recently that said, “It felt like there was something missing,” to which I longed to reply, “Yes, a plot.”) It does so much wrong. But it’s got over 600 positive reviews on Amazon now and every week or so I get a nice email from someone telling me how much they enjoyed it.

    If I could go back in time, I would not start reading about writing. I would not try to learn everything I could with the goal of taking the whole thing more seriously. I would just keep writing and tell my stories all wrong and it would a) be a lot more fun and b) be a lot more profitable.

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    1. I’ve found that for me, I have to do that and then go back and rewrite using everything I know. I still end up with sprained stories, I never get them completely right, but they get better. That’s about all we can hope for, I think. “Best I can do.”

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    2. Yeah. I am one of them that loved your story, Sarah. I loved it so much I bought it in paperback so I could share it.
      Jenny, I love the idea of magic time and sticky time. I need to get back to playtime so I can love my story again.

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  3. Don’t look down stopped me in my first book. Literally stopped me from writing the book. It was a research problem that seemed insurmountable. I went on to a new story and the poor “first” lies moldering at 30k words. That’s five books ago. One day, I shall return because I found the answer to my question.

    I’ve never looked down since.

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  4. I finished a book that I really liked. It has plot, it has characters, it has suspense, romance, a ghost…I wrote it for the fun of it. On a lark, I put it on a blog I’m a regular visitor at that posts a page on Saturdays for critique from the readers. I was slammed! “Why would you write a story about a masseuse? Don’t you know those are fronts for whore houses? Blah, blah, blah…” I’d had fun writing the story! It was good, pretty polished, most of the things a story is supposed to be. I was devastated after I got the comments. I stopped writing for awhile because it suddenly wasn’t fun anymore. I slowly got back into it, finished another story, started the sequel and then started another at the same time. It got to be fun again! YAY! Thought I’d give that blog another shot. This time, no one bothered with the fact that my hero was immortal. They didn’t like that he was drinking in a bar and “Wow! He’s an alcoholic, huh?” No, no he isn’t, he’s immortal and the alcohol doesn’t affect him but they didn’t read that. Took the fun out of that one too!

    I’ve just recently started revising one of my stories and have found a little joy in the whole process again as long as I don’t think too hard about it and just type the words for now. I’m not going to worry if I’m good or not. I know my stories have plot and I really like my characters and so do others, and my valued critters like the stories too, so I’m writing for the fun and we’ll see what happens.

    Don’t ever think it’s not a real book. They’re all ‘real books’ in their own way. And maybe this fun you’re having is exactly what you need to be doing right now.

    And I apologize for this being so long this morning. I didn’t realize how much all of that had bothered me at the time!

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    1. I hope you’re never going to post on that blog or any similar one again. It sounds really toxic. I know from my experience with photography that there are loads of people who believe in limiting ‘rules’, and that there’s one right way to take a photograph. They completely miss the heart of image making, or any other creative venture. I really don’t find it helpful to ask such people – however well-meaning they are – for feedback.

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      1. What shocked me the most was that anyone would think a Hn that in the book, had gone to school, got her license and wanted to open a full service spa, not just a ‘massage salon’ was a whore without even reading anything beyond the first page! And then it got me thinking about how much of an impact that first page has. But still…maybe you just can’t drag some people out of the gutter, I don’t know, but no, no more subs to that one! πŸ˜‰

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        1. You should have written back and said, “Yes, but she’s such a GOOD whore. Really, top of the game. And then this rich guy shows up, looks like Richard Gere, and . . .”

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      2. So true.
        There are other people who just really enjoy making other people miserable, telling them why they’re wrong (see The Internet).

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    2. Where in the HELL are you posting those things? Your hero drinks in a bar and that makes him alcoholic?
      Even if he was alcoholic, how is that a deal breaker? Characters grow and change.
      And I’m positive not all masseuse’s are fronts for whore houses, and I’m equally positive whoever said that has Issues and is probably voting for Ted Cruz.

      The world is full of crazy people. Ask yourself, “Would I have lunch with this person?” If not (and god knows, both of those people sound like people I wouldn’t share a stick of gum with), don’t let them critique your story.

      I was about to tell you to go to Writing/Romance and read the post on scene critique and then realized it doesn’t go up until Monday. But those people are not good critics; they don’t know how to critique a scene. Ignore them.

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      1. I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill us both πŸ˜‰

        And I’m following your Writing/Romance blog religiously, trust me.

        The scene was the H sitting at the bar, waiting for his adversary to come in and ruminating on how he was tired, after 800 years and was just ready to get things over with. If one can’t tell he’s immortal from the 800 years, then…but I love him and I’d throw back a half dozen Macallan with him any day! πŸ™‚

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    3. Nightsmusic, I’m sorry you had that experience sharing your story, and I’m so glad you got back to you being you. I’m also glad you got that toxic mess out of your system here. Be creative, have your fun, and enjoy the journey. And don’t ever go back to that blog again.

      Signed,
      A Former Massage Therapist Who Was Never Mistaken for A Hooker

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    4. Wow. What is it about the Internet that brings out the troll in people? Your story sounds great. Stay away from the meanies and make more like it!

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  5. Celebrate! Do you remember the post several years ago when you said that the voices in your head were gone? Combined with health issues and so many other changes in your life, that must have been truly awful. But now they’re back! They may not be the voices that you want to hear, but they’re back!

    It makes sense to me that they are not from an old story, because you are not the same person you were when you first conceived the story.

    So now you have new story, with new people, and they are alive to you and you are engaged and excited and writing, writing, writing! Congratulations! For now, I think you should just go with it. Write it out. For someone with your talent, I really don’t think there is such as thing as an unpublishable book, but even if doesn’t ever make it to print, you are now doing something that you love again and for someone in a creative field, I think that is critical and totally a justifiable use of time.

    Good luck!

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  6. Crusie, you scared the crap out of me with the title of this blog post. Seriously–I’ll never get that year of my life back.

    But you’re right, of course. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much less fun writing is now that I’ve actually achieved my goal of becoming a (more or less) successful fiction author. I need to find some way to find my path back to the joy of it, or I might have to consider retirement too…

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    1. Would self-publishing perhaps be part of the answer? In that you could give yourself permission to publish what and when you want? I’m thinking of Courtney Milan, who I think is really clear that she won’t be pinned down – the books come out when she’s ready to publish them. I’d far rather this, as a reader, than the kind of production-line writing you often get from bestselling published authors.

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      1. Seriously…self-publishing might give me more control, but also a hell of a lot more work, which is the last thing I need right now. (Assuming you were asking me, and not Jenny.)

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      2. I’m interested in finding out more of self-publishing, too. I completely agree with you also about the production-line books.

        If the constant churning of the same story/different people is about business and making the fastest profit, I guess I can pardon it in my mind. If the drudge is due to author lack of interest or burnout, that makes me genuinely sad for them.

        And, Jenny? I don’t think the wheels you’ve got turning for Nita are for nothing. I want you to have fun with it because I’m selfish and greedy, and I believe you’ve got a good story hammering to get out. I’m enjoying this. I’d truly love to read more about her.

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        1. Writers get rewarded for writing the same book in general and punished for switching off to other genres (let me tell you about that), but the key is “same in general,” not in specific. Dick Francis is my go-to example there. His books were always mysteries, and they were always set in the world of racing, and his hero was always a stoic Englishman who was tortured at the end, but within those boundaries, he delivered different plots about a range of things–art, gems, architecture, photography, sharp shooting, etc.–so you never thought, “Oh, I’ve read this before.” Until you got to the end and the fiendish bad guy tortured the hero.

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          1. Every. Single. Time. Wonder what it was about torture that appealed to him so much? I loved his books, but I always skimmed those sections.

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      1. It was pretty funny at 10:20 am, once I got over the gotcha shock. It’s normal to drink at that time of the day, right?

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    2. Deborah… Deborah, Deborah, Deborah. I have the perfect idea for you, my love. Write a story in illustration via the tarot cards you design. You know how to do everything. Now that I think of it, your retirement would probably spawn some semblance of creative majesty so…go for it. Off with you, I say! πŸ™‚

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  7. Let’s try something else.

    Those other books you’re working on?- you’re forbidden to work on them. You can’t touch them. You can’t look at the collages.

    Those books are off limits to you.

    (Let’s see if it’s the forbidden part that gets your heart racing ; ) )

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    1. I was diagnosed with a blood disease several years ago and forbidden to fly.
      I thought, “Hooray, I’ll have to stop traveling for business.”

      The forbidden is no temptation for me. Unless it’s chocolate.

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  8. I often buy books from authors that self-publish because I find their work fresh and engaging. I enjoy books that have plots and ideas I haven’t read before, that have a new take on things.

    I’m far less likely these days to buy books from some authors that I used to love, because they churn out two very cardboard, similar books with no surprises or personality per year, like clockwork. I assume they are under a lot of pressure from their publishers to have a high output, since they are best-sellers. But, to me, their books are now generic and interchangeable. I can’t remember any of the plots or characters… they are just all basically the same.

    I can’t imagine being able to keep up that kind of writing schedule. Of course, I don’t write at all, so maybe it is not that tough, but it seems like a longer window between novels might be helpful.

    Anyway. I’d rather read things that are individual and full of character. Even if I don’t enjoy a book by an author as much as a prior one, as long as it’s not a forgettable book, the author has still got my future economic vote.

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    1. I’m with you. I’ve had an “auto buy” author move to a “why bother” author as I started reading her newest series and thought, of course that guy has problems and yup, that is just like your last 12 heroines, …

      Jenny’s education on what makes a good story has made the fluff stories unreadable.

      The author I’m speaking of turns out about 3-5 books a year. Easy to do when you tell and not show and have a basic plot repeatedly used.

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  9. I love the list at the bottom. I have found the concept of the Underpants Gnomes to be SO USEFUL. Because a. not everything has to lead to profit, and b. not everything will.

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      1. Plus it’s a fairly non-threatening way to say to someone, “Um, can we think this through?” I’ve actually used it in several semi-serious situations, where people have the BEST of intentions but are obsessed with some equivalent of underpants.

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  10. Do what you will an it harm none.

    I like your summary. I think I’m going to apply it to all me de-cluttering processes.

    I *have* used it all therefore I don’t need to keep it all. Don’t look down: Kondo most but Morgenstern what I need for legal reasons. And so on and so forth.

    I’m wired. G’night (My time)

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  11. I’ve been reading along, quietly, enjoying these great insights and the, sometimes, even more informative comments sections below, but the title on this one really made my heart stop! So I’m piping up to say “I really, really like you. Please don’t stop.” Just in case, that thought actually floated through your mind and didn’t slide off fast enough.

    I’ve loved your stories and am thrilled to have found your community at Argh. It’s been great to read your focus “problems” and realize there’s no standardized way to go about it. It doesn’t come off as a platitude in a consecutive series of loosely related posts. Much more empowered on my own path for it.

    Also “Underpants Gnomes”???

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  12. I see a conflict here. On the one hand you keep casually tossing out that this book is not publishable. On the other hand your contract is for your next work of fiction. So maybe this book is your next work of fiction. Write it fast. Write it fun. Cringe in horror when the first draft is done. Then, and only then, worry about plot and research, etc.
    Isn’t that what you would tell a student with similar issues?

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    1. Nope. I never tell my students what to do. They wouldn’t listen anyway. Independent little buggers.

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  13. Yes. Yes you should. Because even if we never see another book, we’ll get to read your writing here, AND – this is the big one – you’ll be enjoying yourself. I love, love, love your writing, but it’s far more important to me that you enjoy your life. I’m funny like that.

    And I bet we’d get a book or six out of it.

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  14. I’m suffering from bad book ending and am thinking I need to reread one of your books to help pull me out of this. While, like Kate, I want you to be whole, happy and healthy (how is the eyesight and all doing?) I would love a new Crusie to read. I’m thinking I may need to switch genres, maybe YA fantasy or cozy mysteries, because romances are failing me lately.

    Jeanne – this is much more whiny than your post!

    Sorry for the whine, but I know this is a safe place.

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  15. I adore all of this, but especially the summary at the bottom. I think by telling your judgmental self that you’ve retired and are just having fun is brilliant. That will stem the negative thoughts for sure. Absolutely no pressure, and the end result, a yummy new book for us. It’s all good.

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  16. All I do now when I write is have fun, and I learned that here. I’m not kicking myself or, you know, sobbing and rending my garments and feeling like a failure cause none of what I’ve written is yet completely together. And I am just fine with that because I know it will come eventually. My ‘move into the magic’ moments, however, seem to occur when I’m driving for some reason. I drive about two feet in a parking lot somewhere and I have to park again to type notes into my Ipod. It’s so weird! I’m grateful I’m having these small moments of rapture, and I’m even more grateful that they’re not occurring when I’m in actual traffic.

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    1. Driving is fantastic for story, until you rear-end the truck in front of you.
      I try to concentrate on the road now unless I’m driving across PA. There is never ANYBODY on that stretch of highway for most of the middle of PA.

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  17. Yes! Looking down is the reason I’ve been stuck on my Mail Order Bride in Space story. I know nothing about the asteroid Ceres (where my story is set), or about colonization or mutant bacteria or infertility. How much science is not enough/too much in a sci-fi romance? Fear is holding me back.

    So I’m simultaneously working on a fun shape shifter story where the financially strapped heroine owns a dojo (I own a dojo) and the hero must go to Okinawa, Japan (been there) to find the “elixir” but can’t speak the language (I’m learning Japanese) and offers to pay her to be his interpreter/ bodyguard. Since I don’t have too look down, the story is flowing. And I’m having fun again. It’s a relief.

    It makes me happy that you are having fun writing again, too!

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  18. Fab post.

    Your “use it all” and “don’t look down” are my bugaboos lately. Have to keep reminding myself of both.

    So glad to hear you’re back at it and having fun.

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  19. I’ve been down a creative rabbithole since January — not reading blogs, and trying to cut down on my internet in general. But spring is coming, and I poked my nose out just a tiny bit — but no commenting, I told myself firmly. Then this post happened, and I just can’t contain myself.

    I love all the progress you’ve been making in so many things since the beginning of the year! And you know you’d give this same advice to your students as you did to yourself: Write It All (Lumber); Don’t Look Down on a first draft; Embrace Sticky Time — and the corollary: Go With the Juicy Bits and the other three rules. (I’m missing Gnome Underpants, though, but I will Google it.) (-: And we do listen. Eventually.

    I just have to say, it’s good to know that the threat to retire is about removing pressure and not about retiring from writing. For my current story, I’ve been doing a lot of David Bowie research, and his public views on creativity were reassuring. Toward the end of his life, he wasn’t under contract. He just called up an old buddy and said, “Hey, got some time to work together?” And Tony Visconti did (of course he did — we’re talking about David Fucking Bowie), and he got his album (The Next Day) done. When you’ve got something to say, people in publishing will listen.

    I love your Nick and Nita story, but even more, I love the enthusiasm you are sharing with us. Hoorah!

    Now, back to lurk mode. Oh, and I’ve found listening to the Bowie song “Sound and Vision” to be very, very comforting these days. “I will sit right down (in front of my keyboard) waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” I’ve been down a creative rabbithole since January — not reading blogs, and trying to cut down on my internet in general. But spring is coming, and I poked my nose out just a tiny bit — but no commenting, I told myself firmly. Then this post happened, and I just can’t contain myself.

    I love all the progress you’ve been making in so many things since the beginning of the year! And you know you’d give this same advice to your students as you did to yourself: Write It All (Lumber); Don’t Look Down on a first draft; Embrace Sticky Time — and the corollary: Go With the Juicy Bits and the other three rules. (I’m missing Gnome Underpants, though, but I will Google it.) (-: And we do listen. Eventually.

    I just have to say, it’s good to know that the threat to retire is about removing pressure and not about retiring from writing. For my current story, I’ve been doing a lot of David Bowie research, and his public views on creativity were reassuring. Toward the end of his life, he wasn’t under contract. He just called up an old buddy and said, “Hey, got some time to work together?” And Tony Visconti did (of course he did — we’re talking about David Fucking Bowie), and he got his album (The Next Day) done. When you’ve got something to say, people in publishing will listen.

    I love your Nick and Nita story, but even more, I love the enthusiasm you are sharing with us. Hoorah!

    Now, back to lurk mode. Oh, and I’ve found listening to the Bowie song “Sound and Vision” to be very, very comforting these days. “I will sit right down (in front of my keyboard) waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVCk6KEtbVc (Live by Request, 2002)

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    1. Oh, crap. Cut and pasted the wrong thing. Sorry for the double-post-in-one before the link at the bottom.

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      1. Ugh, it’s been so long since I’ve posted that I forgot how to do stuff. This time, forgot to click the box for follow-ups. Sorry for messing up the comment section.

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      1. (-: Thanks, Jane. Missed all of you. I really have to be more careful about my time management cuts.

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