Seinfeld on Writing

A book full of jokes is not nearly as funny as watching a comedian do his act. I bought this book because Seinfeld said in an interview, pressed on this exact point, that really it’s a book for writers. I’m probably the only writer who believed him and ordered the hard cover.

The book is divided by decade, beginning with the 70s. This is when Jerry began writing jokes. They were short.

Still, I persisted. Maybe, I thought, he would have a little commentary on how to write humor at the beginning of the 80s section. He did not. Just more jokes. The jokes got longer and more complex in the 90s and beyond, but I wasn’t reading them anymore. I was looking on every page for writing wisdom. Particularly, I wanted to amp up my humor.

My editor says my novels have a “subtle” humor. The trouble with being subtle is that quiet ironies may land a bit too softly for others to recognize. I looked at every page of Jerry’s book. Twice. There was no writing advice anywhere within. There were witticisms by the dozens, jokes on every page, and, although I laughed a lot, I received zero advise on how to prod others do so while turning my pages.

To give him credit, he never said it was advice he was giving the reader. It was jokes, specifically, every joke he’d ever written. I realized he was teaching by example. I prefer things spelled out. My stomach hurt from laughing; I almost stopped reading, but then I noticed how he set his jokes up. The early ones had three parts and as he got better the jokes became much more complex. Funnier. If Jerry was a bottle of wine, he’d age well.

The other thing I noticed was his page breaks. I am writing this post in block format. It’s what people are used to seeing when they read anything on the internet. Before the internet we had indentation, not a space between paragraphs. But Jerry chose neither of these forms. His jokes were, I finally noticed, printed like poems.

Most people, I assume, know what poems look like. The lines break in the middle of a sentence. Or anywhere. It can seem random if you are not a reader of contemporary poetry and/or do not have an MFA in English. But I finally recognized the poem pattern and it dawned on me. Jerry was writing in joke lines. The early ones from the 70s were the simplest. The first sentence or phrase would be the set up. The second bit was an elaboration. And the third was the punchline.

This was the lesson for writers. Genius, right? He was showing instead of telling. I tried using Jerry’s method in the first few paragraphs of this post and then threw in a few more. Trying to be funny is exhausting.

“Show don’t tell” is another thing writing teachers say to new writers. It’s not always true, because sometimes you need to tell. Everyone knows how to tell. Showing is harder, and I tried to do that, too. But I’m no Jerry Seinfeld.

The first book in my new mystery series, Jane in St. Pete, is available now.  As a thank you for stopping by, I’m offering a free short story prequel

Rejected

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

I read the new book written by Melania Trump’s former best friend this weekend. I have not read any of the books about DT; a new one seems to come out every week. I read enough of his tweets and listen to him speak and have got the measure of the man. He’s thin-skinned and can be quite cruel. He knows no boundaries and nothing about his job.

But Melania…she’s mysterious. And those cheekbones! You can look at her forever. Unless you are her former best friend. I decided to read it after seeing the author on Rachel Maddow’s show Friday. She was really upset and flustered, crying and so on and I couldn’t make out exactly why she was behaving that way on a book tour. So out of curiosity, I bought the book and read it.

Was a definite slog through the first half to three-quarters. This friend was in charge of the inaugural ball right down to pulling a top designer for Melania’s dress and then she stayed on to help Melania transition. She decorated the offices in the East Wing, wrote Melania’s speeches, and all this without pay. At first she had a title and a paycheck, but the West Wing left her department so little money, she gave her paycheck to another person she brought on to help with Melania’s “Be Best” initiative.

I’d wondered about “Be Best” and sure enough author/friend tried to get Melania to use “the” but no, Melania doesn’t let anyone to tell her what to do, so Be Best stands. Up to this point that’s about all I know about Melania except she likes emojis and is a devoted mom. I almost stopped reading several times as all the minutia of the inaugural and assistant to First Lady duties didn’t interest me.

I’ll be honest. I was looking for dirt on Melania. I just can’t dislike her despite that gold digger title she’s been tagged with. It’s extremely difficult to support yourself as a woman alone unless you’ve had a whole lot of support (like a stable home and an excellent college) from your family. Even beautiful women without a man will not be safe. Along the way, most single women will experience some form of workplace harassment. Just because they’re single. So to me Melania was only doing what women have done though the ages. She paired up with a strong man who could protect her.

It shouldn’t be this way but it is. So I had never disliked Melania because she married DT. She’s so private, though. Ask any writer. They want to know more. What makes Melania tick? According to her former best friend, Melania is a taker, not a giver. She gave plenty of examples but I was not convinced. It seemed to me this author has a grudge against the dysfunctional administration, and rightly so, as they tried to pin the massive inaugural budget on her. But she didn’t know where the money went. She was paid close to half a million, but they were saying she took many more millions.

Her gripe seems to be Melania didn’t stand up for her. The court cases are still pending so it’s all a bit murky. I came away from the book knowing Melania a little bit more, but through the eyes of a friend who felt betrayed. So you have to take that for what it is. The book humanized Melania. Showed what a good friend she could be, and showed that she had a mind of her own and didn’t really care what people thought of her. Which is good because so many people (including Ivanka) seem to hate her.

I wrote a short version of parts of this when I rated the book on Amazon (gave it 4 stars). I sometimes do review books on Amazon. I’ve never had a review turned down but this one got the thumbs down almost immediately. Yes, Amazon rejected my review! Even though I was a “verified purchaser.” I’m not upset. This kind of rejection, I can handle. I still can’t figure out, however, how you can write an objective book about politics without mentioning your own politics.

Improv for Writers

Writers have much in common with actors. We mine our own emotional experiences for words on the page and actors do the same with faces on the screen. Recently, I received “Improv for Writers” as a holiday gift, and the book goes even further than my analogy does.

Still slogging away deepening my character’s arc, I wanted to know more about her son. He lives in New York, he’s just married, he’s 31. But why is he living in New York? Because I wanted two adult children living on opposite coasts away from their mother. That serves my main character well.

But. Isn’t it expensive? What kind of job does he have? Oh, he works on Wall Street. Oh, he is one of those guys who writes computer programs that work so much better than humans in picking out winning stocks. Okay!

What these brilliant math coders figured out is that taking OUT the emotion is what makes an algorithm so much more accurate than a human at choosing winning stocks. Because humans have emotion. Computers don’t.

So now I have a way for Jane to interact with her son as they seek to find resolution to a complicated family tragedy. He is all about taking the emotion from the equation. Her daughter (his sister) is nothing BUT emotion. That took me maybe a half hour of improve on Saturday morning to figure out.

On Sunday I got the book, Improv for Writers, that claims to help me “generate infinite ideas” by “letting go of control as a creative person and trusting your imagination to create.” I already knew to trust my imagination, but I am not always so great at the initial letting go of control.

But. Work needs to be done. Original and creative work on Jane’s arc. And Jorjeana Marie promises that the “real power behind letting go of control as a creative person is trusting your imagination and ability to create.” Yes, please, I’ll try some of that.

The book is full of prompts both light and dark, both funny and tragic. And Chapter 14 is all about character. I didn’t count the number of prompts just for digging deeper into character, but there are many. Simply turning to that chapter made my writing juices start to flow.

It’s that kind of book. You can skip to what you need right away if you seek a specific kind of help for your story (like I do) or if you are totally blank for ideas, let’s say for a blog post (like I often am on Monday morning) you can start at the beginning or anywhere else that grabs you and says YES. THIS.

I’m beginning to suspect there is no writing occasion or situation that cannot be improved with improv. And particularly at this busy time of year, when writing hours are in short supply, I love the timed writing suggestions for freeing up creativity around character, plot and setting ~ and so much more. Even blogging. 🙂

Author Mission Statement

I wrote my author mission statement awhile ago, as suggested by Colleen Story. It’s good to know what you really want from writing because it saves time and trouble. Your journey as a writer in the world will become less about the shiny next thing and more about what will serve the unique writer you are and want to become.

“I am motivated by creative fulfillment. The tougher the work, the more diligently I seek transcendence. I’ve gained emotional resilience by traveling into the world, observing all I see and distilling the essence into story. My writing features strong women tested by tough circumstances.”

Since writing out this statement, I’ve looked at it often, and it always centers me and settles me back into what is most important, in writing and in life. Every writer will have a different mission statement. It feels like I always intuitively knew this about my writing self, but I couldn’t quite put it into words until now.

Thanks, Colleen!

Bad Mood Rising

Things were tense around here the other day. And by “things” I mean Al, my husband, was tense. And I do not make it easier on him, because when he gets tense, I get tenser. When he gets angry, I get angrier. When he’s in a bad mood, I catch it like a cold. If I could change just one thing about our relationship, I would change the way we interact in tense times.

It’s not even like those fights (some might say “disagreements” but at our house it’s louder than that) are about anything important. What’s happening underneath the surface tension is not even evident to us. We just get locked in battle and both end up defending our side and things just snowball.

It’s ridiculous. I hate it. I want to change the way we are with each other when things are not perfect. So of course I googled it. “What to do when my husband starts fight” or some such pithy search term.

I found out some interesting things. First, Al didn’t start the fight. I did! Because he was tense, I could tell by the way he was acting and the things he was saying and finally I was just sick of it and yelled at him to stop being so mean.

“I’m not being mean, you are!” Al said. Yes, at 64 years of age, this is the level of our discourse when we are upset.

Note that I “yelled” and Al “said” ~ he might have said it in a fed-up tone. We have been here before. All too often. I’m so tired of it. But I’ve also grown used to it. I had just about given up hope for change. I’d just have to “put up” with him when he was in a bad mood.

Then an article from Psychology Today gave me a much needed new perspective. And a way to fix the way we fight. It is true that I can’t change Al’s bad mood. It’s in the house, and I have to deal with it. Because I easily “catch” other people’s moods (and this is true for many people, not just me) it’s almost as difficult for me to change the way I deal with Al’s moods as it is to make it like his bad mood never happened.

But hey, I love learning, so I read on. We can’t control that another person has a bad mood and we can’t control that we catch that bad mood. What we CAN do, although it’s tricky, is to temper our reaction to that mood. For example, I yell. What I can learn to do instead is to take a breath and think about how I want to yell in the moment, but remind myself that that’s what I always do, and it makes things worse, not better.

So I can feel the way I’m catching Al’s mood, feel the emotion of it, and, instead of yelling, think about a better way to respond. I did start out responding better. Yelling was not my first response. First I tried to be compassionate. “I know how you feel.” I reminded him of a specific instance that had happened to me (losing track of important paperwork) which was exactly what he was irritated and upset about. I think I said “I know how you feel” three times in response to his irritated “Where is it?” His bad mood wasn’t soothed by my empathy. So I got out my journal and vented a little bit in it. That always helps me. His bad mood didn’t like that, either.

So then I yelled. What I could have done was just say “I need some space for a little while” and take my journal into my sweet little writing room. That would have solved everything. Al wouldn’t have said anything to that. He would have been okay with me leaving the room, dignity intact.

Part of what I begin to feel when the yelling and swearing starts is embarrassed and sad. I do not like yelling and swearing at my husband. I want to act mature and loving at all times at my age. But because my emotions are so many and so huge at these times, some get buried under other ones, which makes me even angrier. Because anger is the top emotion for me when we fight.

Al is calm and I am excitable. One of the many things I loved about him from the first was how zen he is. I wanted to be like that! I still do! Al would have gotten over his bad mood fairly quickly had I not lost my temper. Instead, he dug in when I yelled, as he always does. A man has his pride, even a almost always calm man.

We both want to win. But I realize now that I want to win at more than who can yell the loudest (it is always me) and who can swear most creatively and fluently (again, always me). I want to win at taking my own emotions in hand. I want to learn to be excellent at controlling my reactions. I still want, after all these years, to be calm like Al. With disagreements and a lot of other things, too.

So yesterday I told Al that I am up for his bad moods and tense moments in future. And I really need to be as he is retiring soon and we will be together a lot. We will be together in our little Florida condo much longer than we’ve ever been before. So any moodiness on Al’s part (and there will be moodiness and even, occasionally, snark) will be good practice in taming my own angry responses.

I’d like to tame all kinds of my typical responses, and not just to Al. For example, my craving response to even the thought of sugar. I can think about my favorite bakery’s white chocolate cranberry scones for hours a day for several days. Not even kidding. What this does is set me up for failure, because the next time I am in any store that sells any type of sugary treat, I will buy a lot of it and eat it all.

If I could tame the beast that is my response to just those two things, it would be a big life win for me. Mental and physical. So, I’ll see how it goes. And I’ll keep you posted!