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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 186

Updated on January 22, 2018

A Perfectionist at Heart, but . . .

I’m plagued by the desire to be the best.

The problem with that, though, is I will never believe I’ve achieved that level of success.

In other words, it’s a sticky-wicket!

Chasing one’s tail is exhausting and, ultimately, a fool’s endeavor.

This is one subject matter where I will not give advice. I have no answers about this unrealistic goal of mine. I will never be satisfied with my writing and that’s just the real of it.

So let’s talk about some things I can give advice about, based on my experience as a writer.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room! | Source

AUTHENTICITY

From Zulma: “I have a story brewing in my head that involves adultery. The key to the story involves a landline telephone as opposed to a mobile. I feel that with mobile phones being more prevalent today than landlines, the story should either be set in a time when telephones where more in use or the couple should be older and would have a landline in addition to their own personal mobiles. My husband says it doesn't matter and I should just write the story and not focus so much on small details. Am I obsessing over this too much or do you and your followers think it's something that lends a 'more real' feel to a story?”

Well, first of all, this is 2018 and my wife and I have a landline, so it’s not totally unheard of . . . oh, wait, we are older. LOL

Having said that, it really seems like a pretty easy fix. Landlines were still fairly common in 2008…just set the story in 2008 and be done with it.

As for the bigger picture, I think authenticity is very important, and I love that you are focusing on a small detail like that one. So many writers, many I know, would never consider that small fact and would skip right over it. I like you more today than yesterday, Zulma, for thinking of that. LOL

Two things have been established by your question: One, your husband is not a writer, and two, you are!

Different time periods require authenticity with regards to dialogue and scenes.
Different time periods require authenticity with regards to dialogue and scenes. | Source

Tugging at Heart Strings

From Eric: “My ghost writing is a blast because it is technical so I get called to make it personal. ‘We think of a life so altered by the wrongful conduct of another that they will never dance with their wife again’. So I dig deeper: Do your commercial clients ever desire you to cross breed to tug and the heart strings of their probable customer base? (you know - puppies playing with a little boy to sell sodas).”

Eric, I’ve been lucky with my customers. I’ve had two customers now for about six years, and they have loved my content writing from the beginning and given me free rein with my style. They love the results and have basically turned their websites over to me. And about six months ago I picked up a multi-millionaire in Texas who owns seven companies, and he is ecstatic with my writing style, and that writing style includes exactly what you are talking about.

I have basically crossed the line when it comes to commercial content writing. I make it personal for my customers. This is my style and I’m sticking with it. It’s what I’m good at. If my style does not marry with the needs of a customer, then we are not a good fit and we need to get a divorce. It’s that simple for me, and I make that known to the customers early on.

So yes, my friend, I tug at heart strings when writing content. I’ve said often in the Mailbag that I believe in the five senses when writing creatively. I also believe in the five senses when writing commercial content.

Character Biographies

From Linda: “Bill, perhaps asked before, but hopefully worth asking again. Do you create a biography (in your mind, or on a piece of paper if you are old and forgetful like me) for the characters in your novels before you begin writing? I'm thinking that something like deciding their physical, emotional, and mental characteristics before you delve in, and how they might be connected to other people in the story would help avoid problems or discrepancies.”

Yes, Linda, I do. It’s crucial for me to do so. My memory is not as sharp as it once was, and it is crucial that I do this. Where I stumble is in adding story details to some sort of organizer so I can look back and make sure I have no discrepancies regarding story facts. I will sometimes forget to jot down important pieces of the story for reference, and then I will contradict myself later in the story. And that is embarrassing!

I did exactly that in my last novel, “Shadows Fall Over Rosarito,” and the novel went to press with that discrepancy.

Ultra-embarrassing! One of my followers (thank you, Melissa) spotted it immediately and told me about it.

Sigh!

Every main characters should have a biography prior to writing a novel
Every main characters should have a biography prior to writing a novel | Source

Switching Tenses

From Paula: “I have a nasty habit of switching tenses when I write. Here’s an example: “She drove to the Mall and looks around for what she needed.” I’m aware of the problem but I’m not sure how to stop making those mistakes. Any suggestions?”

Paula, here’s my suggestion: be careful!

The fact that you are aware that you are doing this is a huge step in the right direction. There are a lot of writers . . . a lot . . . who make similar mistakes and don’t even realize they are mistakes. If you know you have a problem you can work on it, and my suggestion is to slow up, do an edit with only that in focus, and eliminate the mistakes as you go. We all edit our works numerous times anyway, especially novels, so why not do an edit specifically designed to catch tense mistakes?

That’s all I’ve got for you on this one.

No More Questions

This may be the shortest Mailbag on record, but that’s okay. I’ve got a lot to do, so we can stop right here and we can all go do whatever it is we do on a Monday.

I plan on chasing my tail some more. I’m really good at it, so why not?

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That would be nice, John, since I don't seem to be able to make the time to go to your website. Thanks a bunch!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Short but sweet, Bill. Great questions and answers this week. Hopefully, I am back on board and more active here from now on.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I feel like I'm always catching up, Frank. Thank you!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 months ago from Shelton

      Billy didn't know how I m issed this one last week.. but Zuma's questioned intrigued me LOL... catching up my friend

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Bronwen, I still use a pen on paper for notes. I doubt that practice will leave me, and I'm fine with that. Thank you very much.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It could be for sure, Michael my friend! I have been known to erect stumbling blocks in the past. :) Hopefully I will continue to grow and learn, my friend.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      7 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      I do so love reading the questions you are asked and the great ways in which you answer them. They are so helpful to read - and take note of for the next time we put pen to paper. I know the latter sounds old-fashioned, but sometimes it's more convenient when we get the flash of an idea we later want to expand. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 

      7 months ago

      Great questions, great answers, as usually and you will never know how I utilize Monday morning's (sometimes I get to it late) "Mailbag" installments unless I tell you. As you can see most of the answers I am storing on the shelfs for possible future references. Following though is bothering me: mainly "chasing one's tail" Is that necessary?.. Couldn't be that "exhausting endeavor" acts sometimes as self- erected stumbling blocks preventing us to achieve otherwise achievable ?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Suhail, thank you for sharing all that. Fascinating about the movie Troy. It is so easy to make mistakes like that. Research, research, and then research some more. :)

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill! I'm falling behind as well, so you have company. Thanks so much for finding the time to stop by.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well thank you very much, Billie!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Alyssa! Thank you!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      7 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Bill,

      your response to Zulma applies to me as well. However, I just want to be careful that it is not the other way round too. For example, one has to be careful that there were no CDs, mobiles, digital SLRs, etc. in the 80s.

      One of the talkative hunter I once met told me a story from 1980s of how his dog and a deer came close to each other and then to understand each other better, sniffed the air and came so close to each other that their noses almost touched. It would have made a fantastic story till he said, "all of a sudden a storm was all over us, whipping up wind so much so that I fell off and let loose my laptop ".

      The first scenes of the movie 'Troy' were later deleted because the breed of dog they showed sniffing through the dead bodies was not even 'invented' by humans till middle of the last century.

      Regards,

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      7 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Here it is - Sunday, and tomorrow is another mailbag. I'm really running behind this week, but I'd never want to miss it. Great stuff today, and hopefully, I'll see you tomorrow!

    • raucciwrites profile image

      Billie Raucci 

      7 months ago from Illinois

      Great installment!

    • Alyssa Nichol profile image

      Alyssa 

      7 months ago from Ohio

      Another great installment! I truly enjoy reading these! Have a wonderful weekend!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, that's interesting, you leaving the U.S. and the changes which have happened here. Thanks for that perspective...and the question...a first I might add.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for your thoughts, Manatita! Writing should be, for me, an emotional connection. I know of no other way to write.

      Peace and love

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      8 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Bill,

      Well, you've opened my eyes, I knew cell phones were popular but I didn't realize they had almost replaced landlines in the US. Man, I turn my back for 30 years and look what happens. LOL

      I have a question for a future mailbag.

      Brian mentions Grammarly as an aid. What are your thoughts on using this or other grammar checkers? Are they making writers lazy or more productive?

    • profile image

      Manatita44 

      8 months ago

      Another lovely Hub with short but great questions.

      Yes, for me, great writing always tugs at the Heart. It's probably my main purpose in writing.

      I like the idea of using the landline for the adultery story. Still the cell phone would also work. We are doing the same thing and being human with different tools.

      I think the essential thing here is the era in which the story is set. Lots of Love.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for your thoughts, Zulma! I appreciate you always being here despite the fact you don't write on HP....I wish you did.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Rasma! I'm having a wet week, but a good one nonetheless. I hope you are having a splendid week as well.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      8 months ago from United Kingdom

      The mailbag may be small, but there's lots of good stuff here.

      Thank you for the compliment. You are correct. My husband is not a writer. He's hard-wired to do maths, science and all thing technical. All the things I've no head for so we compliment each other well.

      I too strive for perfection even knowing I will never achieve it. Maybe that's what keep mediocrity at bay. lol

      Heidi makes good points regarding telecommunications. If the story didn't rely so much on that phone ringing, then the time period wouldn't be such an issue. We did away with our landline when I got bored with messing with the telemarketers' minds.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      8 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Lots of helpful advice here. Always have to be careful of those tenses. I even have noticed in my poetry. I begin in the past and suddenly several verses down I am in the present and then I must go back and rethink things carefully. Hope you're having a great week.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks Chitrrangada Sharan! I'm trying, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for that suggestion, Brian! I might try it myself. Hope you are well, my friend.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I'm looking forward to your next visit.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I love your attitude, Flourish! Made me laugh because you sound just like me regarding talking to people.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill! I hope you are surviving this winter nicely. You guys have had a tough go of it while we bask in warm temps.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It truly is not easy, Donna! As long as I've been writing and I still fall into that trap.

      Thank you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, it's my pleasure, Bronwen. Thank you for the visit.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dora! I'll keep it going until my fingers no longer work.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Peg! I can say without hesitation that I don't miss the landline phones and their curled and tangled cords. lol

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, that's the ugly truth, about being the best, but that won't stop me from being annoyed that I'm not. lol

      Thank you for visiting on this rainy Tuesday, my friend.

      bill

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      8 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Interesting questions and answers and I always learn something from your mailbags!

      A true perfectionist is never satisfied with even his/ her best work. That’s the sign of a sincere and true perfectionist. You are the best Bill!

      Thank You!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      8 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Re Paula's switching tenses in the middle of a sentence habit, that might be something that Grammarly will catch. After freewriting her first draft, Paula could copy and paste a few paragraphs at a time (or maybe a whole story or chapter?) into the form at the Grammarly website to get a grammar check. Grammarly is often wrong but is right often enough to be worth using. Paula of course would be prudent to then do her own copy edit and then to ask another person with the skill to copy edit the work. She could return the favor sometime if asked.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Even the short mailbag articles are interesting, Bill. I'm looking forward to the next edition of your series.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      8 months ago from USA

      I liked the question about the landline. I’m a slow adopter when it comes to technology and many other changes but even I have finally given up the landline. The reason for my choice was the cost and I just didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was being overused by telemarketers. Anyone I want to talk to I will give my cell phone to. I can always block them.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      8 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. It may be a short mailbag, but very informative. The question about switching tenses is something I have to be constantly aware of when writing about travel. I sometimes do the exact same thing. Good advice to do an edit just for this issue, I like that, and can do that. Have a great week.

    • bloggermelive profile image

      Donna 

      8 months ago from East Yorkshire, UK

      Thanks for the info on tenses. I am working on that aspect myself and it is not easy.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      8 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      So interesting to read - thank you for the tips and advice.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      8 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for keeping this mailbag class going. I can relate to Paula's problem. Good answer!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad you enjoyed, Kari! Thank you for stopping by.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Awww, thanks Pop! That means a lot to me.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Heidi. I can certainly see your argument for perhaps a time period, say, thirty years in the past. Thanks for your thoughts and knock 'em dead this week.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, it takes practice, practice, and more practice. Keep working on your craft, my friend, and thank you!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      8 months ago from Ohio

      I thought this was a great mailbag. All the topics were helpful to me. Thanks.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      8 months ago

      You may disappoint yourself, billy, but you never disappoint me.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      8 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      I liked the question about the landline phone and its appropriateness in a modern story as well as your answer. Good mailbag as always, Bill. And the pursuit of perfection is a worthy goal.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      8 months ago from SW England

      I don't think any of us will ever think we're the best, bill. We can only keep getting better by pushing our standards.

      Great questions continue, amazingly.

      Proof reading is a must, ref Paula's question. I read each paragraph as I go and often notice silly mistakes. Note that I say 'silly'; we have a saying with the children, 'Silly, not stupid.' That saves all our self-esteem!

      A mellow Monday to you, bill.

      Ann

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      8 months ago from Chicago Area

      I'm hoping that the Mailbag is short because everyone is busy writing in the New Year!

      Re: Authenticity and Telephones. While, yes, the time could be set to a time when landlines were still common, I'd be more inclined to set it when they were the main telecommunications method.

      I say this because mobile phones have completely changed how we communicate and our communication expectations. As well, there's even a difference in methods and expectations between "old time" cellular phones and today's smartphones. People are aware of these subtleties, especially if they've personally observed these changes over time.

      Okay, short day in the Mailbag. Make it a great week!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      All of the things asked here are my concerns as well. I do change tenses without being aware of it and I wish I can tug at heart strings when I write. Maybe, this is why I keep coming back here. It gives me hope and courage to keep writing.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mike, you and me both...old that is...and I agree with you. I really don't think that's an issue I would lost much sleep over...the landline, not being old. lol

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 

      8 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Good morning Bill - Good to see the Mailbag perking along. There is a landline in my kitchen, oh, yeah, but I am old. Unless that phone is a main character (Stephen King) then the detail will go unnoticed by a reader.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Verlie! You are appreciated.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Melissa, I'm just impressed you found that loose end. I missed it after four readings. LOL Thank you for the kin words. Your Vikings started out strong and then the Eagles slammed the door.

      Stay safe and warm, my friend.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      8 months ago from Canada

      Good morning Bill, excellent writer's questions today, and great responses. You provide a wealth of info, resource for the writer. Much appreciated. Monday, another working day, see you later. Good luck on the road to perfection!

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      8 months ago from Minnesota

      Good morning and Happy Monday Bill! I just want to point out to the other readers that I might have caught a small discrepancy, but the book itself was FANTASTIC and I highly recommend everyone read the series, if you haven't already!

      Ok, so it was suppose to be snowmageddon here today, which would be ok so we MN's could stay at home and lick our wounds from the crushing defeat of our Vikings...but so far, we got nothing. So, back to work it is!

      Have a great and productive week!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, as always, you have me laughing out loud this Monday morning, and I thank you for my weekly laugh. As for your new question, if you are Looney Tunes then so am I. More later! Esotericness....your given name...too funny!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Bill my man you have done me a great service in two regards - more for sure.

      I now relish the check out lines. What color shirt, what language is the first, why a suit with worn out shoes? Overweight in skinny pants. What is the real reason the young child cries. Check out those tabloids (how come I don't know of anyone from week to week?)

      And second is finally enjoying the battle within. It has always been there and always shall be. So bring it on prick!!

      And as always a question, I hope your followers aren't turned off by my esotericness. (not a word they tell me hmm but has my given name in it)

      Sometimes I withdraw with my key board and writing. I mean I have at least 100 articles not published. Because they were just meant for me. Does that seem totally looney Tunes to you?

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That is very kind of you, Kristen! Thank you!

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Linda! The chicks are in the garage so they are fine. All have lived so far, which is a nice bonus.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      8 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great mailbag as always Bill. I look forward to your hubs every chance I can get to see them.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, happy Monday to you and thank you for answering my question. I thought perhaps I was just being a fuss-budget. It's going to be a wet one; good luck keeping the chickens dry.

    • billybuc profile imageAUTHOR

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It's exhausting, isn't it, Janine? Oh well, I guess it's better than being happy with sloppy work, eh?

      Happy Monday my friend! Thank you!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      8 months ago from New York, New York

      I am with you, Bill and the perfectionist in me is never quite done nor satisfied. So, I most definitely can relate on that level. Just happy to know it isn't just me and in good company with you on this. That said now want to wish you a Happy Monday and week ahead, too :)

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