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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 263

Updated on July 1, 2019

Misery Loves Company

I drove to the bank yesterday. That’s certainly not an earth-shaking revelation, but I mention it because on the way I passed a bedraggled young man standing on a street corner playing a guitar. He had a tip jar out front, and he was just playing his music to the Music gods, hoping someone would drop a buck or two in the jar, just enough to keep him going for another day.

I understood that man totally, and I’m sure many of you do as well.

That’s what being a writer is like, or you can substitute the word “writer” with artist, sculptor, or anyone else dabbling with The Arts. It is facing incredibly long odds and just not giving a rip; it’s working in obscurity and finding joy with each word written; and it’s going to sleep at night knowing you have done something to add to the education and/or entertainment of your fellow humans.

I applaud that young man, and I applaud all of you. What you do is important. Never forget that fact!

Let’s do this thing!

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room!

Awe and Splendor

From Eric: “A little long here, patience please. So we have wild quail nesting in a porch rafter. I have no doubt that they are there because "we" scare away birds by play. "symbiotic" kind of. I want to write about this wonderful experience from the trust to the 3 just learning to walk.

“So here is my question: Transition from awe and splendor to blow by blow, or Blow by blow transition to awe, splendor and love. Or should I mix them up?”

Eric, it’s a fascinating journey inside your head, and I say that with all respect. I love the way you worded this question.

Mix them up, by all means! I think the contrast in styles, the back and forth, would be fascinating, and I also think it would be a great way to grab your readers and not let them go, which really is our goal always when writing.

Go for it, my friend, and I look forward to reading about that little quail.

Quail, quail, everywhere, and not a dime to spare.
Quail, quail, everywhere, and not a dime to spare.

Lost Novel

From Lorraine: “Hi Bill, I am devastated right now, because of a computer incident (not sure what really happened) my novel (I was at chapter 8) was totally lost. I am working on getting it back but don't know if I'll be successful. I really don't know what I'm doing. I am not tech savvy so I'm going to have to figure out how to get a backup. Should I not retrieve it what encouragement or advice can you offer. I feel like a got punched in the gut with a two by four.”

Been there, done that, and it is like having your arm cut off.

That might be a bit dramatic on my part, but I do empathize with you.

I read somewhere that nothing on our computers is ever truly lost. I wonder if that is true? I know there are tech guys in Olympia who are quite good at retrieving data. Maybe there are a few in Tacoma as well that you could check out or call.

The solution, in hindsight, of course, is to save your manuscript after every chapter. Save it to the Cloud, or save it by emailing it to yourself, but save it one way or another. That way, and I know you know this now, if you lose it, you are at worst losing just one chapter.

Best wishes, Lorraine. Give those guys a call before abandoning all hope.

Two Questions About Writing a Novel

From Venkatachari M: “While writing a novel, how to distinguish between sections within a chapter (putting some dots or lines, etc). I mean which is the appealing way of breaking sections.”

There are a variety of ways to do it, Venkatachari M. I find just skipping a space at the end of one section is as effective as any. That visual “gap” is a signal to readers that you are moving into a new section. You could also do what you suggested, using some symbol ### between sections. The reader will catch on quite quickly, I’m sure.

And a second question:

“One more doubt is should I mention the chapter numbers or suitable titles to chapters in the novel? How to do it?”

I’m not a chapter title kind of guy, but many writers are. I do use chapter numbers in all of my books. I don’t think there is a solid reason why you really need them, other than to aid the reader with organization and uniformity. That’s one of those things which has just always been done . . . Chapter One . . . Chapter Two . . . and so on.

In my mind, and this is just my opinion, chapter titles are optional; chapter numbers are not!

No chapter titles in any of my books.
No chapter titles in any of my books.


From MizB: “One rule I break, and I guess I’m asking if you do, too, was the rule that the writer must provide a transition for each paragraph. I think this is just a little too much and not only provides a boring regularity, but can actually track the writer off the given subject.”

Sister Mary Elizabeth is applauding from her grave right now, MizB. She pounded that into my head daily. “You need a transition sentence, Bill, or the reader won’t know where you are going.” And my response to Sister Mary Elizabeth is STUFF IT, SISTER!

This is really a great topic, so thanks for bringing it up, MizB.

In novels, where there are chapter breaks, I believe some sort of transition sentence is necessary at the end of each chapter. In truth most writers, with any skill at all, do this naturally without any thought. Our job, as fiction writers, is to lead our readers on a journey, and anytime we come to a fork in the road i.e. a chapter break, we need to provide some sort of road map.

One related thought: if we have to add a transition sentence at the end of every paragraph in a novel, we are doing an extremely poor job of writing . . . in my humble opinion.

Is it any different for non-fiction? I don’t think so. Chapters are a change in direction, and as long as you warn the reader in advance that you are changing directions, you will have done your job.

That was a long-winded way for me to agree with you, MizB. I think it is too much, it does provide for boring regularity, and it can track the whole mess off the given topic. Writing should flow. It should not read like a telegraph message. Those of a certain age will understand that reference.

Back to the Street Corner

Bev and I are suckers for the tip jars you see in front of street musicians. We will always toss spare change in them. I admire anyone who has the courage to put their art out there for all to see and critique, and that includes all of you as well. Imagine yourself standing on that corner, playing your song . . . I am dropping a couple bucks in your jar in appreciation for all that you do.

Keep up the good work!

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)’

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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