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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 267

Updated on July 29, 2019

Stacking Wood

The firewood was delivered last week.

Two cords dropped in the driveway out front, which means it all has to be carried to the back, via wheelbarrow, to the aviary which will act as a wood shed during the winter.

Two cords is a lot of wood for those of you unfamiliar.

I like stacking wood. There’s a bit of an art to it, stacking it so it is secure and won’t topple over, and yet has tiny gaps in it so the air flows through it and helps with the drying process. It is tedious work at times, but it is also rewarding. Every layer is important. If you get lazy laying the first layer, your stack will fall over sooner or later. Concentrate on the details and everything will be all right; skimp on the details and your stack will come tumbling down.

People always ask me how you build a successful writing business/career.

It’s a bit like stacking wood!

Let’s do this Mailbag thing.

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

History of the Mailbag

From Mary: “Your mailbags are a great way to kick-start the week. Did you always have them on a Monday to get your reader's off to a good start?”

Thank you Mary! I actually started them on a Monday because it fit into my schedule best on that day. I think it was a reader who mentioned, after about a month of Mailbags, that it was a good way for her to start her week in the right frame of mind. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. Truth be told, I wasn’t even planning on this being a series. I was just trying to toss all the recently-asked questions into one article and be done with them. But after the first Mailbag, more questions followed, and more, and more, and here we are, five years later!

Pinch It Off?

From Mel: “I love your comment about tinker with it until hell freezes over. That applies to me too. At some point I guess you just have to pinch it off and get off the pot. Unless...Maybe that's why a writer needs another set of eyes, because his own writing eyes are only turned inwardly, and he or she cannot see his work as it really is. I think I need someone to review my work objectively, but I'm too damn bashful. What do you think about this, do you have somebody read your work as you are writing it?”

First of all, Mel, that phrase “pinch it off and get off the pot” is a classic. A bit graphic, yes, but a classic nonetheless. I have never heard that one, so thank you!

No, no one reads my work as I’m writing it. I have a hard enough time getting local friends and family to read it after it’s completed. My wife would be the obvious candidate, but she’s much too busy with her own career to look over my shoulder while I’m writing.

If I write something I’m sure she would like, I read it to her in the evening, but other than that, no one reads my work until I dump it in your lap during the week.

I do agree that a writer cannot see his own writing objectively. What’s that old saying? A doctor who diagnoses himself has a fool for a patient? Kinda the same thing, don’t you think?

My Work Ethos

From Liz: “I admire your work ethos. Do you write every day or do you take days off to recharge?”

Thank you Liz! It ain’t what it once was. When I first started with HP I wrote an article per day for two solid years, 730 in 730, and I was pretty proud of that. But no more! I write five days per week, and on weekends I’ll maybe write two hours in the early morn to tie up loose ends.

My body of work continues to grow, but not at such a frantic pace.

I actually need to think about a vacation of sorts. I haven’t taken one in seven or eight years. I’m thinking of driving down to Southern Oregon to see my best friend Frank in September. I think I need to get away from it all for a few days to do as you suggested, re-charge.

No real regrets
No real regrets


From Zulma: “Do you ever regret any decisions you've made regarding your characters. I heard recently that JK Rowling said she made a mistake shipping Ron and Hermione. In hindsight she realized that Harry and Hermione were the better pairing. Any thoughts?”

It’s a fascinating question, Zulma, and my quick answer is no, I really like my characters and I’m quite happy with their development. Any dissatisfaction I have about my books has to do with the development of the storyline and not the character.

I love my very first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today,” but I could do a much better job with it today than I did seven years ago. Truthfully, that’s the only book I’m dissatisfied with. I love “Resurrecting Tobias” and wouldn’t change a thing about it except possibly shortening some of the “readings.” And I love the “Shadow” series. The beauty of doing a series is it gives you a chance to cover up early deficiencies in later installments, and you always have time to add to character development. I’m working on the sixth installment of that series now, and I’m just getting around to an in-depth look at one of the main characters, Striker, so doing a series is very rewarding in that way.

Judging from my meager book sales, maybe I should regret some decisions about my characters. LOL

Great question . . . thank you!

We are a bit unorthodox around our house
We are a bit unorthodox around our house

Back to the Woodpile

So, did you understand the analogy?

Here’s the thing about building a writing career: there are no shortcuts!

I think back to the classic days of Rock n Roll in the Sixties. There were quite a few one-hit wonders back then, as record companies were very eager to sign on just about anyone who had a tune and could come close to singing. But just as quickly as those groups hit the scene, they disappeared, never to be heard from again. They didn’t have what I call “staying power.” They didn’t know how to write music. They barely could play a guitar, and they could barely carry a tune. They flamed out quickly, while groups like The Beatles, The Stones, etc., had hit after hit after hit. Those successful groups had paid their dues early on. They learned their craft, so that when their big break did happen, they had the foundation to build upon.

It’s not that much different with writers. I can think of only one truly talented one-hit wonder in literature, and that would be Harper Lee. But for every Harper Lee there were hundreds of others, like John D. MacDonald, who labored for decades getting any kind of writing gig they could find just to put food on the table. Finally their big chance arrived, and they had the chops to succeed because of all that hard work done earlier.

Build your firewood stack carefully. Pay attention to details.

And have a great week of writing and living. In the final analysis, it’s how you lived your life that’s important; not how you wrote an article or book.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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