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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 273

Updated on September 9, 2019

Random Musings

I was visiting with my best friend Frank down in Oregon this past weekend. We’ve known each other since 1962; do the math and I think that computes to fifty-seven years, longer than many of you have been alive.

To say I cherish his friendship would be a gross understatement.

Anyway, we were reminiscing as two old men have a tendency to do, and we were ruminating and musing, and sometimes we were doing all three at once . . . reminiscing, ruminating, and musing . . . which is quite a juggling act . . . and at one point Frank said “thank God you and I were raised during the 50’s and 60’s; it was such a simpler time to grow up. Kids today have it so much harder than we did.”

I had to give that some serious thought. Did we have it much easier? Was it much better then? I really don’t know. I loved growing up then. I loved the freedom and the illusion of safety. The neighborhoods seemed friendlier. People seemed more willing to help one another. Life was simpler without the technology explosion. We were joyously naïve without the internet and cable tv.

But I don’t know if kids have it harder today. I really don’t. Growing up is always hard. There has always been bullying and there always will be. There will always be the loss of loved ones, and the heartbreak of love lost, and there will always be confusion and doubts and fear. That’s how life is, universal, all-inclusive, a similarity that spans the ages.

Anyway, those are my random musings on this Monday morning, more bullets for your writer’s gun. Let’s see what the Mailbag has in store for us.

The Mail Room!
The Mail Room!


From Nancy: “While writing a novel, should I edit as I go, or wait until I finish a draft?”

I’m going to be no help at all with my answer, Nancy. I’m not going to give you a definitive answer because I don’t believe there is one.

You should do what is comfortable for you.

I edit after a draft of the entire manuscript. I know quite a few writers who edit as they go along. Personally, and this is just me, editing as I go along ruins the flow for me, and for me it is all about creative flow. I want the story to pour out of me, and it can’t pour if I’m continually applying the brakes and correcting grammar.

But again, that’s just me. You might be totally comfortable editing as you go. Try it both ways and choose what works best for you.


From Lynne: “Does the antagonist in a novel have to be human? That sounds like a strange question, now that I’ve written it haha. Anyway, what’s your opinion on human vs non-human?”

Lynne, it better be okay, or my entire “Shadow” series of novels is drastically flawed.

The only requirement of an antagonist is that he/she/it provides an obstacle for the protagonist. Throughout history there are many examples of extraordinary books which have non-human antagonists. You are in good company if that’s what you want to do.

Beware the antagonist!
Beware the antagonist!

The Chair

From Tarun: “I have another question to ask and if I am well within the deadline then you can answer this Monday or perhaps the one next. The question is not directly connected to writing per se but it surely is connected to the writing regimen. I say - What's with the chair Bill? I see the internet swarmed with views about how you need to look for the best chair to sit on and write before you even began thinking about writing. Is it that serious a thing about the chair that there is so much noise out there? For me I have a basic chair and when I am absorbed in my work I could easily sit for a couple of hours or more in one sitting and have gotten accustomed to it. I see from the picture you use on the mailbags that even that is a basic chair. Do you actually use that for your writing endeavors? If yes, how does it come off. Are there any do's/don't do's connected to the chair? Can we talk about some chair hygiene today? I guess this could be an open question for even the mailbag readers and they could share there chair hygiene as well. I am also open to any recommendations of a particular chair for comfort etc. But remember I sit in India so the recommendations should be on those lines. Maybe my Indian mailbag readers can help me on this.”

Tarun, I’m laughing only because that’s more information/comment than I’ve ever seen about a chair. My goodness, you gave this some serious thought. I wish I had given that much thought in choosing a chair.

The chair in the picture was the one I used for about two years. It had a cushion on it, it was the right height, and it served me well. Today I have one of those swivel office chairs, more padding, adjustable height, costs about fifty dollars more, and I can’t tell the difference between the two. My bottom was quite happy in both of them.

Regarding chair hygiene, I’m lost. I’ll leave that one to your Indian friends to answer and believe me, I’m looking forward to their answers.


From Bernie: “Real-life settings or made-up settings? Do you have a preference and why?”

Most definitely, for me, real-life settings and yes, I have a reason: I’m lazy!

I started writing a science fiction novel about five years back. The novel took place on a faraway fictional planet. I spent about two days inventing names for places and straining my brain to capture the physical appearance of the locations, and I finally highlighted everything and hit “erase.” The process wore me out.

I like to write fiction. I love to make up stories. I do not like to make up locations. I don’t like to reinvent the wheel. I love the familiarity of known places but again, that is just me. I’m giving you a reason why I do what I do. If you have no problem creating a new place, go for it. Just make darned sure you are very clear and detailed so your audience can easily picture the place in their minds.

Real life settings work best for me
Real life settings work best for me

Marketing Oneself

From Sara: “I know you are a freelancer, so maybe you can answer this question: what’s the best way to market myself as an online writer?”

Sara, this is an important question, and I hope many others read it and internalize my answer.

The best thing you can do to promote yourself as a writer is to write, and write well, and then memorize this mantra:

Write . . . publish . . . repeat!

Your writing is your resume in freelancing. Your portfolio is what you are judged by. A weak portfolio will most often net you nothing in return. Learn how to write and then write. Write on a blog, write for HubPages, write on other sites, but just write, and work hard at improving your writing.

Once you have done that you can concern yourself with the marketing aspect, the social media, the guerrilla marketing techniques, etc.

What I’m saying to you is make sure you don’t put the cart before the horse. There is no quicker way to arrive at a freelancer death than to be a poor writer. Good writers gain a following; bad writers fill the internet with useless doo-doo, and you can quote me on that.

Ebook Vs Hard Copy

From Brandon: “Where do you think we are regarding ebooks vs hard copies? Do you think ebooks will eventually control most of the market? Or will there always be a small percentage of people who just prefer holding a real book?”

The latest statistics I saw, Brandon, suggest that the market is stabilizing after a huge early surge by ebooks. The latest figures I saw point out that sales of traditional books rose by about 5% last year, while sales of ebooks dipped about 17%. There was no mention as to why this happened, but it does follow a trend in the last couple of years.

In the meantime, I also saw a statistic that said 85% of books in public schools are ebooks. I would have to do some more research on that one. It seems a bit high but then, considering school budgets, I guess it makes sense.

Will traditional books survive? I suspect they will. I suspect there will always be people who simply love holding a book, smelling a book, and cherishing a book. At least I hope that’s the case, because I am firmly in the “traditional” corner on this controversy.


The Beatles pretty much speak for me regarding the old days. I’ll let them say it for me:

“There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all”

I loved my childhood. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have quite a few acquaintances who had a tough time growing up, so I’m thankful. I had parents who adored me, I had a great education, and I lived a comfortable life. It could have turned out much differently for this adopted kid, so you’ll never hear me badmouth the old days. They are, in great part, the reason why I am who I am today.

Have a brilliant week!

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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