Writing Lessons From 2020

Once again, I have managed to stumble across some excellent wisdom about writing. This is from the Career Authors website, written by Paula Munier, who is a literary agent, teacher, author, and all-around Knower Of Stuff. We all know that it’s been an extreme year, sneaking up on us and doing things to us nobody saw coming, but at least it has taught us things about the biz that are good to know. You gotta find the good where you can, and at least you don’t have to dig for this little segment of it. Ms. Munier has some well-thought ruminations about what The Year 2020 has done to us and for us, and what it means to the world of writing. Pay attention — it’s always good to have somebody else do some of the thinking for you.

10 Writing Lessons We Learned from 2020

Posted by Paula Munier | Dec 28, 2020 | Craft

10 Writing Lessons We Learned from 2020

Hindsight is 2020. I stole that great line from my son Greg Bergman, Editor-in-Chief for capitalwatch.com. This year was a nightmare, but we did learn a lot—the hard way—about our industry, ourselves, and each other.

1) Backlist matters.

As terrible a year as this may have been for frontlist (books published in 2020, especially in earlier in the year), backlist (books published before 2020) sold very well. Stuck at home, lots of people turned to reading for escape, entertainment, and enlightenment—and when they did, they often turned to the authors they already knew and loved. That’s why book sales were actually up this year—6.4% for print books alone—and established writers benefited the most. The industry typically neglects backlist, but that changed this year. Let’s hope that this new focus on backlist sales extends beyond the pandemic. And that frontlist rebounds.

2) Zoom events can work.

You have to feel sorry for those debut and midlist writers whose books came out in March, April, May, and June. With so many bookstores closed, all in-store book events were canceled, along with the book festivals and conferences and library events that celebrate authors and books. Those publishers that had ignored online events and digital marketing (and there were many) were dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, scrambling to create digital promotion and marketing campaigns as well as online events before they were completely left behind.

3) Writers write.

This year taught us that you can write at your kitchen table with your spouse working from home and your kids schooling from home and your dogs and cats barking and meowing from home. Or not. Either way, we all learned something about the way we work best—and how to carve out our sacred writing time no matter what happens or where you are or who’s in your face.

4) Writers write. Part Deux.

Writing under the aforementioned circumstances may have proved that you do indeed require, as Virginia Woolf warned us nearly a century ago, “a room of one’s own.” I’d been working mostly from our living room, my upstairs office serving double duty as the guest room where my son spent the early months of the pandemic before returning to the city.

When I was asked to do an interview with WABC TV with Sandy Kenyon, including footage of me at my desk, I realized that I needed to get a desk. I got one and reclaimed the guest room as my writing space. It’s the perfect hideaway as I plug away on book four in my Mercy Carr series.

Read the rest here…

Staff Meeting Christmas Cure

The story can now be told.
What’s the bane of existence to every flight chief, workcenter supervisor, and superintendent, not only in the Air Force but, though perhaps with different titles, in almost every organization? STAFF MEETINGS. So here’s what I did for years around Christmas time…and you can, too. Get a Christmas coffee cup with a photoelectric cell on the bottom that plays “Jingle Bells” when you pick it up to drink. I occasionally got caught, but I don’t know how many commanders would stop in the middle of a tirade and say, “What’s that sound?” as I set down the cup. They’d look around the room…everybody else, including me, would look around the room…nobody would hear anything, and the meeting would resume. So would the cup. Sometimes meetings could last for hours. This game could, too. And I’ve been retired for 17 years, and the cup still plays. I love this cup.

Yes, Virginia, You Are A Writer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor at Writer’s Digest, which is always a helpful resource, and has a short essay to share for any writer who could use a little nudge of encouragement during these weird times.

Yes, Virginia, You Are a Writer

In a time and year that has been hard on so many in a variety of ways, more than a few writers have found their creativity dry up. Some have even asked if they are or should be writers moving forward. This open letter is addressed to all such writers.

by
Robert Lee Brewer
Dec 18, 2020

Whether we’re measuring things by lives lost, economic hardships, or wholesale changes to actions and behaviors that were normal and commonplace this same time last year, 2020 has been (and continues to be) a hard year. And that’s true for writers as much as anyone else.

I’ve seen you and heard you on social media saying things like, “I can’t find the motivation to write. I don’t know what to write. That is, I don’t know what to write that matters. There’s so much, too much, and I can’t focus. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to write again. I’m not sure if I consider myself a writer anymore.”

I know; I’ve been you myself. I’ve felt all the same feelings, including that existential writing question, “Am I still a writer?” Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about that response from editor Francis Pharcellus Church to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s question, “Is there a Santa Claus?” 

yes_virginia_you_are_a_writer_robert_lee_brewer

And so with both thoughts rumbling around in my head, I want to answer the former question for you, but also for me. Because I know there have been times I’ve needed this answer during “dry times” in my life and that I’ll likely need this reminder again in the future:

Yes, Virginia, You Are a Writer

Virginia, one thing I know as an absolute truth is that there will always be people on this planet quick to point out what you are not and what you cannot do. With the precision of a Google search, they will pull up all your flaws and let you know why you don’t measure up. They’ll pin lists of reasons why someone else is better or more qualified, and I urge you with all my spirit to avoid enabling these thoughts, whether they come from someone else or—worse—yourself.

Yes, Virginia, you are a writer. In fact, as my wife would say, we are all born writers. Our minds process a variety of senses each and every day, whether it’s the smell of honeysuckle, the taste of peppermint, or the sound of water splashing against rocks. And our hearts beat with love, fear, pain, regret, anticipation, and other feelings—some of them without words to express. And so, we feel doubt, because the language escapes us.

Still, if we didn’t have a word for human, we’d still be human. Or to quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” and Shakespeare himself was faced with the need to create many words. But you don’t have to create a language—not even one new word—to be a writer. Rather, it’s something innate, something that beats within your heart (you know if you’ve felt it), and though it may have grown dormant—like a volcano, it can erupt again.

If you breathe air, love life, think thoughts, feel emotions, then you’re a writer. Do not let the lack of words now discourage you from being who you are meant to be. Perhaps you’re still processing the world, but if you open yourself, the words will come. Believe it like you believe this planet will continue spinning from one day to the next. The words will come!

They will slip into your mind while you sleep. They will touch the very tip of your tongue while you talk. They will—eventually—work their way through your pen or your keyboard, and you will once again be face to face with them, and they will be yours. The words will come! Even this moment, they are making their way to you.

Robert Lee Brewer

By Robert Lee Brewer

Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of Writer’s Digest, which includes editing Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market, and Guide to Literary Agents. He’s the author of Solving the World’s Problems, Smash Poetry Journal, and The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms: 100+ Poetic Form Definitions and Examples for Poets. He loves blogging on a variety of writing and publishing topics, but he’s most active with Poetic Asides and writes a column under the same name for Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

Click here to see this article on Writer’s Digest.

Written By The Fire

Just another little anniversary song, written for Sugar Babe about 3 years ago. A little different for a love song, but it made her smile so it did its job. Sharing something that says “I love you” during the season of love…hope it might encourage somebody else to do the same and maybe we can all warm up the electronosphere a degree or two.

Christmas Eve in Vietnam, 1966

This is a story written by my friend, CMSgt Walter Stolpa, USAF Retired, about Christmas 1966 in Vietnam. It’s always good to remind ourselves of what it was like for those troops, and to also realize that there are US troops going through the same thing right now. He posts this story on his Facebook page each year, and I like to share it a little farther and wider because it’s an important thing to understand what a lot of life is like for our military personnel who put themselves between us and those who would do us harm.

(There are a lot of military-specific terms in here, most of which can be understood by context. The “AP” in the title is for Air Police, one of the older terms, along with Military Police, Law Enforcement, and Security Police, for what is now known as Security Forces in the US Air Force.)

An AP Christmas Eve in the NAM

By Walter M. Stolpa Jr.
CMSgt, USAF/Retired

Monsoon rains danced off the tin roof of the guardmount area. The troops were lost in thought and subdued as they assembled for guardmount. It was Christmas Eve and most were focusing on sweethearts and family back in the world. “Fall in!” the flight chief barked and the men quickly and noisily fell into their squad positions. “Squad Leaders Report!” and the Staff Sergeants rattled off in turn, “All present or accounted for!” Roll Call was taken and the men responded with their post assignments. “Open Ranks, March!” and the ranks opened for inspection. The old Master Sergeant did an about face and faced the young LT, saluted and reported, “Shadow Flight is ready for inspection.”

The inspection was just a formality, just the lieutenant shaking hands and wishing each a Merry Christmas. The guys were swathed in ponchos and assorted rain gear so there was not much to inspect. There could have been a few whiffs of alcohol on some but nothing was said; after all, it was Christmas Eve. “Close Ranks, March!” and the troops once again merged into a flight. The LT commented that OSI says we could be having hostile visitors around, and stay alert. He sheepishly wished them a Merry Christmas and departed the guardmount area.

The old sarge surveyed the troops and knew none of them were motivated to commence the twelve-hour grind in the miserable rain, and he sought to improve their spirits but had trouble choosing the words.

He growled, “We’re 7,000 miles from home, lonely, and feeling sorry for ourselves. While we are here, our families are gathering to celebrate Christmas. Your presence here allows them to do that. Tonight you are not alone; you are with your brothers who share this moment in time with you. Years from now when you are old and grey, you will recall this Christmas Eve with clarity and tell your grandchildren, ‘I spent Christmas Eve in 1966 with my brothers in the Republic of Vietnam at Nha Trang Air Base, fighting for freedom.’

“I want you to be especially alert because our intel says something may be brewing. The local VC units are active and there is an NVA battalion within a day’s march. Focus on your job. You are here to protect your buddies — those here in ranks and everyone on this base.”

I thought, what the hell would we do if we got attacked by a battalion?

The Flight Chief closed with words that tempered our spines. “If the cost tonight involves the loss of life, then let it be mine and not of any of you, for it is you I will fight and die for. Take care of your brothers. Post!”

Sobering at the Flight Chief’s words, we loaded up our gear and hoisted ourselves up into the trucks and jeeps for transport to our sandbagged defensive positions. We sloshed through the muddy trails, picking up and dropping off troops at their assigned posts. My post number was announced and I jumped off the truck with my two buddies for the night and stumbled into the drenched bunker, shining my flashlight looking for rats and snakes. Thankfully, there were none visible for the moment and we laid out our gear to prepare for the long night ahead of us.

The night passed agonizingly slowly, and try as we might to prevent it, the cold seeped into our core. The temperature had to be in the 70s but we were shivering. The relentless rains splattered against our ponchos and bounced off our helmets. Flashes of lightning eerily illuminated the concertina wire, allowing us to survey the claymores forward of our position. My buddy peered through the sights of his M-60 machine gun into the darkness and was humming “Jingle Bells.” From the bunker 50 feet on our left, lyrics were added to the tune. “Jingle bells, mortar shells, VC in the grass, take this Merry Christmas and shove it up your ….” The radio squawked and the Flight Chief boomed out, “Knock it off! Maintain noise discipline!” and all went quiet. Evidently, someone had keyed a mike during the carol.

Later, the unmistakable drone of “Spooky” appeared circling overhead. As per normal procedure, the aircraft was not illuminated so as to make it a lesser target. Flare kickers commenced dropping flares over the distant rice paddies. Shortly thereafter, mini-guns opened up, spraying arcing red tracers through the floating flares. A nervous troop in a far-away bunker slapped a flare, adding to the Christmas festivities. I thought to myself that despite the misery of the rain the aerial display was quite impressive. Thankfully, there were no green tracers searching us out. My partner wondered aloud if the chaplain would be making the rounds this Christmas Eve. I replied, “I don’t think so. Probably too tired from saying midnight services.”

Spooky was drifting off toward the mountains as the expended flare canisters impacted on the ground. I wondered if the mini-guns had targets or just some special Christmas present for the VC? The flares had ruined our night vision, so blackness enveloped us as the steady rain continued to assault our senses. Sirens wailed and the radio squawked, “Incoming! Take cover!” and that answered my question of targets. We hunkered down behind the sandbags as we had clearly heard the mortar shells’ distinct thump, thump, thump as they burst from their tubes. We held our breath as we anticipated the impacts. In the distance, the alert siren wailed as counter batteries searched for the source. Ear-splitting explosions tore into the darkness as three mortar shells — crump, crump, crump — landed in quick succession.

We waited for another volley but nothing but silence ensued. I noted that Spooky had turned to and was on the scene, once again kicking flares and spraying arcs of airborne mayhem. We anxiously wondered if any of the mortar rounds had found a target, but flames coming from the Army helicopter pads answered that. Later we would learn that two Army Hueys got lit up, but thankfully nobody was killed or injured. We also learned that the mortar rounds were just a diversion as sappers had penetrated the Army defenses and destroyed the helicopters with satchel charges. I wondered why the sappers always picked on the Army? We liked to think it was because they knew we would kick their a– if they attempted to come through our wire.

It was 0300 when the Comm/Plotter notified us that the Major and the Chaplain were visiting posts with coffee and Christmas goodies. We were so far out in the boonies that they seldom got this far but we didn’t care much for company anyway. At 0415, the SAT team pulled up and told us to put away all the unauthorized stuff because Santa was a couple of posts down the line. The only thing I had that was not authorized was my little transistor radio, so I made sure it was out of sight. A light flashed from the bunker on our right and that told us we were next in line. Sure enough, a jeep came roaring through the mud to our position. The lights flicked on and off with the proper sign and we allowed it to approach without challenging. I always thought challenging vehicles here was stupid because no VC had a jeep.

Looking uncomfortable and ill at ease, there were the Major and the Chaplain, both in rain gear. They dismounted the vehicle and entered the bunker to get out of most of the rain. “Airman Jones Reports Delta 16 all secure, sir!”

 “It is Christmas Eve so we can dispense with that,” said the Major. “Merry Christmas, men. We have hot coffee and chocolate for you and some treats from the mess hall. Help yourselves. “How are you all doing tonight?”

“Business as usual sir.”

“Any damage from the mortars?”

“No, the mortars were off target and hit nothing, but sappers got two of the army choppers. We think the mortars were just a diversion.”

The Chaplain asked us about our families and told us how much the base counted on us to keep them secure. He then produced some Christmas cards sent from children to the soldiers in Vietnam. They were unopened and he asked each of us to take one. “Well, Merry Christmas, men, and enjoy the fantastic Christmas dinner the mess hall is preparing.” I thought, damn if I will be staying up and waiting in line after a twelve-hour mid, as the jeep disappeared down the road.

So we settled in for the remainder of the long dark night, watching Spooky dropping flares and working out the mini-guns, and wondering if Charlie had any more Christmas surprises in store for us. However, the night passed without any further activity.

Thankfully, the rains had ceased and the eastern sun hurt our eyes as it rose into the sky. Relief rolled around and an hour later we had turned in our equipment and were in the hooch. I looked at my rack and it was inviting me to join it. As I climbed into the rack, I remembered the card the Chaplain left us and decided to open it.

Dear Soldier,
Thank you for my freedom and for fighting for me. I will be spending Christmas with my family safe because of soldiers like you. I hope your family has a Merry Christmas and I am sorry you cannot be home. I hope you do not get killed and that you can be with them next Christmas. My older brother Bill was in Vietnam and died at some place called Ia Drang and my mom and dad have been very sad ever since and so have I. I hope your mom and dad don’t have to be that way. When I grow up maybe I will be a soldier like my big brother was. Thank you for protecting us and Merry Christmas to all the soldiers.
Eddie

My eyes misted up on me as I crawled into the rack and I thought in comparison to a lot of people, I have a lot to be thankful for. I made a mental note to write back to Eddie with how I spent my Christmas Eve with my brothers and how much I appreciated what his brother gave for us. I hoped all Americans appreciate the sacrifices being made for them, but from what I saw on the news I doubted it. The Vietnam War was grinding on and the worst was yet to come.

New Website Music Page

I’ve been trying to concentrate on my next novel and doing some blog posts and a few newspaper columns and suchlike, but the music has been pestering me for an outlet, so I guess it’s time I made a new page for it so it will leave me alone.

I’ve been singing and playing guitar in an incredibly amateur fashion for most of my life, keeping myself amused and seldom bothering others with it…except for that short period when I’d get all the beer I could drink (the fee for that was actually just $2, anyway), at the bar where the submariners hung out on the Navy base, if I sang “Sunshine On My Shoulders” for Roger, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. I’ve been writing songs for around 25 years, but not prolifically and never really intended for the public. Come to think of it, everything I’ve written was very personal and written to tell somebody “I love you.”

But really, all good writing, of any kind, comes from a very personal place, with a deep meaning to the author even if not to Everybody Out There. Some other people may find that meaning, too, and if that’s not a giant throng of humanity, so what? If it enriches one other person’s life in some way, then it’s had a positive effect on the universe. Miniscule, perhaps, but every little positive helps. Maybe it’s a good thing to add every positive you can, because I think it’s everybody’s job to make the universe just a little better off than it was when you found it. Maybe that’s what humanity is all about.

Recently I read a quote by a smart lady named Glennon Doyle: “If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough. Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself. “

I’ve always been too much of an introvert to say, “Hey, universe! Look what I did!” So I reckon I’m not cut out to be a performer…but writers gotta write.  My songs were just meant to make someone smile and know how I felt. Gifts. But it’s possible that somebody else out there might hear one someday and smile, too, and the universe might do a miniscule quiver…a tiny little happy dance. So maybe it’s time to let some of them just swirl around the electronosphere a little, and spread a smile or two on the off chance somebody stumbles across them one of these days, and just maybe I’ll feel that little quiver all the way back to me, and I’ll smile, too.

So maybe from time to time I can manage to record one of these little gifts and post it. It couldn’t hurt too much, could it?  And maybe George Strait will stumble across one and come out of retirement just to record such an awesome, wondrous song.  Maybe Darius Rucker and Garth Brooks will arm-wrestle over the opportunity to sing one of them.  Let’s not hold our breath, but if you’re gonna dream, dream big!

And best of all, this just might get somebody else to say, “Heck…I can write better than THAT!”  And they’ll write and sing and give gifts to the universe and make it a happier place.  Big dreams or miniscule happy dances or inspiration…it’s all good. 

Look out, universe!

So to start out, here’s a song I wrote earlier this year for my wife, Sugar Babe, for our 20th anniversary, called “Legendary Love.” Just written to say “I love you” and make her smile, and it was a resounding songwriting success in that one way.  Maybe it’ll get somebody else to smile, and that would double my success, so here goes! If it makes you smile, I’ll be all tickled and flutterated and the world will have warmed up a notch.  Can’t beat that.