December 16, 2008

The Winged and One-Horned (And Wholly Mythological) FAQ

Remember a longlonglong time ago when I said to you, “HEY! BEST BELOVEDS! Should I have an FAQ?
And you said, “Oh Helsya, you desperately need an FAQ.”
Then I said, “OKAY THEN I WILL ABSOLUTELY HAVE AN FAQ!”

Here we are, months or years later, and if one of the questions on the FAQ was “Do you have an FAQ” the answer would be NO and that would be the only word on the page. If it existed. Which it emphatically does not.

If you followed that, stop reading immediately and go get a cookie. You earned it, and your brain probably hurts. (While you are in there, can you get me a cookie? My brain hurts, too.)

Here is a short list of things I have sworn most solemnly to you that I am going to have that I STILL do not have:
1) A WORKING mailing list that doesn’t send to only the first 15 people and then poop out and which does not share all 15’s email addies with each other.
2) A hybrid Saturn Vue. (ORANGE! Or maybe Green.)
3) Mental Health

In order to move toward one day HAVING an FAQ, I shall for about the next 1000 years, every now again, put one of the FAQ questions up HERE and answer it and save the answer someplace else, too, in a single file, and in a few short decades I will have created an FAQ by accident, since I am clearly not going to manage to do it purposefully. I will actually create TWO FAQs in this slow, haphazard and unwieldy fashion, one for writers, specifically, and one for everyone.

I am going to start today, and with a question I get a lot:
“HOW DO I WRITE A NOVEL?”

There are several possible answers to this. The most honest one is, “I have no freakin’ idea. I only know how I write a novel.”

You do not want to write a novel the way I do. I am hideously inefficient. I sometimes write 10 or even 50 or even (in one notable horroshow of a case) 120 thousand words before I come to understand what I am actually writing about, and then I throw those 10 or 50 or (Sweet Lord help me) 120 thousand words away and I start over. I do this SEVERAL TIMES per book. If there is any other possible method on God’s Blue-Green Space Ball available to you, I suggest you do it THAT way. My way is chronically disorganized and leads to mental illness and yelling.

If you read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (and you should) you will learn how SHE writes a book. If you read On Writing by Stephen King (and you should) you will learn how HE writes a book. You can take little bits of their methods and test drive them, and if you put your butt in a chair and your hands on the keyboard and tap words in, you will learn how you write a book. Your method won’t be exactly like Lamott’s or King’s, but it will work for you, and if there is a merciful God, it will be nothing like mine.

You also learn to write a book by reading as many books as you can get your hands on. Read books you love and books you hate. Read once for pleasure, and then again (and again) “like a writer” to see how the author made you care for their imaginary folks and made you laugh and made you cry. If you read enough, you will accidentally learn things while enjoying yourself, and this is bar none the best way to learn ANYTHING.

You can read books about HOW to write books, of course, but it’s kinda like the difference between having a pinch-mouthed and frigid Victorian Mother explain your wedding night to you (Close your eyes! Think of England!) and just going and HAVING the wedding night. You will learn a LOT more about what actually goes where with the latter method, and it will be hella more fun.

The two books about writing I have recommended have this in common: Both do SO much more than explain technical things. They SHOW how to write a fantastic book by being fantastic books.

Tomorrow, I will have Beautiful MAISY JANE who is barely six answer this question, and then we will be done with the FAQ for another month. Or ten years. Or forever. If I had a single organizational skill (or a scrap of human decency) I would institute FAQ TUESDAYS where every week I put up a new FAQ question and answer it and the whole thing would be built in a reasonable and timely fashion.

Wouldn’t that be great.

FINE. I am absolutely going to do it. I am sure. In a second. Right now I have to go to the Saturn website and build my Hypothetical Hybrid Orange VUE . Again.

UPDATE: I am not TRULY in the market for a new car. The mom-tastic mom-mobile is still rolling. Mostly. ALTHOUGH I HATE IT IN THE GUTS. In fact, it's name has been officially changed from Vincent Van-Go to The Ding Dong Devil Van. Hates the van. preshus. I dream of Saturns, and I just went to build my hypothetical VUE....And Sunburst Orange AND Sea Mist Green were BOTH discontinued in 2008. BOTH. *weep* A dream deferred is a dream dead.

Posted by joshilyn at December 16, 2008 7:51 AM
Comments

There, there, pretty tulip. At least you got one FAQ done ... so it's not a mythical monster anymore. I'm sure 2009 will bring another great Vue color for you.

Posted by: Mit at December 16, 2008 8:50 AM

I KNOW I'm stressed, but "I HATE IT IN THE GUTS" struck me as incredibly funny. It is now my catch-phrase of the day, as it describes *perfectly* how I feel about trying to get an entire quarter's-worth of lesson planning and prepping done for FOUR high school science classes since I'll be home on maternity leave starting sometime in January.

Too bad I can't use it in front of the students.

Posted by: Damsel at December 16, 2008 10:05 AM

You so put your finger on both the GOOD thing about how-to writing books, and the BAD thing. Like novel-writing how-to books, screenwriting how-to books are a dime a dozen. What a select few have helped me and my husband do, though, is to help us figure out OUR method of writing. There are little bits of lots of different things in there, but the way we do it is OUR way, not anybody else's. And that is the only way to do it. Nobody else's way will work. You have to find your way.

I love the Lamott and King books, just as books but also as books about writing. My single favorite book about writing EVER, though, is "Writing Down the Bones."

Posted by: Aimee at December 16, 2008 10:35 AM

Have faith! I'll bet you can go to all the near-by Saturn dealers and buy out their supply of "touch-up" paint. You can get BOTH colors so you can change your color as often as you change your mind!!

Posted by: Rebecca at December 16, 2008 11:03 AM

Mental health is overrated. Sane is too boring.

Posted by: Lia at December 16, 2008 12:14 PM

I can only hope that if and when it is done this FAQ is also purple, cyclopean, and has a taste for those annoying folks who can't properly dispose of their trash..

Posted by: Dani at December 16, 2008 1:21 PM

Did I mention that I am wearing pink socks RIGHT THIS SECOND????? WHILE I'm reading the mythical FAQ????

Posted by: Roxanne at December 16, 2008 2:14 PM

Love those books on writing, but also also love Margaret Atwood's 'Negotiating with the Dead', if you have a free afternoon in the next ...um... decade (that's possible, right?) you might like to give it a look.
Joining the parade of people who are sure that the Saturn hybrids of '09 will have nice color choices, just for you.
Here's hoping the ding dong devil van (which has just automagically written itself a jingle in my brain, thanks Joss) doesn't take all the hating personally and conk out on you in the meantime.

Posted by: Rompompom at December 16, 2008 5:47 PM

Okay, you're darn funny! (That means I'm coming back.)

Posted by: Wendy at December 17, 2008 12:48 AM

OOH. The VUE. I drove the new one for a BlogHer thing- the one that's not even on the market yet... maybe by the time it is, you can find an Earl Sheib place. ( remember those old commercials, "I'll paint any car for 99.95)
Well it's now 359.99, but still...)

Posted by: Linda Sands at December 18, 2008 5:35 AM

you are done FAQ-ing per me. 1 question and answer satisfies the definition.

as for the Saturn, be careful, I hear the entire marque (as they call car brands here in the UK) may go the way of the dodo. Too many people never understood the wonderfulness of Saturn. My extremely frugal and statistically minded spouse declared them to be under appreciated and therefore underpriced wonders. Which is why we were able to afford them in multiples.

Before moving here, we owned 5. Not all at once. Though there were 3 at one time. My daughter was hoping for a car, so begged us to look at Toyota's as our driveway 'looked like a used Saturn lot'. I went to the Toyota place, said, "I have $x dollars cash, what is the best used car on your lot for that price?" (then I said, no, I do not want to talk about credit, I have that much cash, period.' Then I said 'don't hassle me, I'm paying cash, do you want it or not?') Then they (finally) said, "Actually, we just took this Saturn in on a trade...". Ha! I said to daughter! And truthfully, that one, being a 'sport coupe' with leather seats and CD player was the nicest one we ever bought. too bad she totalled it 12 weeks later.

Sadly, none of the 5 were hybrid vue's. Wagons, Coupes and Sedans, but no van-like, suv-like or convertables. I was hoping for a hybrid vue when we move back next year. The perfect mom-car IMO. I hope they remain in production. In any color.

Posted by: nil zed at December 19, 2008 2:53 PM