when you call for help

high school 1984
high school 1984

“She pulled a gun on me,” R. said. He was talking about his aunt. He lived with her and his grandmother. “She waved it in my face.”

His life was like that. I asked him what I could do–me on the other side of the phone, pass orange groves, a country club on the other side of a lake and 16 years old. We’d been friends for a long time–in that high school sort of way–and I’d never been to R’s house except to drop him off out front. Not even in the driveway, but on the sidewalk.

He came to my house often and talked to me on the phone for hours. Our history teacher stopped me after class once to ask me about him. The teacher wanted to comment that R. and I spent a lot of time together. What did my parents think about that? The teacher advised me to make sure I was careful. Careful? What on earth was he talking about?

When R. and I went out, a few people kept their eye on us as if we might cause trouble. But we were friends and only friends. He kissed me on the cheek once in front of a bunch of girls giving him grief about spending time with me.

R. wasn’t allowed to see his father. His mother was in the hospital too often, too fragile from too many beatings they told him, to take care of him and his brother.

So I called child services. There had to be grown ups to take care of him. Of course, they got him into more trouble and he didn’t speak to me for weeks. How he screamed and cursed me.

Writing a novel is nowhere near having to face your aunt pointing a gun at you. Seems foolish at best to complain when paying attention to real news. But writers do complain, and world chaos aside, they’ve got plenty to complain about. Have you been listening to the news about the publishing industry? That we keep writing may prove we are not mentally well.

But it also never ceases to surprise me how many writers refuse help. They want to be published but they don’t want to rewrite. They certainly don’t want to be critiqued. What? Cut? But it really happened that way! Well, cutting hurts. I should know.

How much editing are you willing to do?

8 thoughts on “when you call for help

  1. Well, the glib answer is, “Too little.”

    I’ve always believed there to be two kinds of good computer programmers, both of which you need on a team (of whatever size): the wizards who excel at creating new programs, and the geniuses who maintain and enhance existing programs (whether they themselves created them or not). (Sometimes — rarely — you find somebody who can do both equally well.) The analogy to writing/critiquing is fairly obvious. I hope that my re-undertaking the WIP is evidence that I’ve learned the value of revision — true revision, not just tightening a sentence here and replacing a passive verb there.

  2. Your friend’s story sounds very sad. But we are all, at bottom, at the center of our own universes, and our own personal concerns tend to loom like Armageddon on our personal horizons. Other people can slip from our consciousness more easily than our achy backs and money woes.

    As far as writing in this market, well, we write because we love it. Right? Besides, a good book still has a good chance of getting published. Maybe we’ll see less crap out there!

    I laughed when I saw the cute little snow effect on the blog, by the way.

  3. One of the side effects of submitting your work and having it published is getting edited more, no way around it! I will re-write or cut ruthlessly if I am making the decisons myself. But when an editor suggests the cuts or revisions, I still bristle, even after all this time, though I have gotten better at hiding it. I lost a good connection with an editor early on in my career because I felt insulted by her suggestions and let her know it. Now I’m less thin-skinned. And, I think, for some of the same reasons you mention here. What’s a bit of cutting or revising compared to so much of life’s hardships?

  4. I’m not anywhere near the publishing spotlight, but I cut, re-write, edit, tweak, and remove countless tangents constantly. There are very few pieces I’ve written that I can confidently say, “done”. Everything else is good, even on a few occasions great, but for the most part there is always room for improvement.

    How’s R now?

    PS. I like the snow.

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