No Valentine’s card yet? Write a do-it-yourself alternative

Andrew Gold needed a whole song. You can produce a hit in just two sentences.

Andrew Gold needed a whole song. You can produce a hit in just two sentences.

There’s no need to stand in line in the greeting card aisle. Let others fight over the last “To Wife” offering.

Who needs a Valentine? Your parent, spouse, offspring?

Go home. Get a piece of paper.

Simply write THANK YOU. Then, add one sentence telling why you are grateful to have that person in your life.

Love is gratitude.

Don’t worry about pink paper or red envelopes. Your one-of-a-kind words will sparkle for untold holidays to come. That’s something Hallmark will never match.


SCRATCH: Brave book attempts to convince authors to discuss the money they make

scratch-bookAuthor-editor Manjula Martin reminds me of an Olympic diver.

Dives get scored on their excellence, as well as their difficulty levels.

Martin should get a medal for her creative courage. In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, she goes for the gold in attempting to get authors to reveal how they make a living from the written word.

Does she succeed? That depends on who the interviewee is. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, explains how her seemingly-large book advances seemed smaller when spread out over four years. She reveals that her newfound acclaim was punctuated by credit card debt.

Other authors get sidetracked talking about how it feels to be an author. What does success mean to them? In more than one occasion, Martin wants authors to talk about their social class standing as a working author.

The specifics of money disappear quickly in such cases. Some, like Austin Kleon, flatly refuse to give numerical specifics. In other instances, Martin asks how much an advance was for someone’s best-known book. The occasional figures seem to mean little when tight-lipped subjects won’t offer any other fiscal details of their work.

Martin’s interviews are flanked by numerous essay contributions from authors. Ghostwriter Sari Botton offers an illuminating explanation of how her little-known trade works. Novelist Alexander Chee praises superstar author and teacher Annie Dillard as one of his greatest influences in college. She estimated that nonfiction writers make three to five times the money fiction writers do. Then, Dillard urged students to break into print through essay writing.

In a majority of the essays within Scratch, the writers feel the need to address their pre- and post-emotional states upon finding paying work through writing. These detours make this reader think that Hmmm…How Does It Feel to Be An Author? may have been an alternative title.

Nevertheless, Martin inspires simply through her desire to pull back the curtain upon writing for pay. Once, many authors may have been shamed to admit they took ANY money for their creative endeavors. Keeping pay a secret has aided only publishers, not fellow creatives. Martin is wise in beginning to Scratch the surface upon a once-taboo topic.





The ‘war’ on words: does desensitized slang improve writing?




I may be sticking with a limited vocabulary this year.

I can’t subscribe to the “so bad it’s good” school of slang.

As in, “He was great. He killed!”

Or, “Awesome art. Totally sick!”

Let’s not even delve into the “War on Drugs” slogan.

I believe some writers hope for fame by desensitizing readers. These wordsmiths wish that shocking words might be more shocking in a positive context.

I’ll pass. These words have real, original meanings. Pain-filled meanings.  By jumping on the “opposites attract” bandwagon, trendy phrases disrespect what the recipients of these words experienced.

Most of all, I would compare slang to a carton of milk. Both need “best if used by…” dates.

A Christmas present for any past (or future) author

Write it down.

Write. It. Down.

Sound advice. It’s that simple.

Too many of us were swayed by the class smartypants. “Will this be on the test?”

As if there’s a paper shortage?

Beginning in junior high, I’d write down everything. In seventh grade art, I scribbled down the heart of a sermon from the teacher.

“I want everyone standing in line in the lunchroom,” she preached. “No pushing. No cutting. I’ll stand in the back of the line with you. If any of you ever see me budge to the front of the line, you’ll be entitled to come stand with me.”

Scene two begins in the school lunchroom, the last week of school. There is pious Miss Thompson, stepping in front of hungry kids, leading the way for two other teachers.

From the back of the line, I followed. “Let me in,” I begged the put-upon student. “You won’t regret it.”

I tapped Miss T on the shoulder. I waved.

She stared at me, dumbfounded.

Her teaching cohort growled. “You get to the back of the line, young man. Right now!”

I shook my head. “Miss Thompson, you told us that if you ever cut, we could cut in line with you. Remember?”

The defeated teacher rolled her eyes, chewed her lip and nodded. “Come on,” she muttered.

Soon, kids were pointing, whispering. Then, laughing. I think I remember clapping.

Why write down a sentence? An idea?

Because, your day will come. Just like it did for me.



Who writes those annoying pop-up box refusals? Ick!

Obviousman and cartoonist creator Wiley "Non Sequitur" Miller are two faves of mine. Look both up on

Obviousman and cartoonist creator Wiley “Non Sequitur” Miller are two faves of mine. Look both up on

Imagine “Insulting Your Reader 101,” a college course for all webmasters.

Am I supposed to laugh at the choices given on some pop-up ads? One website I respect has such a “Lady or the Tiger” choice. Just because I didn’t want their e-mail newsletter, I had to choose “No, thanks. I don’t like to save money.”

I’d rather see a juicier non-option. Something like “No, thanks. I like being ugly and stupid.”

I’d like to find each of these smarmy copywriters, summoning them with ringing doorbells and phone calls just when they’ve closed the bathroom door. Then, they’d have to choose “I’d rather sit on the toilet than accept your springboard to fame and fortune.”

For now, each case of online peer (sales) pressure I receive is greeted with a related FLUSH!

Creating the do-it-yourself letter of recommendation

(Photo credit: J. Henning Buchholz,

(Photo credit: J. Henning Buchholz,

Tired of obscure writing prompts and other far-out literary exercises?

I have an alternative for you.

Write yourself a letter of recommendation. Scratch that. Ghost-write yourself a letter of recommendation.

What does that prove?

It proves that you’re ready for anything. Don’t be surprised if a professor, co-worker or good friend replies to your letter request with, “I don’t know what to say about you.”

That’s when you supply the letter. E-mail the reference the whole creation. Say, “I enjoyed imagining what a letter from you might look like. So I drafted this, adding pertinent points about how my experiences show that I’m a perfect candidate for this job. Of course, you could do better. I just thought that might give you an idea of what I’m dreaming of.”

Then, don’t be surprised when a letter from your top reference comes with much (if not all) of YOUR words. Watch the supporter dazzle you with cut-and-paste wizardry.

Such a game plan has worked for me. I’d hope it would do the same for you.