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This morning, I woke up realizing I had dreamt an entire story in the night and also gone so far as to have written it down. “Or I was trying to to get it written,” I said to Todd after we woke up. “I was editing, I had a deadline, and the characters weren’t behaving. They kept interfering!”

“That sounds magical, honey,” he said as if he really meant it.

“It is, isn’t it…?” I marveled, then paused. “I’m getting up, I have to write that down.”

And so begins a new week.

Of course, I couldn’t remember my dream, there were so many details. As I walked Fannie, I tried to remember it all, but it made my brain hurt. So I started to pray instead, and heard the birds singing. I noticed how beautiful the day was and felt the sunshine.

And, now, as I am about to prepare for this week’s Writing Critique Group with Laurie Scheer (through the Wisconsin Writers Association, it’s great) I remembered a comment I received last week.

“I love your details,” Julie said. “Each detail in your writing tells a story.”

“There aren’t too many details?” I asked.

“No,” Julie answered. I was mesmerized by her answer.

“Seriously?” Julie’s feedback meant more to me than she could have imagined. I love the details. Some people I know do not. Be concise, keep it sparse, think Hemingway. Todd has always said, and it’s a good balance, actually.

But I know I can drive him a little nuts. How many times has he also said, “You’re taking a long time to get to the point, here…” when I try to tell him something. Still, I love the buildup, the anticipation, the having to wait to get to a good ending. Just like in life.

All that to say, there was no way for Julie to know (as far as I know) how much I battle the feelings that I don’t deserve to take up the reader’s time.

I remember a boss I had once, who knew what I was going to say before I said it. He could tell, by my expression, body language, from knowing me and working together. I didn’t have to say more. He was paying attention to the details. And I was too. I could tell, he was bored and ready to move on. There was a great lesson in that relationship.

“It’s like watching a movie as I read your work,” Julie continued. “It reminds me of a Manners Novel.



“What’s that?” Fine, I’m revealing my ignorance here with fear and trepidation. But isn’t that exactly what I expect from my characters and the people in my life?

“You know, like Jane Austin.”

Well, at that, I could have died and gone to heaven. Even though I have never much liked Jane Austin’s novels. I do love her stories though. I love the films based on her stories. Does that make me a lazy reader? Probably.

And I realize, once again, how quickly we can affirm or maybe dismiss a writer out of our own ignorance, shortfalls or impatience…

I have close friends who have read every one of Jane Austin’s books any number of times. My mother read them, she had a single huge volume which contained the novels. It was one of the things of hers I wanted and saved. And I did try to read it, too. But I didn’t get very far. The sentences were too long, the language was too formal, and the details, good heavens, the details.

But here’s something I find very interesting.

The amazing thing is, that’s exactly how I love to write, my sentences can be way too long, I’m always going back and putting periods in, but honestly, I really prefer long sentences, it’s how my brain thinks, in constant run-ons.

I thrive on making language and prose beautiful, painting the picture of a person or a place. Imagine an artist with a palette full of colors and different brush sizes.

It’s the details about a person or room or place in the world that I have experienced that inspire me to write. My memories are like rolling films, they drive my sentences and fill my imagination.

When I shared Julie’s comment with my sister, she reminded me how much she loved Gone with the Wind. When Scarlett came out, she said she bought it and loved that book, too. But her friend hated it, “Too many details,” her friend said.

And the point of this story?

The people in our lives, the characters we write about, the images we have of them, all have origin not only in the people themselves, but in the environment they exist, the cultures and traditions they come from and the situations they find themselves in, which all create a beautiful, rich and wonderful complexity.

Where our heads are at any given moment, what our reactions and the consequences of those reactions might be, are what life is all about, what keeps it interesting, and what any good story is about. Right?

You may ask if there is any use in trying to add up all these things to figure someone out? One person can only reveal so much, and yet nothing. So maybe not.

Still, I don’t want to give up on or let go of the search for the depths of the character, or the person, or God for that matter. So we have to pay close attention to the details.

For a recovering perfectionist-approval-seeking-people-pleaser, like myself, I sigh with a great sense of relief. They are only opinions! It says nothing about our work, our ability or our talent.

I was devastated right out of the box when I wrote my first book because of someone’s opinion. Back then, I had no clue what I was doing. I only wanted to put a copy of the book in my father’s hands before he died. I rushed. You can’t rush things. You really can’t.

Writers can never rush things!

As soon as we lose the sense that we have all the time in the world, (after all, we are after eternal words, aren’t we?) we have disconnected from our true center. But back then, I didn’t know that yet. I was always rushing around. And I royally rushed.

I agreed to let the publisher give a bunch of copies away to be reviewed on Goodreads. What did I know about Goodreads back then? Not much.

But reviews were important, they said. I got three reviews off that giveaway—one Five Star, one Three Star and one One Star with a very long comment to go with it that started out by saying, “I got this book in a free give-away and didn’t finish it.” Oh, my God, I winced. I couldn’t have cringed more.

So what did I do? What you’re never supposed to do. Apparently. I wrote to the woman and we became friends. She shared with me all the terrible things that were going on in her life.

She wasn’t exaggerating, she was in a really bad place. I did what I could to help. But that review? It’s still there. Once on Goodreads, always on Goodreads. You can check it out. Conversations with Dad. I took down my account embarrassed by that review, but the review is still there.

I’ll leave you with this today.

Imagine, in front of you sits, well, you decide who sits in front of you. They may be telling you a lot about themselves, their lives, or maybe not. They may be afraid to tell you the truth, share their true selves, or maybe not. But be present, listen carefully. Watch for the details. It’s your gift to them. This is what’s important.

You, my friend, my reader and writing friend—we—must pay attention.

True, some may see this as pointless but they lack patience. Patience is the most difficult virtue for some of us. But I’ve come far enough to say, I would rather understand each person I encounter more fully, than experience, or write about, ten or twenty people superficially.

Ok, fine, after I finish my feedback for my Critique Group friends today, that Jane Austin is coming down off the shelf!

Enjoy the day. Till next time, as my mother used to say.


With gratitude to photographer Anastasiya Badun.

The upcoming Wisconsin Writer’s Virtual Critique Classes for All Writers Spring Session is open for Registration. I’m looking forward to Lisa Lickel’s Novel Writing Group. (It really does take a village.) You can click here for more information:

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