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September 25, 2010

100 Ways To Not Write Your Book

100 Ways to Not Write Your Book

By Cornelia Read

For many, many years, I was convinced that I would never write a book. I was good at spelling, I kind of knew how to use semicolons. I'd even had paying work as a journalist at three separate newspapers. Not The New York TImes or anything, but still. I mean, if the check clears and they spell your name right, that counts. Also, I'd been writing fiction since I was in second grade. Fifty-page short stories in fourth and fifth grades, with a spy novel completed in sixth.


I even did one draft of a novel in college. Because my writing teacher Sophomore year was pissed off at me for missing two classes in a row (new boyfriend) and asked me to write up why I was absent. I had 120 pages by the next week's class. Manual typewriter. Man, I could NEVER do that now.


My mom used to tell me, when I got older, "well, you're smart and everything, but there are a lot of geniuses in the world. What counts is doing the work, and you have no follow-through."


My junior-year English teacher in high school gave me a prize and told me I should be a writer when I grew up. I told him I wanted to go into advertising, since I was sick of being poor. Yeah, that worked out. Not.

I'm still amazed I finished my first novel, and that it got published. I credit having a crappy marriage that was getting crappier, having a kid whose special needs finally precluded me from returning to full-time work unless it paid well enough that I could have hired a full-time parent to replace myself at home--even if there had been any for a newly arrived English major in the San Francisco Bay Area, following the dotcom crash in '01--and just generally feeling exhausted and sad about all kinds of crap that I didn't see my way out from under, ever. I'd just been laid off from an editorial job at one of those dotcoms that I'd had for five months, along with everyone else who worked there. Highest pay I'd ever earned, great people, wonderful work. Oh well. 


I hit craigslist hard and sent out roughly 400 resumes over the following six months. I heard back from exactly one place--a boiler-room stock operation that was shady as hell. I failed their math test, go figure. Probably kept me from doing jail time.

Finally I started branching out from the job ads--after realizing I ALSO couldn't get hired as a waitress, a car saleswoman, a medical data-entry clerk, or even a receptionist--at least that year in that place.


I looked at other sections on craigslist, and finally landed in "Arts." There was a guy in Berkeley who wanted to start a mystery writing group, so I said what the hell and emailed him.

Seven of us met at a Starbucks in Berkeley, the following week. I volunteered to be the first person to submit writing, two weeks later. Halfway through the two weeks was 9/11. We decided to keep going anyway.


I'm the last member left from that original group, but there are still seven of us and we've been through amazing shit together, over the last nine years. Two new babies, one divorce (mine), at least three major surgeries (not mine, though I did spend two months in bed with anemia), one coast-to-coast move that forced us to adopt Skype for our meetings (that would be me, again) two of us got agents, one of the agents died. I got published and lost one editor to the business and one to cancer. 

We've arranged dinners with many fabulous writers (whose brains we picked about publishing), one private detective, one super mystery fan who explained conferences to us (she was our first dinner guest, actually), and we've done road trips to cop bars, Oakland Homicide, and the jail and courthouse in San Francisco. I think we're all going to get published, eventually. Especially as our kids get more hours in school, for the younger ones among us.


I've met the most amazing people, as a result of all this. Kind, snarky, funny as hell. Did I mention kind? Seriously, this is an amazing tribe, and I want to stay part of it. I love readers, and I love writers. These are my people, in the deepest possible sense, and it feels really incredible to have come home to that at long last. But to get to continue hanging out with The Best People in The Entire World, I have to finish this fourth novel, which has been kicking my ass around the block for well over a year now. Which is shameful.

And also, all I have for Plan B, income-wise, is to try to become a greeter at a rural New Hampshire Wal-Mart, and I don't think I'd really rock that job even if I could land it.



I think I finally maybe maybe maybe have some decent momentum going, which is A Good Thing since my latest deadline extension is for October 1st. Which is next week. Eep.

Sometimes I think it can be important to think we suck, as writers. It keeps us humble, and it keeps us honest, and it makes us work harder. Sometimes it can be paralyzing, though. You have to also believe that you're the most amazing wordsmith who ever lived, every once in a while. Otherwise we'd all be accountants. (Okay, NOT me, since I would fail the math test. Ahem.)

I have a friend who calls this the "I am God, I am wormshit" cycle. That pretty much nails it.


Too much wormshit, though, and you will pretty much find it impossible to open the Word file, much less type anything into it.


Trust me, there will be 100 things that seem like a better idea than trying to write, when you're in that state of mind:

1. The laundry

2. Painting your dining room chairs a different color.




3. Reading other people's status updates on Facebook.


4. Figuring out how to make Indian Pudding in the crockpot that you got for free at a garage sale.

Yes, I know perfectly well it looks like a bowl of dog's mess. But it is the Best. Dessert. Ever.

5. Skulking around garage sales in the first place.

6. Watching Project Runway on your computer.


And HELLO, I would totally kill to have Tim Gunn critique my WIP and tell me to make it work.

7-20. I should probably drop the second-person pretense here and just admit I ended up watching entire past seasons of Weeds, Biggest Loser, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, Cracker, and all SEVEN seasons of West Wing on your--I mean my--computer. 


Plus Netflix online and probably some other TV stuff that I don't even remember now, so let's make that #70-30, which is probably a lot more realistic.

31. Googling ex flames.

Even if they're dead.

32. Oh, and two seasons of Toddlers and Tiaras. Which is just embarrassing. But I'm trying to do that whole First Step "We admit that we have no power over our addiction to trashy television" thing here. But I never watched any Real Housewives or anything about New Jersey. I have some self-respect. Albeit not much.


33. Reading. This one is okay, though. You HAVE to read if you want to write. 


34. Looking at real estate listings in places I will NEVER live. Even though if I had 3.4 million bucks I would totally buy this place:


Right on the ocean, water views from every room. Hella nice rhodedendrons, too.

Even looks damn fine in the winter:


35. But if I could buy something where I actually would like to live next, it would be this:


Because a duplex in the West Village would be kind of awesome, if I could dump the track lighting and ugly mirror and get some better curtains.

37-40. The south of France, the Bahamas, Big Sur. You get the picture.

41-50. Driving to my daughter's campus when she has forgotten her:

Book bag

Gym clothes

Music book



Or just needs Ibuprofen.


Lather, rinse, repeat.

51. Wondering not why I got divorced, but how I ever married that guy in the first place.


52. Wondering if I will actually die alone, surrounded by 27 cats.

53. Wondering if I can find a pair of armchairs on craiglist that are NOT:

Wing chairs

Deep Rose Stripe Wing Chairs



Excruciatingly hideous wingchairs

Cavalier Wing Chairs 403-35

54. Wondering if I will ever be able to afford the armchairs I actually LIKE from IKEA, even though they no longer have the slipcover fabric I want in stock. But I already have the red sofa:


55. Re-reading all of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels, because it's going to be so goddamn long until season four of True Blood.


56. Talking on the phone when friends call from California or New York.


57. Doing a Mad Men portrait of myself


58. Ditto South Park:


59. Online Mah Jong. Trust me, I won't even give you the URL. 

60. Looking at funny things friends send me by email:


61. Asking Tiffany if they still have Grandaddy Read's crest ring design on file.

Read, W. A crest  

(Yes they do.)

62. Googling dead relatives


63. Googling the places dead relatives once lived  and here though the last time I saw the latter there wasn't that hideous stained glass ceiling, but also they were selling it for only $400,000 and my sister and I were in college and couldn't figure out how to buy it. I put it in a book, though. It's where Lapthorne lived in A Field of Darkness. Actually, I put the first place in Field too, only I moved the house from Purchase to Centre Island, New York.

64. Googling myself--which can be damn depressing or kind of great:

I think this was something a kid had to do for language arts class. He made me very happy.

65. Googling pictures for blog posts. (This is REALLY fun...)

Okay, I admit it, trying to get to 100 is just too embarrassing, even though I could totally do it. 

On the bright side, I got fifty pages written this week, and some of them might actually NOT suck. Like maybe three of them.

And now I'd like to turn this over to you guys. What do you have to try to avoid when you need to get things done? How the hell do you manage it? Is there such a thing as a self-administered Taser I could set off when I turn the internet back on?

p.s. and here's something really cool I found out about two weeks ago on a writing forum:

Freedom--a software program you can download for $10 that will lock you off the internet for up to eight hours at a stretch. Check it out HERE. You can get versions for Mac or PCs.


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I've promised myself that if I finish the book next week, I can cut all the knobs off our ladderback dining room chairs. My fingers so itch to go get the jigsaw NOW! Nope. Gotta do another 35 pages.

God Cornelia, you always manage to make me laugh even on days when I've broken my crayons. So fanks!!!

And heh- I think cornmeal and mollases pudding is beautiful. Well if I close my eyes, that is.

It says a lot about me that when I saw the pic of that house (which would sell for about 10 million here in California) I thought "Oh man, would I ever have fun tearing up that lawn and putting in a proper garden".

... molasses?

Cornelia! You are incredibly funny!! I can barely stand to wait for your new book girl. I for one think you are an incredible writer.

Ah, Cornelia. You seem to forget that what you get when you have an abundance of wormshit is extremely fertile soil.

Of course my first go-to avoidance strategy is "go to TLC". And I'm generally rewarded, as we all were this morning, in spades. So you Tarts are serious enablers, just sayin'. lol

If I'm ever to write this book that's been percolating closer to the surface lately I will so need that Freedom software. What a great idea, Cornelia. Thanks for the link.

Have your books on order, and really looking forward to reading them, cuss words and all.

Gardening, so that I can "think about" a WIP, instead of writing it.
Walking, so that I can "think about" a WIP, instead of writing it.
Ironing, so that I can "think about" a WIP, instead of writing it.

My next new hobby to avoid will be harassing Karen in Ohio to write that book she has percolating. :-)

Cornelia. You've written yet another priceless piece, and I thank you! You, my dear, are incredible. I just want to sit in a corner some day and listen to your stories. No wait. I think I'd rather continue reading them 'cause you write them SO damn wonderfully.

Oh yeah. I used to want to be Diana Krall because I gave up the piano when I shouldn't have and because she has a voice like Indian pudding. But seeing that clip of Elvis REALLY makes me want to be her. What a lovely thing to wake up to on a lonely Saturday morning.

Loved the Crazy School trailer!!!!! Irene Black & Ford Nashett are fucking idiots.

Procrastination, thy name is mine.

Forgot to say that I LOVE the Mad Men self-portrait with pearls and circle pin.

What do you have to try to avoid when you need to get things done?

Reading Cornelia's posts, because I lose at least a half hour laughing and marveling at her genius and clicking on the links. Excuse me; have to go Mad Men myself ...

Oh, Margaret, now *I* want to cut the knobs off your chairs...

Marie-Reine, I can't even FIND my crayons. Or my car keys. Glad to make you laugh.

Doc, I'm with you. I don't even like rhodedendrons. I'm more of a David Austen rose person.

Pat, thank you!

Judith, I'm trying to keep the fertile soil image alive, but I need to get the hoe out and get to it, at this point.

Karen, I thank you, and my landlord thanks you... and I look forward to your book!!

Ramona, I "think about" walking. And exercising generally.

Kaye, you are WONDERFUL.

Berenmind, thank you for hating those people for me. I kind of hate them too. I'm into the Mad Men thing, but it seems wrong to pretend I actually have a waist...

Nancy P--heh.

Twist, you are so great and I want to see your Mad Menned self when you're done.

I'm with OH Karen...

I come here to be 'diverted' and need a laugh.

I also go to Tom and Lorenzo (formerly Project Rungay).


They make me laugh every single day. If you watch Project Runway, you must go their site and look at their post PR: Cranky Judges. You will be in tears.

This is like TLC, the illustrated version. I love it!

My procrastinations - well, TLC, and other blogs, like Smart Bitches and Cake Wrecks. And checking email. And playing games on my phone or iPad (Chicktionary is hilarious). And now I have more options thanks to today's blog.

Thanks, Cornelia. What fun.

Once I actually alphabetized the spices in my kitchen cabinet. Honestly.

(The good news--I'm on page 80! The bad news: last week I was also on page 80.)

Cornelia, you are the funniest person I have ever met. How do we Mad Men ourselves?

(That Austen facebook is too funny..."like OFFICERS.")


(But first: fellow Project Runway fans--what was that Miss Guatemala remark all about?)

Nina said that the gown looked to pageanty...like Miss Guatemala would wear. Unfortunately, Valerie's family comes from Guatemala, lol.

Oh, Hank, doesn't everyone alphabetize their spice cabinets? So much more necessary to do than writing ten pages (takes about the same amount of time, too, if you change the shelf paper in the whole pantry while you're at it.)

Cornelia, you are so brilliant -- quit squandering it on us and get back to your manuscript!

I too love my writing group. It's been going on since before I got married, back in the Dark Ages, and I was once a newcomer with my goofy little work in progress, and now I'm the only one from that early group, but we keep on replacing ourselves, and we're still going strong, every Wednesday nights. Without my writing group, I'd never get anywhere.

I can't even list the ways in which I procrastinate, because then I feel too wormlike.

I do alphabetize my pantry shelves. And the laundry room.

I like organizing my sewing basket and, if I particularly wish to avoid working, wrapping my embroidery thread on card stock bobbins so they don't tangle. I like doing this when I need to clean house -- because I am cleaning SOMETHING.

My grandson often needs attention. Especially when he's being cute, which is increasingly often.

Yeah, the online thing. D'uh. I also have annoyingly addictive spades and solitaire on the computer.

Unfortunately, I don't currently have one of those stealth-productive procrastination faves, like alphabetizing anything :)

I clean the stove (including removing the little handles and detailing them), re-organize the under-the-sink cabinets, contemplate organizing the linen closet, remember errands that I have to do that take me out of the house for hours, and if worse comes to worst, I open my file drawers and pull out unrelated folders to weed and organize.
I used to garden in order to 'think about' what I was writing, but my neighbor stole my garden space when he had cancer (he got away with a lot of shit under the banner of 'I've got cancer' and we let him, but then his widow went and made it all permanent in his memory).
I actually write well in cafes and coffeeshops, but sometimes all I do when I finally settle into the cafe is stare at the ceiling or observe other patrons or go on the internet and do all the timewasting internet strategies I do at my own desk.

Brilliant, just brilliant! I, too, read blogs to avoid stuff. But they are so educational...

Oh yeah, I look for good euonyms. So far yours is the best- heh.

Oh, Pam... Project Rungay--you may have added another month to this project, but DAMN that was funny!

Laura, I'm starting to realize that asking you guys how you procrastinate is giving my procrastination more excellent fuel. I will studiously avoid Chicktionary, that sounds like a wonderful timesuck.

Hank! Page 80! GO YOU!!!! And thank you for getting them to keep the value on Charliecards. I'm stoked because I only use them twice a year or so, and have been meaning to tell you.

Margaret--shelf paper. Ye gods...

Harley, you are so kind, and I'm glad you've got a great writing group too. And I hope you're writing fast.

Holly, your organization is stunningly amazing. I just made my mom sew everything I had with holes in it while she was visiting on her way home from Greece, because anything I try hemming tends to implode before lunchtime. I scare myself. Truly.

Kerry, I finally had to delete the dinosaur game off my old iMac. I just couldn't stop playing it. I have chess on my laptop, but luckily I HATE chess.

Laraine, can I invite you to come visit? I do the same thing with my stove. Much easier in this apartment--I had an early Fifties Wedgewood in California (cobalt blue with a lot of chrome--got it on Ebay.) It was beautiful, but a pain in the butt to clean.

You have a two-pronged career; you just don't know it.

You are a comedian for the Media Generation, with these amazing verbal-visual-audio productions. These should be making money for you.

Meanwhile, you've made me laugh hard and long three times by page 180 in INVISIBLE, and that ain't easy, not to mention catching me up in its painful, hard-driven and multi-edged mysteries.

Back to the garden, please, BAMMMbina; the world needs more Madeleine.

Holly and Laraine, it's called micro-cleaning, and it's way too under-appreciated, in my view.

Speaking of the blog being educational, euonym (which Mozilla spellcheck doesn't recognize, either) is a new word for me. Thanks, M-R! I never knew there was an actual name for those. Hunh.

ARRRRRRRRRRGHHH! Mr. Typepad has eaten my response to you guys three times now...

lil, I love blogs too. I used to have lots more on my bookmarks bar, but it was just too tempting to look at them all day long. I try to limit my morning perusal to TLC and Murderati, now.

euonyms, what a great word!

Tom, thank you so much. You've made my tide of wormshit recede mightily this afternoon.

Ah, micro-cleaning, Karen... My trouble is with the MACRO version. Tiny little cleaning tasks that are very OCD are my preference. And my sister made a great joke when she was here visiting. She said, "I have DOC. It's having OCD so badly I want to alphabetize it, but I also have dyslexia so I don't get the order right."

Thanks, Karen. It's a great procrastination tool-- searching for euonyms. After thinking on it a bit, though, I was wondering if maybe "Cornelia Read" weren't more of an antonym- y'know?

I'm right there with you, Cornelia. Yesterday, instead of paying bills, I deleted duplicates in my iTunes folder. Now, baby, that's micro-cleaning!

Cornelia, I think I love your sister... DOC!!!

Is there a word for names that are commands? In this case: Read, Cornelia.


Commandyms! Brilliant!


Has anyone wished Miss Kathy Sweeney a Happy Birthday?

If not, let me do the honors: Do it, girl!! And many more.

Ah, so many diversions . . . haven't found a definition yet for euonym, so I'll start with that. Newspapers stack up here because I'd rather read books and blogs . . . good thing I'm retired.
I had heard of the app to turn off the internet. For now, I just set a timer as a reminder to move back into the real word. I did have a relative who set their connecter on a timer down in the basement so that the internet would "fail" periodically and his game-addicted wife would pay some attention to the family. It worked until one of the children spilled the beans.
How fortunate (for us all) that you failed that crucial math test! I have a friend who twice failed statistics and therefore couldn't be a social worker. Her career as a comedienne paid better and was surely much more fun! I have faith that you will write well when ready . . . sometimes like Indian pudding, it just has to cook a while.

. . . and happy birthday, Kathy!!

Happy Birthday, Kathy!!!

Happy Birthday,Kathy!!! xoxo

Cornelia, a fifties Wedgewood?
I have a classic O'Keefe and Merritt (stove #3) that came with my apartment! My landlord apologised when I moved in in '88, and offered to replace it with something modern . . . but I wouldn't let him think about it. Still works great and looks great. Makes procrastination cleaning a pleasure.

Crap, Cornelia, I'm still trying to mad-men myself, but I keep coming out looking like that worm shit diagram!

Does anyone else want the recipe to the Indian pudding? It looks good to me :)

I love Harriet the Spy.

Just had to say that.

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