Advice for Us All

How boringly self-absorbed do we get to BE on our various blogs and social networks? I mean are there rules? Since I’m still thinking of that old Army guy who told me that nobody reads past the first page of a thing, I’ve hunted down an old list of tips I once made for myself,  cribbed from the amazing Brenda Ueland who wrote for all of her whole long life and walked six to nine miles every day.  She said we should all write fiercely and fearlessly, letting it all come out until the stream runs clear. This hero of mine also said:

  1. Don’t try to be smarter than you are. (Not hard for me I can tell you.)
  2. Don’t write what you don’t feel.  (Couldn’t if I tried.)
  3. Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion, Be a Pirate, when you write, and. finally,
  4. Don’t say your heroine is wonderful. If you do your reader will see you as both a propagandist and a self-adoring prig. (ouch! Pretty sure I was the latter all through high school.)

She believed that in any piece of writing you are attempting to find the thing you most truly believe.

To find out what I most truly believe, I begin by trying to cut out as many words as I can. When I unsheathe my knife it’s amazing: I see at once where the blubber is and off it comes, easy as trimming a steak. 

I just have to keep ego out of it and I can do it every time.

This post, for example, started out 580 words long. and now look: it’s just 355, 354, 353 but still too long, still too long, get that knife back out! 36–  (See? It works! I cut it off mid-number that time!)

Strunk and White said it in their classic writers’ manual The Elements of Style: “When In Doubt Cut it Out.” Or, as my mother once hissed in the  world’s loudest stage whisper just after the second encore and before the third at a truly endless children’s concert in a hot-box of a rented hall, “GAD! Let my people GO!”


My writing hero Brenda Ueland says writing is not a performance,  but a generosity. And so is the making of music, which you realize anytime you go to hear just  about any bunch of musicians. To me they’re like saints the way they don’t seem to mind that at any given time only a third of the crowd is listening to them.  The rest are doing the usual crazy human things, inspecting their nails, gossiping, daydreaming, etc, while up there behind their mikes the musicians are pouring out their souls. (In one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut true-life tales he describes himself seated at a performance of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra  when  a couple of  older ladies surprise everyone as the very loud music suddenly stops  and in the pin-drop silence one is heard  bellowing to the other, ““I FRY MINE IN BUTTER!)

I took some video Saturday night of the band called Six, motto ‘Classic Rock That Never Gets Old (Even if We Do’)  and I would estimate that three-quarters of the time the majority of the audience wasn’t listening at all, good as they are. Here’s some 100 seconds of them  singing “The Weight” by the Band, better known to many of us as  the Take a Load Off song . I’d have been charmed by their performance even if I hadn’t been the cameramen  but you’ll see what happens even to me some 80 seconds in. People are so  infinitely distractible; how on DID those Medieval monks ever just sit there in one place and copy hundreds of years’ worth of classical manuscripts?