Viewing entries tagged
memoir

Comment

Love at the Last Minute

rhondahayescurtis_loveatthelastminute_ebook_final.jpg


I had the great pleasure of working with Rhonda Hayes Curtis on her memoir, Love at the Last Minute, which she has just self published. When she first came to me, I knew that this was a story that could take the world by storm and soon learned that Rhonda was the kind of person who would settle for nothing less. She was one of the most determined writers I'd ever met -- willing to throw our giant chunks of pages to tell the best possible story, willing to go back again and again to get things right, and UN-willing, in the end, to take NO for an answer.

Despite a valiant effort, Rhonda's book was not picked up by a literary agent. I have to admit that I was truly baffled by this reality -- which is proof that there are simply no guarantees in publishing! But Rhonda refused to let other people's rejection stop her from her dream. She learned everything she needed to know about self publishing, hired some good advisors, and brought her book to life herself. She is having a big book launch celebration on Valentine's Day. 

I predict that this book is going to sell like wildfire -- and that all the agents that turned her down will be kicking themselves. It's like a Nicholas Sparks novel but it's REAL!

I asked Rhonda to answer some questions about her book-writing journey so we could learn about determination, rejection, and how sometimes the path to publishing takes twists we never imagined.

 Here is the book blurb:

Rhonda Hayes promised to give her thirty-five-year-old dying daughter, Sherry, anything she wanted. When Sherry requested that her mother sign up for a dating site, Rhonda was panic-struck. What would people think? Only nine months earlier, Rhonda’s devoted husband, Greg, had died from cancer. Keeping her promise, Rhonda acquiesced to Sherry’s wish. Together they completed a dating profile; moments before hitting SUBMIT, Rhonda added these words: "My daughter has terminal cancer and she is my life right now. Why would I be on a dating site? She is encouraging me to move on with my life and what a treat it would be if you had the opportunity to meet her. She is an angel." Weeks later, Rhonda was immersed in two worlds: the exhilaration of falling in love and the despair of watching her daughter die. Love at the Last Minute is a memoir about finding courage, acceptance, and love. It’s also about how opening up to God’s plan can truly bring miracles into your life


You can read the opening chapter excerpt on Rhonda's website by clicking HERE.

And just to help you keep the people straight:

  • Greg was Rhonda's former husband.
  • Sherry was Rhonda and Greg's daughter.
  • Larry is Rhonda's current husband -- the one she met online in the last days of Sherry's life.
  • Chris is Sherry's widower.
  • And this is Rhonda:


Rhonda Curtis-Small.jpg



________

Q: Can you talk about what led you to want to write a book about your experiences?
You’d written an article that got a lot of attention – perhaps start all the way back there with the impulse to write that piece and how it led to the book?

 
I never dreamed or aspired to be a writer. In 2005, I began journaling during a difficult time in my marriage. I was trying to make sense out of my life.  It was September 2006, in my darkest hour, that I wrote: “Dear God, Please help me.” Looking back, I believe that’s when the first seed was planted. When I was called to write. That’s when things began to change in my life.
 
The article evolved organically.
 
In 2010, I wrote a short essay, “Life”
 
Around the same time, Larry sent eHarmony an email thanking and telling them about how we met. It was through this contact, that eHarmony asked me to do an interview with CNN
 
Then, Guideposts magazine contacted me, asking if I would share my story.
 
This article was selected as one of The Top Ten Most Inspirational Stories of the Year.
 
 
Q: At what point in the process did it occur to you that you wanted to write for a wider audience than yourself and your family?
 
It was June 15, 2009. The first thing I wrote in my journal that morning was:
 
“Well now I have the crazy idea of writing a book. I may be losing my mind, but I think it’s worth a shot.  The lessons I’ve learned along my journey are very different than most people will have to endure.”
 
Ironically, it was three days before I sent Larry the first communication. Little did I realize at that time, that my book was going to be a love story. I thought it was only going to be about the lessons that Greg, Sherry, and I learned along the journey.
 
Q: How did thinking about publication change your intention and your outlook on the writing process?
 
My intentions are always good in whatever I do in life. Writing, or not.
 
As far as the writing process, when I first began, I tried to make it perfect. That didn’t work. My writing was dreadful. Then, I wrote with no filter at all. I wrote about everything in great detail. That was cathartic. Then with the help of great editors, self-study, and the tenacity to revise, again and again, I eventually found a balance. I wrote the book I wanted to read. Writing has helped me in so many ways. Hopefully, my writing will helps others.
 

Q: What are some of the things you did to learn how to write your memoir? What worked well? What didn’t work so well?
 

First of all, I sat down and wrote. I wrote 10-12 hours a day. It was easy to transport myself back to the past, good and bad. I relived everything. Diligent about accuracy, I was grateful that I had journaled, kept calendars, and the writings of Greg and Sherry. All the text messages, eHarmony communications, emails, etc. were easy to document.  I was lost in my work. Larry would bring me food. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about it. It sounds like I was obsessed. I don’t know, I suppose I was. But I was doing what made me happy.
 
I read lots of books. Mostly books about writing and other memoirs. I connected with other writers. When I attended my first writing conference (SCWC), I knew I was in the right place. The energy was amazing.
 
The hardest thing for me was that I needed help. It was frustrating to wait weeks, mostly months, for an editor to be available. And then wait that much longer for their feedback. By then, I had already revised and moved on. I’m a hard worker.
 
The least helpful thing was “read and critique” groups. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the social contact and some of the writers offered good advice. But sharing five pages a week, felt like I was trudging through quicksand. Especially, when someone was writing science fiction or poetry. I needed more. If I was rich, I’d hire a full-time editor.
 
The most helpful thing I did was work with you, Jennie. And I’m not just saying that because you’re my interviewer. I thrive on feedback and you always responded when you said you would. You never let me down. You are amazing! [Note from Jennie: Thank you, Rhonda! That is so sweet!]
 
Q: Was it emotionally difficult to return in your work to emotionally difficult topics?
 
Not really. There were so many good things to write about. It was actually fun bringing Greg and Sherry back to life. Especially, Sherry, because there was no dark side to tell.
 
Although, I have to say, I spent almost a year writing about my childhood. A whole new writing voice emerged. It was fun for a while. But as I started reliving and writing about the painful parts of my youth, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Maybe, I should’ve just left it buried. At one point, I regretted going there emotionally, but now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Writing has answered so many questions. Writing has healed me.  It was great therapy. That’s why I encourage everyone to write.
 
Q: Did you have any pushback in your family about what you were doing? How did you approach that?
 
No. My daughter, Charlotte, and everyone else in my family have fully supported me in my writing efforts. Before Greg died, I had his permission to share that part of our lives. Of course, I had Sherry’s permission. I offered to let Chris read it, but he declined. I didn’t need anyone else’s approval.
 
Q: Were you surprised by how much effort it took to complete your book? How much time, effort, editing?
 
Yes. When I first began writing, right after Sherry’s funeral, I didn’t have any idea or expectations of how long it would take me.  By year five, it became very frustrating. My manuscript still wasn’t where I thought it should be. Good, but not perfect. After my last revision in year six, I was finally ready to let it go. It’s still not perfect, but no writer is that good. I glad it’s done.
 
Q: At what point in the writing process did you start to build your author platform? How has that been going?
 
That’s a funny question. I never think about building a platform. I think about building genuine relationships, even if it’s only one short conversation at a party.  I love to hear other people’s stories. The first few months after I began writing, Larry came home one day with a stack of books. Books I had no interest in­­–––books on how to find an agent, how to build you author platform, and how to write a query letter.  I didn’t concern myself with any of that. It happens naturally with me. I have no problem connecting with people.

Note from Jennie: Rhonda has done so many clever things to connect with her readers, including starting workshops with Larry in online dating for over-50 adults, teaching a course in writing your own story at Escondido Adult School, and honing her speaking skills at Toastmasters. See note about her book launch party, below.
 
Q: You tried to get an agent and it didn’t happen for you. Can you talk about how that process felt?
 
I’m really glad I took the time and energy to write a thorough book proposal and query letter. The education and experience was worth every minute. I picked thirty-three agents that I wanted to pitch. The first rejection (an exclusive) was hard to swallow. I sent out eleven more queries when a BIG agent became very interested, but he was torn. He shared my manuscript with his colleagues. They gave me great advice. Revise. So I quit pitching. I hired another editor and spent another eighteen months revising. 
 
Q: When did you decide to go ahead and self publish and how did you decide how to move forward?
 
After the revision, I hired another editor for the final line edits. I sent it back to BIG agent and he declined. I suppose, I don’t take rejection very well. I didn’t think it was worth the time to continue pitching to the rest of the agents on my list. People wanted to read my story. I kept getting signs from the Universe that it was time to let it go. Now, I’m so glad I glad I decided to self-publish.
 
Q: What has been the biggest surprise of the process so far?
 
The biggest surprise is that men seem to love my story as much as women.
 
Q: You have 200 people coming to your book launch party on Valentine’s Day. Are you nervous? Excited?
 

The number has grown. We’re up to 250 now. I’m excited and very grateful for new and old friends who want to come out and support me. What makes me nervous is that I won’t be able to spend the time I’d like to with each person. Some I haven’t seen in years.
 
Q: What is next in terms of marketing?
 
I don’t concern myself with that too much.  Larry is amazing in that department and he will help me. Ultimately, I think if my story is supposed to reach thousands, do I dare say millions, God is already taking care of that business. I’ve been asked to speak at numerous book clubs. I’m excited about that. I could talk about the writing process and my story all day long.
 
Q: What advice would you give to people who are burning to tell a story from their own lives?
 
Do it. Tell the truth. Writing matters. It can be life changing.


You can read the first chapter of Love at the Last Minute on Rhonda's homepage.

Larry and Rhonda

Larry and Rhonda

Comment

5 Comments

Agents are Human, Too

I recently watched the movie, The End of the Tour, which is a movie about a Rolling Stone writer who spent some days on book tour with David Foster Wallace right when Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest was blowing up the literary world and people were declaring Wallace the kind of writer who comes along only once in a generation. It stars Jesse Eisenberg (as the reporter) and Jason Segel (as Wallace.) I deeply wanted to love this movie because David Foster Wallace is such a fascinating figure, and I have enjoyed both Segel and Eisenberg in all kinds of other movies and shows, and I was very taken with the conceit of the story – an exploration of what fame is and what it does to us.

Turns out the movie was sort of odd. The acting was fabulous but I felt like there was not enough of a sense of the writer’s motivation (his desires/fears, his misbelief about fame or Wallace or writing…) to hold the audience’s interest. It was slow and lacked the emotional punch I thought it could have had.

What it did, however, was drive me back to Wallace’s graduation speech at Kenyon College in 2005 – a speech which has become legendary as one of the best ever given. I have listened to this speech and read it at least a dozen times and it never fails to move me or teach me something.

So I went back to it after the (sadly dull) movie and was riveted once again – this time by two things:

1.) What Wallace describes – this state of only being able to see our own point of view, of only being able to feel ourselves as the center of the universe – is a perfect description of the concept that a lot of students in my current Story Genius workshop are struggling with. I had never looked at Wallace’s speech as a place to learn about writing – but it’s wholly there.

We read to get into someone else’s head. To get out of our own narrow worldview and into someone else’s. That’s the whole point. The whole power of it. That’s why you can’t – in fiction – start with plot or end with plot or depend on plot. You have to start with who the person is and what they believe and you have to trace it all the way through to the moment when, against all odds, they learn to believe something slightly different. Same thing in memoir.

It’s a genius description if you read Wallace's speeech like that – as a treatise on what writing is and how it works.

2.) The point Wallace makes about how critical it is to try to get out of your own point of view – how important this exercise is to being a good human being. Wallace writes about what it feels like to make that shift. He is describing being frustrated and furious in a traffic jam full of gas guzzling SUVs.

 

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

 

I have long loved this point from this speech – and what’s funny is that in my head it’s always a story about going to the post office, but there’s nothing about the post office in it at all. It’s a grocery story. It’s always been a grocery store, but I have somehow managed to turn it into a post office in my mind.

Anyway, I have loved it and have used it to talk myself off the ledge many times. But when I looked at it this time, it reminded me about a reality related to literary agents.

Quite the leap, I know, but bear with me….

There is this thing that happens when writers start to pitch agents: They take the agent’s responses very, very personally. They are so wholly in their own heads that they can’t for three seconds picture the agent’s reality – that, for instance, the agent has 50 manuscripts she is trying to read ahead of yours. That her start client may be going on The Today Show that day. That their kid may have broken their leg skiing that afternoon. All the writer can think about is that the non-response, or the negative response, is 100% a referendum on their own failures and frailties as a human being.

It’s not. Agents are running businesses. They are not out there doing what they do to try to make friends or enemies. They are looking for books they can sell on a national stage, serving the clients they work with who are making them the money they use to live, trying to do their work with as much care and compassion as they can – but aware that it is, in fact, work.

I often tell clients the David Foster Wallace graduation speech story (about the post office!) to remind them of this truth, but alas, it doesn’t often get through.

I am working with a client whom I shall call Mathilda. She has been pitching her extremely well crafted, timely and moving memoir and getting a whole lot of negative letters and a whole lot of non-response. There was one agent, a tippy top agent, who had expressed interested in her query months ago – I mean way before Christmas – and who had requested some pages. My client sent the pages and had heard nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

She didn’t want to send a follow up because she didn’t want to hear any bad news, and because if she didn’t follow up, she could preserve the illusion that the news was going to be good. So she went back and forth between these two extremes -- “He hates it and doesn’t want to tell me” and “He loves it and is just waiting for the right moment to tell me.”

I assured her that neither of these realities was likely true. The truth was probably along the lines of, “My kid broke his leg.” Or, more realistically, that the agent has totally lost track of the submission in his inbox and hadn’t read it at all.

Mathilda finally screwed up the courage to ping the agent back. Here is his reply:

 

“Thank you for the prod. My apologies for the delayed response, but no, I have not read the material. In fact, I don’t even know where it is. It was a while ago now. Can you resend it to me?”

 

It’s helpful to remember that agents are just people like you and me. Their inboxes are full. Their days are full. They want nothing better than to discover a great book and help a writer break into the big time – and their rejection or their silence is not necessarily a referendum on your worth, either as a writer or a human being.

It can feel like that. But it’s very often not true. And I think it helps a lot to remember that.

5 Comments

7 Comments

Writing by Committee

I worked with a client recently whom I shall call Phil. He had a complete manuscript of a memoir and had been sending out pitches to agents for several months to no avail. He has some bites off his query, but each time he sent requested chapters, he received a rejection. He came to me to learn why.

I reviewed the query, the rejections, and the table of contents for the book, as well as the samples chapters, and the problem was glaringly obvious: the book was very well nicely in the query, beautifully presented in the TOC, and yet the sample chapters were a wreck – disjoined, uneven, with no narrative drive.

I reported my findings to Phil and said that it was rare to see such a disconnect in a proposal. I wondered what had happened that his sample chapters were so weak compared to the description of the book.

“They were written by a committee,” he said, and then proceeded to describe all the people who had weighed in on the manuscript, including professional editors, workshop leaders, fellow writing students, writing group friends, family members, and even a neighbor or two. He had taken advice from so many people at so many different times that he had completely lost sight of his story.

I had to laugh, because last week, I posted a blog that included some lines from my own work in progress. I received emails from some readers who loved what I did, and emails from others who suggested I had, in fact, made the passage worse. If I tried to please both camps, I would probably end up with something that pleased no one – least of all me.

Many of us are so desperate for validation (Is my idea any good? Do you get it? Do you like it? Should I keep doing this? Am I crazy?) that we tend to lose our heads a bit when it comes to asking people to read our work.  We’re grateful when anyone shows interest or is willing to read pages, and so we spread it around to whoever agrees to pay attention. The knee-jerk reaction is to believe whatever it is they say, to automatically incorporate their ideas into your work, and to give up your power to the committee.

I thought I’d take a moment to say, “Don’t.”

Don’t pass your work around without intention.

Don’t take any advice that comes your way.

Good advice is not about what someone likes or doesn’t like, or what they think you should do or not do to improve the work. Ed Catmull explains good advice in his book Creativity Inc.:

 

Truly candid feedback is the only way to ensure excellence. When giving notes, be sure to include:

What is Wrong

What is Missing

What Isn’t Clear

What Doesn’t Make Sense

A good note is specific. A good note does not make demands. Most of all, a good note inspires.

 

Most important of all, don’t lose sight of your own heart. When you get advice, weigh it against what you think. Does it ring true to you? Does it strike a nerve? Can you see how incorporating it will make your work more clear, more logical, and more whole? If yes, then by all means, take the advice.

But if the answer is no, ignore it. You have no obligation to change your work according to the whims of your readers.

Your obligation should always be first and foremost to the book you are writing. Do what’s right for the work.

One of the reasons I am proud of my Author Accelerator program is that it gives writers what is so often lacking in their arsenal of tools: a trained editor who is paying attention to their work on a regular basis. I think this is one of the best ways not only to improve your work, but to strengthen your editorial muscle, which is to say your understanding of how narrative works, and WHY.

Someone who has built up that kind of muscle is going to know that writing by committee never produced excellent work.

 

7 Comments

2 Comments

How to Write a Sentence

maple-leaf-638022_1920.jpg

 

I am such an evangelist for thinking BIG about books – for knowing your audience, for knowing the marketplace, for understanding how your structure serves your story-- and as a result, I spend a lot of time in this newsletter talking about these big picture ideas.

I also spend a lot of time on the realities of the writing life – the habits you need to do good work, the kind of support that helps and hurts, the ways you can shake off doubt and despair so you can get the words out of your head and onto the page.

And then, of course, there is the selling – how to connect with readers, how to hook agents, and all the rest of the noisy work of publishing.

What often gets overlooked is the power and beauty of a well-crafted sentence. It’s often the very last thing we care about – because if you don’t know your point, and you haven’t chosen an effective structure, and you don’t have the habits to sustain the writing of a book, what difference does it make how your sentences sound? Crafting a sentence is often the very last thing a writer – or a book coach -- pays attention to.

And yet when we read a book, when we fall under its spell, oftentimes, the thing that most stands out are the sentences.

I am in the midst of reading H is for Hawk, the award-winning memoir by Helen Macdonald, and I am completely dazzled – by the story, by the structure, by the content (so many new things to learn about training falcons and the British aristocracy and grief!) It is taking me forever to read because I can only manage a few pages at a time. There is just so much happening, so much depth and nuance, and I want to enjoy it and also figure out how Macdonald has done it, and in addition to all that, there are her sentences.

They are breathtaking. They startle and delight and prod. They have wit and wisdom and rhythm. These sentences are so good it seems as though you could eat them.

I want to show you just one. It comes on page 16. This is a story about a woman who has been unhinged by grief – her father has died – and she is going to deal with her grief by training a new hawk. But on page 16, the grief is brand new, and this is how she describes it:

 

Sometimes, a few times, I felt my father must be sitting near me as I sat on a train or in a café. This was comforting. It all was. Because these were the normal madnesses of grief. I learned this from books. I bought books on grieving, on loss and bereavement. They spilled over my desk in tottering piles. Like a good academic, I thought books were for answers. Was it reassuring to be told that everyone sees ghosts? That everyone stops eating? Or can’t stop eating? Or that grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned like beetles in boxes?

 

The sentence I want to talk about is the last one.

 

Or that grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned like beetles in boxes?

 

What’s fascinating is that it’s the fourth sentence in a series. So often, we stop at three. Our ear is trained for three. But Macdonald drives on here with a fourth sentence, and it really feels like it’s driving through – like a freight train or a semi truck. It hits the reader in the gut.

What makes this sentence so powerful?

First, there’s the internal alliteration (comes/can) and rhythm of the opening phrase. “Grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned.” Just say that out loud and HEAR how it rolls off the tongue.  Emphasize comes/stages/numbered/pinned and you get it even more.

Then there are those two incredibly specific terms – numbered and pinned.  Not simply counted and named, but bound to a number, pinned to a particular spot. The second we read those words, our mind’s race ahead to think of things that get numbered and pinned and without the author’s help, we can’t quite get there, we can’t quite figure out what she means, and then she gives it to us – “like beetles in boxes.”

Readers are constantly trying to stay a step ahead of the author in this way – on the level of a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a chapter and a story. We’re in a dialogue with the author, in a relationship with them, interacting with them at every moment, and this is a perfect example of how it works. We’re stretching, yearning to solve this little puzzle of how grief gets numbered and pinned, or what else gets numbered and pinned.

When she gives us the “beetles in boxes” image it’s so satisfying. It sounds great, for one thing because of the alliteration. Beetles in boxes! She didn’t just stop at the thing that is numbered and pinned – beetles – but she gave them a context, a grim reality: boxes. This evokes something very specific and macabre – dead bugs, displayed bugs, bugs kept under glass for human pleasure. You can’t help but see it – I pictured intense jewel tones, creepy bent legs, shellacked backed bugs, and those terrifying pins -- and you can’t help but feel it, the finality of what has happened to those beetles and to the author’s dad.

The author has been talking about ghosts and the wrecked relationship with food – things that are far from benign – but with that final image of beetles in boxes, she slams us with an image that we can’t shake. It echoes. I read the passage two, three, four times, just to experience the satisfaction of that sentence and the pleasure of that image – gruesome and beautiful.

We all want to engage our reader, to speak to them, to connect with them, to hook them, to move them, and although emotions and expectation and curiosity and desire are underneath everything, making it all work, the tool used to deliver all that is just a few words woven into a simple sentence.

When you think about it, it’s some kind of serious magic.

2 Comments

4 Comments

What We Can Learn From Jennifer Lawrence About Connecting With Our Reader

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 9.58.05 AM.png

Hiring a private book coach is expensive, and is most decidedly an activity reserved for people who have their basic needs covered. Usually people come to me when they are burning to write a book but don’t know how to proceed; when they have tried but failed to get a book into reader’s hand and have decided that there is nothing more important than making that happen; or when they are at a place in their career where they understand the value -- and can afford – professional help. Because of these realities, I work with a disproportionate number of privileged people – and often, learning how to deal with that reality ends up being part of the work we do.
 
Why? At its most fundamental level, a writer’s goal is to connect with readers. You can’t connect with readers if you don’t know who you are, who they are, and where your points of connection – or disconnection -- might be.
 
This is an extreme example, but I once worked with a woman who had immigrated to this country because her husband was tapped to be a top executive of a massively well-known and profitable US company. She wanted to write a memoir about the difficulty of navigating the US culture – finding a nanny, getting your kids into a top school, choosing which neighborhood to live in.
 
It was a very interesting premise, in many ways – a wealthy immigrant turning the lens on life in the Unites States – and she was a very good writer. She had difficulty, however, understanding that the vast majority of her readers wouldn’t share her point of view. She refused to acknowledge the deep truth of her situation – that most people simply don’t have the resources she had -- and as a result, her work never got off the ground, at least not under my watch. (I hope it has since then!)
 
I often see this issue come up, not just in memoir, but in fiction, and narrative non-fiction too. It comes up in everything. When I point out that not every reader might relate, or that there is a lack of self-awareness about the author coming from a place of privilege, the writers ask how to deal with that reality – how do you let the reader into your reality and your point of view. How do you connect with people who aren’t necessarily like you?
 

I hope you see that this question is one that every writer ultimately has to ask every single day, about every single line they write, because none of us comes from the same place as anyone else.

 
We each go through the world in our skin with our own experiences with our own point of view. Trying to get other people see our point of view is pretty much the primary task of all human beings and certainly a primary task of the writer.
 
This struck me yesterday when I was at the gym. A few days before, a guy had come bursting into the gym during class – shoeless, soaking wet, yelling in a very heavy accent, frantic, and gesturing wildly to our instructor. We all freaked out until we understood that he was a plumber working on a flood in a nearby business and he was asking for a long metal rod to turn off the water main. Our instructor lent him the rod, and when he left, we all speculated on the whole strange scenario – imagining all kinds of spy and thriller plots that involved the guy using the rod for everything but turning off water.
 
The following day, in the midst of doing a long set of torturous squats, I said, “So did that guy bring back the water iron?”
 
In my mind, my question was 100% clear. The rod had looked kind of like a tire iron to me. The guy had wanted it to turn off the water. The question that had all been in our minds was whether he would steal it. Three facts, one clear question – “So did that guy bring back the water iron?”
 
The person on my left (the instructor) had absolutely no idea what I was talking about – zip, zero, ziltch. I could have been speaking Greek as far as she was concerned. The person on my right knew precisely what I was talking about – but that was dumb luck.
 
The words I chose were decidedly bizarre. They did not take into consideration the fact that other people don’t live in my head, where a long metal rod used to turn off the water is naturally a water iron, where “the guy” is clearly the guy from the other day who ran in barefoot and wet.
 
So back to the question at hand – how does a writer prevent this kind of disconnect? How does a writer connect with people who aren’t like them, which is to say everyone?
 
Last week, there was a perfect example – the letter that Jennifer Lawrence wrote for Lena Dunham’s new Lenny Letter, about the pay gap in Hollywood between men and women. No matter your politics, read this piece to see how Lawrence deftly navigates the minefield of being one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood and trying to talk to us about not getting paid enough money.
 
She KNOWS that we are all going to say, “Oh wah wah wah poor Jennifer Lawrence didn’t get an extra couple million dollars on top of the many million dollar paycheck she made for The Hunger Games.”
 
She KNOWS our kneejerk reaction is going to be that we think she’s a spoiled brat who doesn’t feel our pain.
 
She KNOWS she has to say something authentic to connect with us.
 
What she does is disarm us at every turn by being straightforward, honest, self aware, a tiny bit self deprecating, but also confident and strong. She is writing with enormous authority – which comes from knowing your point and your purpose (is there any single double about hers?); knowing your audience; and being generous with your emotions and your experiences.
 
In this link to a Word doc (where you can see my editorial comments), I break it down.
 

SEE JENNIE BREAK IT DOWN

4 Comments