Five Writing Lessons I Learned By Having Dinner With B & E

You’ve seen me do this before.

I’ve learned writing lessons from Napoleon Dynamite and Dumb and Dumber. Last weekend, it got even more real.

I learned writing lessons during a social event. Namely, the couples’ date my wife and I went on with our good friends, B & E (whose identities will remain anonymous, at least for as long as they choose).

So here they are: the Five Writing Lessons I Learned By Having Dinner With B & E:

1) Too much can be a bad thing. We went to The Chocolate Cafe in Lititz, PA, and this place just oozed with amazing food, uniqueness (is that a word?) and friendliness. (Let’s be honest – the kids weren’t along, so I may or may not have felt the same way about McDonald’s). But one thing that immediately became a challenge for B was the sheer number of specialty drinks they had. He couldn’t decide, and eventually went with a shot glass-size serving of tap water.

So if you are preparing for your next novel, and have just completed your 147th character profile, you might want to start killing characters off. Too much can be a bad thing.

2) Make a decision and go with it. My wife occasionally struggles with pulling the trigger regarding what she’s going to order. There’s lots of hemming and hawing, lots of  “needing more time,” and a whole lot of deliberating.

She’s my wife, so I love her for it.

If you are writing, and you can’t decide what blog post to write, or where to direct your protagonist, or how long to go before submitting that piece you’ve been editing for 14 years…just make a choice and go with it! I understand that everything on the menu looks good, but you’ll never enjoy the meal if you don’t make a decision.

3) Choose your breaks carefully. At one point during the meal, Maile turned to me and said, “So, are you going to ask them about that thing?” Pause.

That was not a good place for a pause. B & E nearly thought I was about to pitch them my writer’s pyramid scheme, and began planning their escape. The pause did not work there, because it was deceptive. One deceptive break in your writing, and everyone will laugh and sigh with relief (as did B & E); too many deceptive breaks in your writing, your reader’s will get pissed off, and you might lose them. As Anne Lamott says, your readers want to be massaged my a masseuse, not whacked by a carpet beater (or something along those lines).

4) Tell your story in order, from beginning to end. As we were leaving B & E’s house, I nearly backed into two vehicles. Going backwards or out of order in writing almost also leads to wrecks. Unless you’re Stephen King, or trying something just for the fun of it, start in the beginning, then tell the middle, and end at the end. Believe me, that’s challenging enough for most of us.

5) Don’t write in isolation. I could have gone to the Chocolate Cafe by myself, but I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun. I wouldn’t have learned more about someone else, and I know I wouldn’t have ordered that chocolate pretzel for dessert.

While the act of writing is almost always done alone, surround yourself with other writers, people who will rejoice with you in your success and encourage you when everything stinks.

So there you have it, five more lessons learned.

Have you learned anything about writing recently that you’d like to share?

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