Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My father was an intellectual and grammarian whose profession was advertising, which left him with a certain amount of inner conflict. He took fine umbrage at the cigarette ads, which, in the presophisticated 1960s, promised that "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." "It should be AS a cigarette should!" he thundered.

Correct English was a given in our family. My grammar is almost impeccable; I only have trouble remembering definitions of grammatical terms like "pluperfect."

Actual writers spend very little time on words like "pluperfect." The word "perfect" is another story. We get very hard inside when it comes to evaluating our own work. Our brains become like a fist around them, trying to squeeze out the flaws and air bubbles. (Or should it be "as a fist"?)

I didn't start writing fiction until after my father died. But when I was 10, I snitched the manual typewriter from my parents' bedroom because I had an urge to write a story. For some reason, I wanted to write about life in a bubble gum factory. Because I knew nothing about how gum is made, I clacked out one sentence and then stopped. I hit the return a few times to make a space, then typed, "Just how in hell does one write a short story?" (Note the elegant diction.) I went off to do ten year old stuff and forgot about it.

Later, I saw that my father had come into my room and read my sentence. I knew this because he answered my question, writing in pencil on the typewritten page: "You just keep on going."

It was good advice, but it also shows up one thing that keeps writers going: relationship. What my dad really meant was: "Keep on. You can do it." He could have yelled at me for taking the typewriter. He could have gotten mad that I used the word "hell." Or not bothered to read my sentence.

I'll always remember how his casual advice made me feel. Thank you, Dad!

Do the people who evaluate your work encourage you to do better? Is there an emotional intelligence to the criticism, however tough the criticism may be?


Anonymous said...

What a great story! Your Dad was right...and his words are appreciated by me as well. :)

Christine Murray said...

That's lovely! It's a fantastic feeling when someone believes in you.

HelenQP said...

Torrey, thank you! In many ways my parents didn't stand by me, but as i get older I realize that what they did give me was solid and true.

Christine, it is fantastic--and the Internet community can offer that support. It's all too easy tho to fall into the trap--how many hits did I get, did I do enough commenting today, etc. etc. Thanks for the warmth!

Catherine Stine said...

Lovely advice from your dad. And life in a bubble gum factory, what a great little setting?!

HelenQP said...

Yeah, I'm always grateful for the quiet support he offered for my writing. He knew I could DO IT. BTW, I will never use that setting, so if you want it, it's yours!

Patty said...

I come from a family with an aversion to literary endeavors, so I never had this kind of support from them, but I belong to a writing group, and they always end their critiques by urging me to keep at it. That's a big help.

HelenQP said...

Patty, I'm glad you've found a good writing group. It's hard to find one, but even harder to sort out family dysfunction. sometimes they help, and sometimes...ouch!