Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hellion's Household Handbook for Writing

I renewed my apartment for a third year; I like my place. Plus I hate moving. The packing, the unpacking, the finding a new place, the finding idiots to help me move—it’s exhausting. I tend to stay in one place and enjoy it for a long, long time. In the last couple years, I’ve acquired some apartment living knowledge that I didn’t have before at the farm. It vaguely applies to writing—so you need to be willing to make some leaps here.


Just because it can go down the garbage disposal doesn’t mean it should. I didn’t know this at the farm; we didn’t have a garbage disposal and we hadn’t had a goat in years. We just had a bucket, chucked in most things, and tossed it over a fence after it built up. Dad is very old school. Anyway, at the new place, there is a garbage disposal in the kitchen. Not a goat, I’ve looked. I was quite excited about the thing; and I’ve shoved all manner of things down it, nearly killing it a couple times. And that’s the thing: just because some stuff fits through the hole into the garbage disposal doesn’t mean it should. In writing, just because you can put it into your novel doesn’t mean you should. You read something that books with flamboyant grandmotherly secondary characters sell, or hot-hot erotica, or plots where the heroine is kidnapped. (I must have read six historicals last year with a  kidnapping at some point—did all these writers go to the same meeting?)  Don’t just throw everything and the kitchen sink into your WIP just because you can—or worse, because you think you should. You should include it if it truly adds to your story. (This does not apply to Chance since she’s clearly doing well with the kitchen sink mechanism.)


You don’t have to call the apartment manager every time you run into a problem. Clearly there are times to call the apartment manager. Your apartment is on fire, the neighbor has somehow flooded your kitchen, you’ve inadvertently put something unfortunate down the garbage disposal. But sometimes you can jump the gun; sometimes you can fix the problem yourself if you just calm down and think about it. Your lights won’t come on; you check the fuse box and flip the switches back. There’s a snake in your house; trap it and then demand the manager check the place out. You screwed with your dishwasher and possibly broke it again; read the instructions, goof-ass, and see if it will resolve itself. In writing, if you run into a writing problem in your manuscript don’t immediately run to a craft book. Just be still a minute and try to reason it out yourself. Chances are if you allow yourself to start researching in your craft book, it will be 2 hours to 6 months before you feel confident to return to your WIP. There are just occasions where you need to handle it yourself. You know more than you think you do.


Eavesdropping on your neighbor’s 3 a.m. arguments makes good fodder for your novels. Self-explanatory. And it’s not really eavesdropping if they’re screaming at the time.


Vacuuming is the easiest cure for writer’s block. I know, we all know I don’t vacuum anyway. At least not often. But really, any housecleaning chore would work here. Something truly, truly tedious is really the best option. For me, it would be mowing the lawn. Ugh. Awful. I’d rather write a biography of Donald Trump in pig Latin than mow the lawn, and I don’t even really know what pig Latin is. I know we all love writing, especially when we’re in the zone, but much like parenting (or so I’ve heard), you don’t love it so much. You have to think really hard why you got into it in the first place. Sometimes it’s best to think of something worse, like you could have Kate Goslen’s kids, and then you’re really lucky to be doing exactly what you are.


Do you have any tips or analogies? What household chore do you threaten yourself with in order to get your pages? What’s the best thing you’ve ever heard in a neighbor’s argument? (Or relative’s…or friend’s—I’m not picky.)


2nd Chance said...

Wonderful blog, Cap'n! And I've decided I need a Kitchen Sink Marini!

And you'll be pleased to know, I actually do hold some stuff back. For the next book. ;-)

What do I do when incredibly frustrated with the can't seem to write blues? Dishes and laundry are my two go-to chores. Something about folding laundry that sort of zens me out. Not sure it cures the block, but it does calm me down. And I accomplish something which is generally what I need.

I don't tend to hear my neighbors...but convos at other tables at Starbucks are fascinating. And especially the stuff between baristas and customers.

Hellion said...

It's been a while since we've added a new drink. :)

And I am pleased to hear that!! I mean, I'm all for "putting it all into the ring" but I'm also for only putting it in the ring if it actually belongs there. :)

I don't mind laundry. I know others hate it; dishes though--ugh. Organizing my place. Ugh. Hey, how did your organizing thing go??? Good times? I agree that accomplishing the task of dishes or laundry will declutter my mind from worrying about it and I'll go back to writing.

Lucky you. *LOL* Incidentally I was in a store today, near the register, and the guy running the thing was talking to another worker, going off about people who wear sandals as soon as the snow melts. Mind you, I'm WEARING sandals. He's clearly noticed MY sandals and decided to make the comment. Dillhole. I wanted to say something very snotty to him when I checked out, but the lady in front of me was so evil to him that I didn't want to BE that woman, so I bought my magazine and left. But that's what I hear in public--people making rude comments about me. Jerk. *LOL*

Quantum said...

No better way to start the day. :D

Don't forget the medical dictionary Helli, it can also be very helpful.

There was that fella who developed an odd ache in an unmentionable place.
Thought it must be writer's cramp but checked the dictionary to be sure.

He ended up with symptoms of every tropical disease known to man and went to bed for a week.

A little knowledge in the hands of a DIY enthusiast is a dangerous thing .... very dangerous indeed.

Best to just write on in blissful ignorance. .... like you said! :lol:

Donna said...

Great post, Hellie. I can tell you from being on the OTHER side of the retail counter, most customers talk about stuff they really shouldn't, because they seem to think retail staff can't hear. LOL I want to tell them, "Just because I'm not talking to you doesn't mean I can't HEAR you." I don't know that any of it is book-worthy though. We'll see. :)

I like to do the dishes. I can stare out a different window while washing dishes. It's a little mini-vacay for my brain, I guess, since I get some blasts of brilliance while I'm there!

Hellion said...

Q, I'm one of the worst hypochondriacs out there. *LOL* And God bless the internet who offers all sorts of insights into what you might have. I can't even begin to list the things I've thought I've had, but I can assure you most of them were terminal.

Blissful ignorance is the way to do most anything in my book. *LOL*

Bosun said...

I know I've overheard some crazy stuff, but I can't think of anything right now. Probably because my head is filled with crud. *sigh*

I did see something at the mall on Friday that made me shake my head in wonder. The woman had to be uppper 40s or better. And I'm being generous in that assumption. Short Daisy Dukes, platform, strappy heels, and a white tank top. Big hair, lots of make-up, walking through the mall eating a bag of roasted nuts.

I should add that it was barely over 40 degrees outside. It was early in the evening, so I guess she could have been hanging at the mall before starting her shift on a corner somewhere.

The HOA was in full effect this weekend. I've been fighting with the query for a week, which means my house is very clean. I even vacuumed the stairs. Cleaned the litter box area TWICE. Laundry, dishes, mopped the kitchen floor.

Me, avoid? Pshaw.

Hellion said...

I can tell you from being on the OTHER side of the retail counter, most customers talk about stuff they really shouldn’t, because they seem to think retail staff can’t hear.

This is the modern version, I think, of The Rich vs The Servants. The Servants were always there, but the Rich were always acting like they were pieces of deaf furniture. Really? Hello!

There is no window in front of my sink. So no opportunity to think of it as a mini-vacay. At the farm there was a window in front of the sink and it looked out on a pasture--so you could do it then. But even so, I never liked it enough to willingly do it if someone else would.

Hellion said...

Don't even play, Bo'sun, we all know you're always vacuuming your stairs. Nothing you listed sounded like stuff you don't normally do before you write anyway. Now if you had said you watched a Will Ferrell movie--then I know you were avoiding.

See, and your comment about the woman in the shorts--you sound like the guy at the cash register. But then I considered wearing shorts to the mardi gras party, since we were going to be inside. I stuck with sandals. Which I still got flack for.

Bosun said...

I've been bitching about people here wearing flip-flops when it's in the 30s outside. LOL! But these people wear the damn things year round. That's nuts! (To me, the person who doesn't even wear them when it's 100 degrees.)

I only vacuum the stairs like once a month. Okay, I've done it twice now since moving in around Halloween. I vacuum the rest, but not the stairs.

I also watched Bandslam (liked it!) and exposed Kiddo to the last half of Weird Science. Then there was the marathon of Chopped Champions.

Hellion said...

Yeah, but I think you're just as weird because you never wear them, esp when it's 100 degrees outside. But then you're probably barely warm by the time it's 100 degrees, and I'm wishing for a bathtub of ice cubes to soak in to cool off.

*blinking at Bo'sun*

Donna said...

*looks up from cleaning inside of microwave*

HOA? Not me. I couldn't concentrate on my WIP with tomato sauce spatters in there.

Bosun said...

To be honest, I have hairy Fred Flintstone toes. But I can't stand that thing between my toes either. I'd wear sandals, if it weren't for the toes.

Right now, it's freezing in our building, but I have my heating cranking under my desk and my office door closed, so it's nice and sauna like in here. :)

Donna - Makes perfect sense.

Hellion said...

My best friend's husband says the best way to clean out a microwave is to take a mixture of vinegar and water in a glass measuring cup and run the microwave for five minutes.

When he gave me this advice I seriously considered taking away his masculinity badge.

Hellion said...

Body parts that shouldn't be hairy is why they invented waxing. If I had hairy toes, I'd wax the suckers. It would not prevent me from running about barefoot. But I always suppose barefootedness is the difference between those raised in the country and those raised in the city. It's the country kids who'll go barefoot no matter what.

My arms actually feel good, slightly chilled, in my t-shirt, so I suspect the rest of my co-workers are shivering like whippets at their desk and will check my thermastat to make sure they can't crank it up any higher. I'll keep everyone posted. I give them another hour of shivering max.

Donna said...

I would try that except I don't have a glass measuring cup. AND I hate the smell of vinegar so I hate to use it, even though I used it on my centuries-old espresso maker the other day. Yecch. Vinegar is bad enough, but HOT vinegar. *gags* LOL

Besides, I'm not sure the microwave is mature enough to clean itself like that. It needs my assistance. LOL

Bosun said...

I don't wax anything. I do shave the toes from time to time.

And this ends my oversharing of the day.

I already snuck into the idiot's office across the hall and turned the thermostat up. ;)

Hellion said...

Bosun, when the work idiot starts parading around in his tightie whities due to overheating, you've only yourself to blame.

Donna, I agree about vinegar--it is stinky. Still, anything that makes the scrubbing easier gets my vote. My avoidance technique this weekend was to bake a cheesecake for a mardi gras party that probably would have been fine with chips and dip. And it was a FUSSY cheesecake. There was a water bath and everything. I don't even like cheesecake, which led to much suspicion with the group. "You don't LIKE it? What's WRONG with you?"

Bosun said...

What's a water bath? Pertaining to a cheesecake, I mean.

Hellion said...

I believe the water bath's PURPOSE is to keep the cheesecake from cracking as it's baked.

The water bath means you fill up a roasting pan halfway with water, stick it in your oven and when you put your cheesecake in the bath (you have to cover the edges around the cake pan (since it's spring form) with foil to keep the water from leaking in) and bake it in a "moist" heat. Probably real close to doing one of those British puddings that require a bath bake. I had one tiny crack in the cheese cake, but it meant it had to be baked in the bath for an hour and a half, then you turned off your oven and let it sit in there for another hour and a half. Then you take it out, wrap it up, and put it in the fridge. PITA. No wonder these these damn things are $5 a slice at restaurants.

Scapegoat said...

I like to think while I fold laundry. It's actually my favorite chore. Dishes = most hated even if I do have a dishwasher.

But if I wanted to punish myself with a chore it would be mopping. 3 dogs with a big backyard full of leaves and dirt means mopping is a *itch.

I laughed at the sandals comment becuase here in FLA we like to comment and laugh at people who pull out thick winter coats as soon as it hit the high 60's. So pathetic. :)

Hellion said...

here in FLA we like to comment and laugh at people who pull out thick winter coats as soon as it hit the high 60′s.

So people like Bo'sun then. I'm with you.

I think it was finally in the 70s or 80s in FLA because Deerhunter was excited it was warm enough to wear shorts. He's a whippet.

And I'm not a mopping fan either. *LOL* But I don't have dogs, so you have my sympathy!

Bosun said...

I do not pull out my winter coat until we hit the 40s. And even now, we've been in the 40s for weeks and I'm wearing a mid-level jacket. Haven't worn the winter coat in more than a month.

*sticks out tongue*

Hellion said...

OMG! This makes so much sense for No Strings Attached!!!

2nd Chance said...

Hel, find a nice picture and mount it where you can gaze at it when doing dishes!

The hot/cold thing. I love it when Starbucks has the AC on. There is no friggin' way that here, in temperate Santa Cruz county is there every a reason to have AC on. I mean, the hottest it gets is around the high 80's! Maybe, rarely!

And I'm sitting there with a scarf around my neck because cold air is blowing on me and I can look outside and see people more comfy than me! But they have no outlets outside!


Interesting article, Hellie. I liked the first name better...hee, hee.

Hellion said...

I'd have the AC on if it was the high 80s. And you most likely wouldn't get me outside. I like the mid-70s best. And not too humid.

2nd Chance said...

When we moved here, my neighbor was always complaining about how hot it was that summer. Ahem. I came from the Sacramento Valley, were summers were easily into the triple digits. I just can't find the mid 80s anywhere near the side of hot!

Hellion said...

I agree, triple digits (which we have here too) is hotter. But I am still claiming that anything above 85 is hot. I'm a hot blooded person. It is what it is.

Bosun said...

85 is perfect!

Chance - My guess is when you have lots of people in an enclosed room, adding windows the sun can send heat through, you need air. But you don't need to crank it, I'll give you that.

I just lost at least a half hour checking out that blog. It's now in my favorites bar. And that is EXACTLY what you said about that movie. LOL!

Hellion said...

And that is EXACTLY what you said about that movie.

That's probably why I liked the article so much.

But I agree about the Sandler movie too. Aniston and Sandler did have great chemistry. *LOL*

hal said...

wow. shaved toes, hot vinegar and water baths. I love the comments :)

hilarious blog, Hellie, and I have to agree about the garbage disposal. I do that sometimes - get excited about A Great Idea and try to shove it in even though it doesn't organically fit in that particular WIP. But it's just so shiny and pretty! lol.

p.s. - I boil lemon juice in a glass container to clean out the microwave. Does the same job as vinegar without the smell. I mean, you still have to wipe it out, everything just comes off easier after it's all lemoned-up

Marnee said...

First of all, I'm with Bo'sun. Furry toes. I shave them too. Stupid extra fur. Blech.

I love this blog, Hells. :)

Boy, do I have stories about neighbors. We live in a quiet subdivision, but our next door neighbors have one kid (out of their four) who is a complete idiot. DH and I call him "The Wrench" because he's a tool but "The Hammer" sounded way too tough and cool for him.

It was raining one day and the kid needed to move cars to get out (there are four adult kids and two parents so it can be a lot of cares sometimes). But instead of getting keys to move things around, he decides to drive up into his front yard, then through ours, and then out our driveway. Um, genius, when it rains the ground gets wet. He got stuck in the soggy ground (in our yard), spun tires a bit and generally dug it up good, then peeled away. A huge mess in our yard. Then he wasn't going to do anything about it. His father was so embarrassed he came over and patched it all up.

Another time, we watched the kid talking to some people in a car and the cops showed up. Not just one cop car, like five. They cuffed him and drove him away.

Last summer, the kid was out in the middle of the yard, totally wasted, screaming at the top of his lungs. "I just want my f-ing sh!t! Just give me my SH!T!!" It was like 5AM.

Of course, my husband's like the neighbor on Bewitched, all peeking out the window blinds and generally guessing what's going on with him. "He's got to be on drugs, Marn."

Um. Probably. But right now I don't care, he's ruining my sleep.

Oh, and I wear flip flops as soon as it gets into the 60s. I heart some flip flops.

Marnee said...

That'd be cars, not cares. Sheesh, how about a proofread, Marn.

Bosun said...

I would love to say I knew a neighbor that stupid, but unfortunately, I married someone that stupid.

Yep, got his full size pick EMBEDDED in the mudd in our back yard in Nashville. We lived in a duplex and the couple next door was nice enough to help us out. The three of us were COVERED in mud while my ex, the idiot responsible, was clean behind the wheel. I bet those two giant divets (sp?) are still in that yard. LOL!

Bosun said...

That's "pick up" and I know mud has one "d". LOL! I was trying to make Marn feel better...

Marnee said...

LOL! Thanks Ter! :)

Seriously, this kid's something. And I'd like to say he's a kid but he's in his late-ish 20s now. Past when I think it's appropriate for people to be doing stupid things. Then again, there are those who remain stupid their whole life, I guess. Maybe he doesn't think stupid has an expiration date.

Marnee said...

What's worse is that he dresses like those ass-wipes on Jersey Shore. All GTL or whatever. With Affliction T-shirts and highly expensive pants. Very Guido. And he drives a Mustang.

Bosun said...

Sounds like you have a situation on your hands.

Sorry, couldn't resist. I hate that show and those people. Giant zits on the ass of humanity.

Janga said...

Love the blog, Hellie! I can definitely relate to the garbage disposal one. :)

I think it was Agatha Christie who advocated dishwashing as a method for planning a novel. Driving works better for me. I'm allergic to all domestic chores. I do find eavesdropping inspiring though. Just one sentence can serve to set me spinning a full story. One of my best poems started with a sentence I overheard in a restaurant: "I could forgive anything but that."

Great writing advice in that rom com article too.

mernitman said...

I find that picking up dust bunnies with my bare hands (and disposing of them, despite the temptation to make art) is a great procrastination tool.

Hey, thanks for the linkage! (Checking blog stats is of course one of the great time-killers, as well.)

Bosun said...

Driving works for me too, Janga! Or trying to sleep. It's pretty much every night now that scenes play in my head as I'm falling asleep. Not the best time for that to happen.

I've put a notebook in my purse now to write down interesting lines when I hear them. Had lunch with some people last week and the guy said the funniest thing. I pulled my notebook out right there in the restaurant and wrote it down. I'd share, but it's too good and I'm afraid someone will steal it. LOL!

Bosun said...

The dreaded dust bunnies. I'm literally allergic to those, so we live in peace avoiding each other.

And thanks for the great blog! I'm now trying to figure out if my H/H have chemistry and if the reader will get my heroine's motivations. Nothing I wasn't already worried about. *sigh*

Hellion said...

P.S. Thanks for the lemon tip! I love lemons!

Hellion said...

But it’s just so shiny and pretty!

Exactly, Hal, I'm all about the shiny and pretty. *LOL* I want to add everything to my novel all the time. And the novels that didn't make it, I want to go through them, pull out the fun lines and put them in the new book instead. I want them to be read sometime! *LOL*

Hellion said...

Bosun's IDIOT story doesn't surprise me at all. He so reminds me of the ex-brother in law.

Hellion said...

The Wrench because he's a tool! *snorts, laughs* OMG! Perfect. And his son sounds like a nut right out of the toolbox.

I'm trying to decide which person I'd be: the one at the window or the one saying, "Go to SLEEP, it doesn't matter!" I suppose it depends if I'm awake already. *LOL* Sometimes I'll just ignore it or find some earplugs. But if I'm up already and you've started your argument, I will try to find the best position in my apartment to listen and take notes.

Finally a fellow flip-flopper.

Hellion said...

And he drives a Mustang.

That's the reason to laugh at him right there. I mean it was my dream car when I was 16, but I have grown to realize it's only drivable 2 days a year, so long as you live in Florida.

Bosun said...

Doesn't Deerhunter drive a Mustang? LOL!

Hellion said...

P.S. Driving IS a great way to get ideas! Much preferred, except for the current gas prices.

Hellion said...

Janga, you're in good company here. We're all garbage disposal people here, I believe. *LOL*

You know what's funny. I clicked on the link because it was on Jenny Crusie's blog and read the article--then realized this is the guy who wrote the great "how to write rom-com" handbook. I've had that book forever. I probably bought it as soon as it came out. *LOL* I totally need to look at it again.

Hellion said...

Hi Mernitman, you're more than welcome. It was a great article! And guys, I recommend flipping through the previous articles as well.

(Checking blog stats is of course one of the great time-killers, as well.)

So is playing with new blog "themes" to change your look to increase your blog stats. *LOL*

Hellion said...

Doesn’t Deerhunter drive a Mustang?

Yes, and approximately two times a year he calls me from it--and usually one of those times he's taking it to get the brakes fixed.

2nd Chance said...

Man, lost my comment! Damn!

As I said, I am so non-confrontational, I can see me totally hiding from the Wrench. I'd be in the back bathroom, with the shower running, and a radio. Avoidance, that's me!

I'd be no help to cops, at all.

And I admit, I'd probably move.

I like the lemon juice idea. I have my popcorn microwave I want to clear out with the clutter since I have another microwave...but I really have to clean it first. It works, it's just...disgusting.

Same with a toaster it me or is it just impossible to keep those things clean!?

Bosun said...

I've never owned a toaster oven. I don't even clean my regular oven. LOL! I cleaned the one in the last apartment, before I moved out in October. I think that's the first oven I've ever cleaned.

Wow, that's bad.

2nd Chance said...

My oven self cleans. But not the toaster oven... Usually, when they get this bad I just throw them away and buy a new one. And say to myself, "I'll keep this one clean!"

Yup. I lie.

I think because the coils are right there, I'm a little scared of cleaning it and end up contaminating it with chemicals. Sorta strange considering how much burnt on stuff is in there...

Hellion said...

Your toaster oven is FINE. Not everything needs to shine like chrome, people.

Hellion said...

Well, you'd probably be more apt to clean your oven if you USED your oven. Hence why it doesn't rate high on the cleaning necessity scale.

2nd Chance said...

I'm not going to post pics to prove that this is really disgusting, Hellion. I want people to think better of me and believe I am exagerating! ;-)

Bosun said...

I may not bake cakes on a regular basis, but I use the oven all the time. Mostly for pizza. I think there's some burnt on cheese in the bottom right now.

BTW - I have a strong desire to bake cupcakes. I think I've been watching too much Cupcake Wars.

2nd Chance said...

I find Cupcake Wars fascinating! But I don't want to bake, I just want to eat. I have a cupcake shop in the county that is so good...