Dorothy Parker, Hating to Write, and Arabella’s 100 Challenge

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When you are a bright yet less than drop-dead-gorgeous girl growing up in the South, you have to develop the talents you do have. I was good with words, and my father’s family was blessed with a multitude of natural-born comedians and storytellers, so I worked with what the Good Lord gave me and became a specialist in snarky humor.

But one must give credit where credit is due. Back in the dim dark ages when I was in high school and dinosaurs roamed the earth, I ran across a poem by the Undisputed Queen of Snark, Ms. Dorothy Parker herself. You know the one, because all tragically misunderstood and literary-minded teenage girls know it: Resume. And I quote:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.*

Whenever my heart got broken (a fairly frequent event), I would slope around the house, sighing like Ophelia on Valium, lamenting the fact that even suicide was too much trouble. Then I’d eat some potato chips and feel better.

Then, not long after discovering Resume, I ran across a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker at DuBey’s Bookstore — that’s it pictured above. I can still remember the day I bought it; it was a life-changer. Not only snarky poems and epigrams for fashionably-depressed teenagers, but really beautiful, lyrical writing about women’s lives. I read that paperback Portable til the cover was all ragged and fuzzy around the edges. I still have my original copy, and every year or so I take it down and reread it from cover to cover. If you have never read Dorothy, do not delay — go get a copy now, and read it immediately. You will thank me for this. (To make it easy, here’s a link to buy it. Alas, I can’t find it in e-format, but it’s a keeper, so buy the hardcopy. Go to http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/portable-dorothy-parker-dorothy-parker/1103267365?ean=9780143039532)

And after getting my babies through their childhood and establishing myself in a dayjob career, I finally got to do what I had always wanted — I became a real writer, just like Dorothy. Her stories and essays about the writing life took on a new meaning for me, and I fell in love with her all over again.

But there is one major point about writing that dearest Dorothy and I agree on. To quote her again, “I hate writing. I love having written.” I love making up my stories. I love playing with words, making them jump through hoops and do their little tricks. I love thinking up fresh hells to visit upon my characters on their way to a happy ever after. But sometimes, when it is actually time to sit my butt down in the chair and put my hands on the keyboard, I feel that old teenage depression again. Dear God in Heaven, I dread it sometimes!

But you know, once I start, I realize that I, like Dorothy, absolutely adore seeing my shiny little stories taking shape on the page/screen. And then I can keep going until my DH comes out to the den and tells me “It’s 3 am, don’t you know you have work in the morning?” It’s the starting, not the writing, that I really hate.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the point of today’s post — Arabella’s 100 Challenge. I will give credit for the idea to the fabulous Vicky Dreiling, who is one of the finest Regency Romance writers working today. What Vicky came up with is the best cure I’ve found for a procrastinating writer like myself. Here’s the deal:

You must write 100 words a day. Every day. No less than 100. Even if the well has completely run dry and your muse has stopped speaking to you. I will admit to having one very bad day where my heroine actually listened to the radio, and I got my 100 words by quoting song lyrics. (That scene was, fortunately, cut from the final manuscript!) If you write to 100 and want to quit, you quit. In the middle of a paragraph, in the middle of a sentence. You did your 100, and you were a success. That’s all that’s required.

But if you are anything like me, you’ll find that the only problem was the starting. For every time that I’ve quoted 100 words of Elton John songs and stopped mid-sentence, there are dozens where I’ve looked up a couple of thousand words later and realized how much fun my characters and I are having. I credit Vicky’s 100 Word a Day process for my last two manuscripts.

So, dear readers, who else needs a kick in the pants to get started? I’m throwing down the gauntlet — Starting August 1, we go 100 days of 100 words. You can report your progress on my handy-dandy Yahoo group I set up for the purpose. Remember, you don’t report how many words — this is not a oneupmanship adventure. It is a binary question — Yes, I did my 100 (or more) or No, I didn’t.

At the end of 100 days, the member with the most 100-word days gets a $25.00 Barnes and Noble gift card. If there is a tie (because I’m sure everyone will have made it all 100 days), we will keep going until there is one member left standing.

You’re on your honor here, kids. I mean, it is so easy to type a recipe or a poem if that is all you can come up with, and there is no reason to cheat. If you don’t do it, climb back in the saddle and get going again. Because, at the end of the day, the real prize is that bright, shiny new manuscript you will be making. And like dearest Dorothy, you know you love having written.

If you’re in, go to http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/Arabella100/ to sign up. All standard exclusions apply, void where prohibited, wash, rinse, repeat, do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Let’s get writing!!!


*Dorothy Parker, “Resumé” from The Portable Dorothy Parker, edited by Brendan Gill. (1926)

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One response to “Dorothy Parker, Hating to Write, and Arabella’s 100 Challenge

  1. I’m so glad the 100 words a day is helping. It made a huge difference for me when I was unpublished and traveling all over the US & Europe. I felt successful and so much of how we succeed is based on the belief that we can be.

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