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Robin Hobb's Infrequent and Off Topic Blog

The Nest

My husband Fred is a Kodokan certified Judo black belt.  Prior to Covid, he operated a small dojo in McKenna called Oak Tree Dojo.  When Covid came along, with great reluctance, we shut it down.  We're not sure he will ever open it up again, but we still own the little building on Highway 507.  


With all the rain downpours we've had this spring, the backyard lawn and the grass in front of the building got away from us.  Hip deep grass and weeds had taken over. And sad to say, if a building looks neglected, for some reason people feel free to add litter to the parking lot.  Leaving it untidy is not kind to our neighbors.  So yesterday we tackled it with a string mower and a lawn mower, rakes, shears and everything else we could haul down there.  There's a very prickly quince bush at the front of the dojo along the fence, and I hadn't pruned it back in two years.  So cutting it back and chopping down the grass around it fell to me.


But as I cut the grass and then pruned back the branches, I realized there was a nest under there.  Under the low swooping quince branches and up against the chain link fence, there was a small secure hollow, invisible to the noisy traffic on the highway, and defended by the prickly quince branches.  My tidying efforts had sprayed grass all over it and dropped quince cuttings on top of it.  It had been recently occupied, and the dry bedding there showed that the quince had protected it from the downpours.  Not where I would have chosen to make my bed, but someone had found shelter there. 


I felt bad to have exposed it.  What had been a secure hiding spot was now in view to anyone passing by.  It would no longer be a safe space to den at night.  I'd destroyed it.  There was no way to repair it.


So I dragged out the sleeping bag and the rain jacket, and shook the grass cuttings off them.  I binned the empty food containers. I placed the sleeping bag and jacket where I hoped the owner would see them and finished with my tidying.  


The little dojo building is all spruced up now, and after we refresh the paint inside, Fred will have to decide what's next for it.  




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What Works For Me

coffee cup in garden
Time to get Writing

And to start with, let's acknowledge that what works for me may not work for you at all!  Every writer has their own tricks and starters.  Here are a few of mine:


The Book Is Not Writing Itself

Pretty sure you know what I mean by that.  You sit down, you have a pretty good idea of what should happen next, but it's not happening.  You need the character to walk across the room, look out the window and then pick a fight with someone else in the room.  Maybe.  Maybe they don't fight.  Maybe the character makes a cup of tea instead of looking out the window.  Maybe  . . .  but you've written it three ways and they all sound stupid.  Or out of character.  Or just wrong.


I get up from the keyboard and walk away.  (If you've got a cat and are working with a laptop, close it!)  And I go do some other work, the mindless kind.  Dump all the wastebaskets in the house and take the garbage out.  Do the dishes.  Take the dog out for a bit.  Clean the cat box.  Pull some weeds, mow the lawn.  Even just take a shower.  

Often when I walk away from the story, when I come back, I can move it forward.


Nope.  I'm blocked.  Really blocked.

Here is what almost always works for me.  Go back four pages, or even back to the beginning of the chapter.  Put on your editor hat and start looking at your work.  Oh, you typed 'you' instead of 'your'.  The car isn't red, it's candy apple red with metal flake.  This is a run-on sentence.  Fix all those bits as you go along. For me, what happens next is that I come to a spot where the story zigged when it should have zagged.  I wasn't really blocked. My subconscious was nagging me that I needed to go back and fix that before I go on.  And once I fix it, the story starts flowing again.


I don't want to write the next scene.  It's boring.

Well, if it's boring to you, your reader will toss the book to one side.  The solution.  Don't write it.  But the party needs to spend four days crossing the desert or your time line for the other plot line won't work . . .   It's okay.  You can just type, "After four days of punishing travel, they reached a small holding near a water hole."  Or something similar.  Then get on with the story.  You can have a one sentence chapter if you want.  It's your book.  Or maybe later in the writing, you'll realize something important did happen during that crossing, and you can go back and put it in.  That's okay, too.


This also applies to the 'I can't think of the right word' or 'I don't know the character's name.'.  Move along.  Use the almost right word and stick an asterisk * next to it.  Later, do a search for asterisks and you'll find that spot and by then you'll know the word you wanted.  Or maybe you just name the character Asterick.  


* Do you have a copy of Roget's Thesaurus?  If not, go buy one now. A fat paper thesaurus is a treasure.  See, if I look for a synonym for 'treasure' via the word processing program I'm using, it will show me the same synonyms that every other writer is using.  The thesaurus will give you a lot more choices.  Trust me. Just don't get lost in it like I do.  


Look at this horrible redundant three pages.  I'm cutting them.

Wait!  Two days from now, you will want that one sentence that you really liked.  So in the folder where you are saving your work (and of course you are saving it to the cloud as well. . . right?) you add another file.  Mine is called 'chopped bits.'  So you cut those pages and paste them into the chopped bits file.  And when you realize that it wasn't redundant after all, there it is!  Cut and paste it back where you needed it.  


The story has a great beginning.  I was so excited to write it.  The middle works, too.  But I can't write an ending!

I spent years writing those stories.  I probably still have the paper copies of them somewhere.  Lots of them.

Here's the issue.  You are afraid of committment.  You know six possible ways to end the story and you don't know which one is the right one.  The solution?  Choose one and write it.  Then maybe let it cool for a day or so.  Then read the story.  Maybe you'll love it.  Maybe not.  If you don't like it, choose the next ending and write that.  Eventually, you'll find the right ending, and you'll have a finished story and you can submit it.  Which is a lot better than having a file drawer full of stories with no endings.  (Avoid the volcano and asteroid ending.  I've tried those over and over, and they never seem to work.  But maybe that's just me. What works for  you might be very different.)


So, there they are.  And it looks like the rain has stopped and maybe I can do some gardening today.  Which is where I do a lot of my writing.


Just because I'm not writing doesn't mean I'm not writing.

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Unpopular Opinion

I'm making a comment here, on my very own platform, and it's about comedy.


It's not about whether Chris Rock should have been slapped.  Not going there. So, please, no 'violence is not the answer' comments.  We all know that. 


I love comedy.  It's wonderful to tune in to something truly funny  at the end of a stressful day.  I admire shows like "Whose Line Is It?"  I grew up with the Red Skelton Show, and Carol Burnett.  Steve Martin.  Martin Short.  Chevy Chase.  Even the Three Stooges.   With some exceptions, there is a lot of physical comedy here and often the target of the joke is the comedian himself.  


There are some people who are, in my personal opinion, a legitimate target for comedians.  They are people who have and exploit their own platforms, as themselves.  Politicians are a prime example.  


What I do not enjoy is when any comedian targets a person in the audience to mock or make the butt of a joke.  When a comedian targets an individual on the basis of a characteristic they cannot change, it's bullying, not comedy.  Some people laugh, some nervously, some cruelly.  


If I stood on a stage and publicly mocked a veteran for the loss of a limb, or a cancer survivor for the removal of a breast, if I called them out by name and held them up to ridicule, would you laugh?  If I mocked a teenager with terrible acne, or someone who is too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, for US beauty standards,  is any of that funny?  Can I mock Bruce Willis for what he is going through, and get a laugh from you? How about Terry Pratchett's Alzheimers?  Are you giggling yet? Or appalled?


You can argue that actors, singers, etc are public people (just like writers!) and don't enjoy the protection that should be extended to private citizens.  But I don't agree.  People who share a performance are not the same as a politician who promotes themself or their views.  But I also believe that if you are mocking a politician about a physical characteristic, be in their posture or small hands, or the set of their ears,  then you don't deserve a hearing.  


When someone stands on a stage, any kind of stage,  and mocks someone, by name, over a physical condition, it's not a targeted attack.  It's a shotgun of little bits of hurt that hit anyone listening/viewing who also suffers from that condition.  Teachers who make fun of a lisp or a stutter or a thick accent are bullies.  I don't think I know anyone who has not suffered that sort of public humiliation in their life.  So how can we laugh when a very lame joke targets someone by name?


I'll add something.  SF and fantasy fans, we mock outselves about how clueless we can be, or how socially awkward.  It's our family in-joke, and when it's done lovingly (Galaxy Quest!  Bimbos of the Death Sun!) we laugh at ourselves.  Years ago, I was at a Norwescon during the costume contest. The MC-- I don't remember his name, only that he was a minor local celebrity, drafted for the honor.  As one contestant was assisted to the stage, in a lovely dress and coiffed hair, as Galadriel, the MC thought he needed to comment on the obvious.  She was blind.  It did not affect her grace, until our clueless MC had to point out that she couldn't see where she was going.  We all groaned or booed at his insensitivity.  She wasn't up there to show us that she was visually impaired.  She was there to be Galadriel and dazzle us with her splendour.  The audience recognized her as one of our own, and we threw that  protective mantle around her.


But it still pains me that when she looks back on her moment as Galadriel on a stage, she has to remember his words.  I hate that I remember his words and that moment more clearly than I recall anything about the rest of that convention.  


So.  I'm done.  This is my opinion and yours may be different.  But for me?


It's not about the slap.

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