You might recall my rant last year about how the Year of the Rat and I weren’t suited for one another, so for my own benefit I’d renamed 2008 the Year of the Parrot.
This year, you won’t get any dissension from me. I wasn’t born in an ox year—my animal won’t come around for several years—but the ox is particularly well-suited to some thoughts I’ve had recently about being a writer. And yes, I know I’m jumping the gun. The Year of the Ox doesn’t officially start until January 26th, but this being a week of new things, resolutions, etc, I decided to throw caution to the winds and blog about oxen. Incidentally, throwing caution to the winds is a very un-ox-like quality.
A leader, dependable, patient, a lover of peace and quiet, eloquent, kind, caring, and blessed with common sense. On the down side, ox people don’t take kindly to being told what to do, and they dislike change intensely.
Those qualities—with one exception—are mystery writers’ hallmarks. The exception is that not every writer I’ve met dislikes change. Some hate it, some embrace it, and some tell change to get the heck out of their way, they have books to write.
Above all, being a writer means patience. There’s the waiting for the . . . . fill in the word of your choice: agent, publisher, first contract, cover art, Advanced Reading Copies, reviews, royalty statements, next contract, and dozens of other events that never come along as fast as we want them to.
It takes great eloquence to confront the blank page or computer screen. To write the fifth book when the other four haven’t sold. (Yet.) To realize in chapter twelve that what we’d planned isn’t going to work, and change direction, even if it means going back to that scary blank computer screen in order to get the story right.
In a spate of cleaning on New Year’s Day, I decided to cull my e-mail address book. I found e-mail addresses for over a hundred mystery writers, and I didn’t delete a single one. Those writers are my tribe. I continue to be immensely grateful that every one of them have always been generous with their kindness, caring, and liberal doses of not only common sense, but uncommon humor. Where else would I find a group of people who know how to blow up cars, interpret blood spatter patterns, and use commas correctly?
The all-encompassing Internet overshadows a long tradition of writers supporting one another with the simple expedient of a pen, paper, and postage stamps. Sigrid Undset, a Norwegian Nobel Prize-winning author and Willa Cather, an American writer, carried on an extended, supportive correspondence for twenty years. It was only when Undset came to New York as a refugee during World War II that the two women finally met.
So I have a proposal for all of us in the mystery community. Dig out those pens, paper, and stamps. Send more real mail to other writers this year, even if it's just a "Hi, how are you?" card. And when you do, add a little something special at the end.
This is my clumsy attempt at writing the Chinese symbol for Ox. I’ve appended a little something extra to the numbers for this year. See how the numeral "9" is sprouting ox horns? I propose that throughout this year we mystery writers add horns to our nines every time we write to one another. Our secret handshake, as it were, that we are here to be patient with one another; to be elegant, kind and caring in our dealings with one another.
In other words, this year, let’s be a drove of oxen.
Writing quote for the week. Heck, I’m going for a personal best this week and quoting myself.
Writing is a marathon. Warm up, write, cool down. Eat right. Drinks water. Exercise for stamina, balance, and staying power.
~Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer