New computer angst and bad writing

It’s been about two weeks since I’ve worked on my novel in progress. Not because I’ve been a slacker, but because I was forced to change directions, temporarily. About two weeks ago Harry’s computer crashed, at least we thought it did. He sat down to the blank screen of death and when he tried to manually turn it on–nothing. He tried unplugging it, but when he plugged it back in, his PC made a moaning whirring noise—not good. Turns out, it was his on/off switch. He decided it was more economical to buy a new computer than pay the hundred bucks to fix it. Since Harry works for IBM, he could get a refurbished PC for a little over twice what it would cost to fix his old one.

So what does my husband’s computer problem have to do with my NIP? The answer is in this question, “Do you want a new computer too?”

“No!”

I didn’t even think about it before answering. Didn’t want to go through the hassle of transferring all my documents to a new computer—little did I know that was the least of my worries.

So, I sat waiting for Outlook to open so that I could read my e-mail, tapping my fingers on my desk top and reconsidering. My PC was slow. It had a 20 GB hard drive with 512 ram memory. My PC only had 5% free space and that was after I’d added memory cards a couple years ago to bump up the ram. Knowing that it was only a matter of time until it crashed, I backed up all my work regularly on memory sticks. I needed a new computer. Still, I waffled. Until Harry found such a sweet deal on two computers, I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m typing this post on a refurbished IBM computer with 71.8 GB of space! I have 78% free space as opposed to only 5 on my old PC. It is awesome. It took me only five minutes to transfer all my Word files (over 175,000 words) and pictures onto it. No problems there at all. File transfer is quick. Surfing the net is quick. Opening programs, booting up, all at record speed.

And that’s were the good news ends. This is an IBM PC, so it came with Lotus SmartSuite. Sorry IBM, but in my opinion Lotus Word Pro is an inferior knock-off of Microsoft Word. I refuse to use it. Likewise, Microsoft Outlook far exceeds Lotus for e-mail use and storage. So I loaded my Microsoft Office onto the new PC, no problem took about 3 minutes. However, I lost all my shortcuts and the default smart tags were driving me crazy until I turned them off. It’ll take a while to get my Word back the way I like it. Irritating, but still minor in exchange for the faster speed.

Downloading Norton 2008 yesterday was not minor. It was a three hour process. It took me that long to download all the updates I needed for my computer to be compatible with Norton. When Norton install gave me the message that I needed Windows XP Service Pack 2 before it could finish installing, I visited http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com thinking I’d spend only a few minutes. Was I wrong. My “new” refurbished PC did not qualify for the Windows XP SP2 update. I had to install other updates before I could install Service Pack 2 and then download Norton. By the time I was done, it was three hours later.

I should ‘a paid a pro to load my entire hard drive onto my “new” computer. As Samantha Jones said on Sex and the City, “Should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.” Next time I buy a new computer—probably when hell goes through an ice age—I’ll know better. On the other hand, I saved hundreds of dollars by spending my own time updating the refurbished PC.

One good thing that came as a result of my “new” PC is that in the process of organizing documents to move, I read through some of my old work. I also deleted a lot of unnecessary files. Why was I keeping ten drafts of a story? A first and last draft is probably all I’ll ever need.

Okay, so here’s where the bad writing comes in. I understand why I’ve earned 135 rejections. As I discussed in a previous post I’m a better writer, now, than I was when I earned all those rejections. And, my query letters for some of my early work sucked, big time. I tended to summarize and ramble, not hook the reader. (My stories still tend to ramble at times, but I’m working on it).

I cringe at the query letter for my first novel that I sent in 2002. It begins
I want you to be my agent. I know you represent women’s fiction, contemporary issues, and horror genres of fiction, and I think you would be the perfect agent for Within, because it is all three.

Not, “I would be honored if you would represent me,” but “I want…” I am embarrassed to have sent that query. I have stopped looking for an agent/publisher for that first novel. I realize the writing is awful. I had written an autobiography and then tried to fictionalize it. It didn’t work—duh, that’s not how you write fiction. Writing that first novel did help me to learn the art of writing fiction, though.

Here’s part of an equally bad query letter that I sent to an editor in 2001 for a chapter of the novel as a stand-alone story, Within. It is five single spaced paragraphs long. No greeting, btw, the letter just starts. Needless to say, the chapter didn’t get published.

When Kari walked into the doctor’s office Mom and Dad looked very serious. “Kari you have spherocytosis. It is a hereditary blood disease,” Dad told her. “That is why you’ve been sick lately. Your mother has it. That is why she had her spleen removed when she was nineteen.” Kari felt a weird emptiness in her stomach like she was riding a roller coaster. Her hands were sweaty. She knew she was scared. Kari knew her mom had a scar on her stomachf rom her chest to her navel.

This is from “Spherocytosis,” which is a chapter from the novel, Within. It is a true story of an adolescent hero. The story is set in Florissant, Missouri. Kari and her eight-year-old sister are diagnosed with spherocytosis, ahereditary blood disease. The disease and surgery to have her spleen removed are described from Kari’s thirteen-year-old perspective. Kari is a true hero. Kari is the oldest of five sisters. Kari’s mother is “sick” from apersonality disorder, paranoid schizophrenia. Kari and her younger sister take over the caregiver roles of their younger siblings. Kari’s youngest sibling is born in this chapter. …

The letter went on for three more paragraphs like that. Why not just hit the editor over the head. It would probably be less painless. Wow! I’m laughing so hard at myself right now I’m crying. Talk about repetition and wordiness and telling, not showing. I didn’t notice “a hereditary” in the second line and three glaring spacing typos in just the first two overly long paragraphs. The writing in the chapter isn’t any better than the query. It is not surprising I wasn’t getting published.

I’ll end this post with part of the last paragraph from the horrible “Spherocytosis” query letter.

I have taught middle school for thirteen years, currently in North Carolina. I have a bachelor’s degree in education from the State University of New York, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I have a master’s in Reading Education, also from SUNY Cortland. I have written math and science curriculum for Orange County School district in North Carolina and DeRuyter School District in New York. I have …

Gad zukes! I have … I have … I have … learned a little bit since 2001. Notice I didn’t list a writing class in my credentials. Should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.

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