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image: Imani Bahati for Unsplash

As a writer, I have a tendency to believe that words are everything. I’m not always wrong. One of the most important things I’ve learned over time is this: everything starts with a sentence. Seriously. Everything you do in life, your achievements, failures, fears, joys… they’re all shaped by thoughts in your mind, that is, by words and sentences.

The equation looks like this: Words → Feelings → Actions → Results.

If you’re not happy about the results you have in your life, you have the power to change at least some of them by changing the story you’re telling yourself. …


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Many years ago, my friend Daniel, who’s a journalist, said something that’s stayed with me. “Reporters write about facts,” he said. “Novelists write about truth.”

We’re now living in a world where the expression “alternative facts” somehow has inexplicably managed to enter our vocabularies as A Thing, so the facts/truth divide is a question I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about.

We all lie sometimes. Social lies, little white lies… my father was a diplomat, and I learned at an early age to listen and interpret when I heard people say things I knew to be false. “Think about the why,” he told me often, and that reminder has stood me in good stead. I’ve always lied when it’s the kinder thing to do; and the few people I know who pride themselves on never lying are often needlessly unkind due to their rigid “moral” stance around it. …


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image: Hulki Okan Tabak for Unsplash

The problem with talking about the past is that there’s no one “past” we can all learn from. The truism that history is written by the winners is underlined when we try to find out about any under-represented group (which in general, and certainly in the west, means anyone who isn’t white, male, and reasonably affluent). Because there aren’t a lot of primary sources (2nd-century slaves in Greece didn’t exactly pen their memoirs, for example), we need to dig more to find lost voices. …


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Philip Goldsberry for Unsplash

As an author, I’ve written a number of dystopian stories, and unless we start understanding what is happening in our country and the world, they’re all set to come true.

You have to understand, Donald Trump is not the problem. If you’re breathing a sigh of relief that he’s leaving office and a normal human being (yeah, setting the bar pretty low here) is taking his place, don’t relax too much. There will be another Trump. It’s guaranteed. And the next one might be a little less stupid, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The problem is Republican politicians and the right-wing media ecosystem, which includes everyone from Tucker Carlson to Mark Zuckerberg. …


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image: Shutterstock

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I don’t think any author has ever not been asked that question at one time or another. (Neil Gaiman has some very creative and way-too-clever answers, by the way.) But here’s the thing: it’s the wrong question. Ideas aren’t what create characters, stories, words that can move readers to joy or anger or tears. You don’t tuck yourself into bed at night looking forward to reading some ideas before you go to sleep.

Ideas are, as a matter of fact, vastly overrated.

Beginning writers seem to guard theirs anxiously, plastering copyright notices all over unfinished opera and asking editors to sign nondisclosure agreements lest their ideas be somehow stolen. And people in general are usually baffled and sometimes irate when an idea they had finds its way into the public via a movie or an advertising slogan or a time-saving gadget, wondering how someone else could have possibly had that thought. …


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My former writing partner, Assaf, loves the old Columbo TV series. Seriously loves it. He’s done Columbo-watching marathons. He’s consistently enthused about and appreciative of the show’s writing. And, like any good artist, he’s looked behind the curtain at what works so well, to analyze the how and the why of it.

In other words, deconstructing Columbo.

Different people have at different times noted that there are only three (or seven, or twenty-one, depending on who’s doing the analysis) original stories in our collective creative reservoir. Everything, every story, every idea at some level, one can argue, falls under — or into — one of these archetypes. I do think that Jung was on to something, so I tend to agree; I believe the real creativity comes not in the story itself but in its telling. …


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image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona for Unsplash

Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. They’re all working off a common assumption: a given culture has a norm, and anyone who’s different from the norm is just that — different, and therefore, of course, inferior.

Feminists have for example long argued that using language like “mankind,” or making the assumption that “he” also implicitly includes the legions of “she,” effectively sets up two tiers: the norm and the not-norm. Well, of course mankind means everybody — but it says “man,” doesn’t it? And language and culture follow each other.

I’m a product of my culture. I’ll admit to my racism; I actually don’t think anyone who says they’re not racist is quite in touch with reality. My accidental advantage was to be born Caucasian, and that accident has gifted me with layers of privilege I did absolutely nothing to earn or deserve. I started to list some of those privileges here, and gave up: twenty pages on, and I’d still be writing. …


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Pretty much what I look like after reading a bad review!

In a digitally connected world, it’s not a question of whether whatever you do is reviewed online. It’s when it will be.

And how.

I do freelance work — copywriting, ghostwriting, developmental editing, that sort of thing — so pretty much the Internet is my marketplace. And the first time I got a bad review via Google Business… well, I’ll be honest. I cried. It’s easy to respond emotionally when you’ve put the work in and it’s not appreciated — and, in fact, is criticized. …


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image: Nathan Dunlap for Unsplash (modified)

I am a white woman who grew up not only with white privilege but with economic privilege as well. And until fairly recently, I’ve also been something of a curmudgeon when it comes to language usage and grammar.

That’s not a very good combination.

I’ve been gradually getting on board with the concept that language is evolving and context-dependent. That language is a living thing that needs to reflect the culture it expresses. I’ve been stubborn about that acceptance for a long time. I come from a country that takes language very seriously (we legislate it, for heaven’s sake!) and I’m also a rule-follower… so I naturally want everybody else to do the same. I resisted accepting “they” as a singular. I’m still struggling with “alright” becoming as acceptable as the (to my mind “correct”) construct of “all right.” …


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It’s been several months now since many, if not most, of our interactions — meetings, interviews, book clubs — have gone online, and Zoom has afforded us all an interesting (dare I say voyeuristic?) look into other people’s homes.

My most recent chuckle comes from the Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom, in which the user rates the backgrounds people choose for their videoconferencing. (A recent one: “Hostage video with a nice piece of art. Kidnappers with taste. 6/10.” What’s not to love?)

And then there are the books. A well-stocked bookshelf has become the essential videoconferencing prop. Who among us hasn’t scanned the titles of books used in background shots? The very enterprising Brattle Bookshop, unable to open because of the pandemic, actually took photos of shelves arranged with selected books to send to people to use as backgrounds. Your own literary tastes not sophisticated enough? …

About

JeannettedeBeauvoir

Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at jeannettedebeauvoir.com.

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