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The Unbearable Being of Linus (On Writing….Really) by Stephen Parolini

Okay writerly people. I have a very special treat for you today!

The Novel Doctor has agreed to write a guest post for me. If you haven’t read his blog, you totally should. No, really…not kidding. I’ll give you the link at the end of the post as usual. He sent me a “overlong bio” that he suggested I edit, but I’m not such a good editor and I didn’t want to leave any of it out.

So, here’s Stephen in his own words:

Stephen Parolini has been writing pretty much since the womb. But when his first book “The View From Here Is Really Dark,” written in-utero, was rejected by agents because of a lack of something called “platform” he took a break from writing to pursue a greater career as a curious child, then perpetually distracted but surprisingly successful student, then bank teller, then admissions counselor for his alma mater, Aurora University (it’s in Illinois), then Pizza Hut assistant manager, and throughout much of this time, part time youth minister.

About, oh, let’s say 24 years ago, he remembered he liked words and so he got himself hired by Group Publishing, where he learned how to edit stuff. He wrote and published some youth ministry books, then quit to be a stay-at-home dad and full-time freelancer, which he’s been doing ever since, apart from a brief return to cubicle world working for a publisher in Colorado.

He edits novels and non-fiction books for a variety of folks and is paid in kind words and empty promises – which he then passes along to his creditors.

He has two sons – one is recently married, the other will be as soon as he is of legal age since he and his girlfriend are making him a grandfather much sooner than he’d expected. He himself was married for a long time, but now he isn’t. He likes books and movies and music and cookies and romantic idealism and common sense and irony. Not all at the same time.


Linus van Pelt.

He’s the philosopher, theologian, believer in Great Pumpkins and keeper of the faith. And he is also the holder of security blanket and sucker of thumb.

Oh Linus, how those who write are just like thee. (Ref: 2 Schulz 9:17, PSV)

While I’m sure some of us can relate to lovable loser Charlie Brown or nicknamed and nameless “Pig-Pen” (shower once in a while, would ya?), writers-who-want-to-matter (isn’t that all of us?) have much more in common with The Kid Who Holds the Blanket.

In my work as an editor, I see all kinds of writers. Mona Lisas and mad hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers. Some are naturally gifted and brilliant storytellers, others are the marketable product of long years of hard work. But across the board, without exception, they are all Linus. They are philosophers, theologians and believers in Great Pumpkins. They are dreamers and thinkers and world-creators who breathe new life into the things we think we know and make up the things that ought to be.

They also suck their thumbs.

Probably not literally, though I can’t be certain of this since I’m not Orwellian enough to have visual access to their writing chambers. But certainly figuratively – they hold tight to whatever secure thing they can because wandering into the wordish wilderness is more than a little unsettling. Once a writer releases his or her words into the world, those words are free game for doubters and detractors and haters and fuss-budgets.

So they hold on to something that gives them comfort.

Some hold onto the tenuous, encouraging words of a spouse or a teacher or an agent or editor. Others pledge allegiance to their day job, just in case the writing thing goes horribly awry. My security blanket is self-effacing humor. Or just self-effacingness, without the humor. Writers need their blankets. If you take away my ability to make light of myself, you take away my ability to write (or perhaps more accurately, you take away the confidence to share my writing with anyone other than the dust bunnies that proliferate under the card table that masquerades as my desk).

The title of this post suggests being a Linus – a writer – is unbearable. It is. To write with intent to share is to bare at least a portion of your soul. Whether you do that in a blog post or a novel or a poem or a Tweet, you’re practically inviting Lucy to tug at your blanket. But this vulnerable space is exactly what we want; it’s what we need, because it’s precisely where the magic lives. It’s where those who read our words might discover something surprising, or something to believe in, or maybe just something that makes them smile.

The vulnerable space is also a reminder that writing is more than an act of the will; it’s an act of faith.

You don’t have to be brilliant to write. You don’t have to have anything particularly unique to say. But you do need more than a little bit of faith if you’re going to share your words with others – faith that your words will matter and faith that you won’t be completely destroyed by readers’ reactions. And by destroyed I mean pumped full of bullets or pumped full of pride. Either can ruin a writer.

I did exhaustive research for this post to make sure all my Peanuts-related information was accurate. (ie: I searched Wikipedia.) As it turns out, Linus eventually grows out of needing his blanket – or at least he doesn’t keep it with him as much as he used to. Apparently, in one comic he also stops sucking his thumb, saying, “It’s a good thumb, but not a great thumb.” I suppose there’s a transferrable lesson in this. But heck if I can figure out what it is. Maybe it’s about how time and experience can grow our writing confidence to the point where we don’t need to hold quite so tightly to those anchors that we once counted on to keep us from completely unraveling when the writing thing teetered toward impossible.

I don’t know, though. I think that whole “act of faith” never goes away for writers. Perhaps over time we suck our thumbs less often, but ultimately, whenever we put words on the page we’re inviting scrutiny by friends and strangers. We’re saying, “this is a piece of me…what do you think?” Whether we do this with great confidence, “You wanna piece of me? Chew on this!” or with high anxiety, “It’s just li’l ol’ me, please be gentle,” it’s a risky act. In fact, it’s practically unbearable.

And yet we keep doing it.

Because we are Linus. We are writers. And we are compelled to write.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my blanket. It’s a little chilly here, what with the draft that’s blowing through the rather large holes in this blogpost.


To read more from Stephen Parolini, visit him at The Novel Doctor and follow him on the twitter at @noveldoctor.

Aging Gracefully, Plumbers Crack & Encouragement for Writers

Well, it’s Saturday, and on this particular Saturday, this means five things:

1) This is a repost
2) I am linking a really good interview from earlier in the week.
3) There you go…
4) I like even numbered points.
5) But five is good, too.

So, I recently lost some weight. Not a lot, but enough weight that I can no longer wear any of my pants without them falling down. For a while I could simply belt them to keep them up. But now when I try to wear a belt all the fabric gets bunched up and I kinda look like some backwoods hillbilly holding up their jeans with a rope. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m just saying. No offense, West Virginia.)
I bought some smaller jeans at Sam’s Club the other day. Which, BTW is where all the trendsetters buy their clothes while shopping for toilet paper and paper towels in bulk. I got these jeans pretty cheap (the best kind) and they were Levis bootcut, so I knew there was a possibility they might fit me — a rare quality in a pair of jeans. The problem with buying clothing at Sam’s is, there are no dressing rooms, so you can’t try anything on. (Actually, you can, but I’ve found that they tend to frown upon this practice.)

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I remember now. I get home, put away all my bulk items and tried on my new jeans. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they actually fit very well. The only problem is that they are the low rise variety. Which is fine. But these are the really low rise variety. I modeled them for my hubby and he thought they looked good. My daughter saw them and asked that I wear them to school when I came to read to her class. She likes to pick out my clothes so that I can look “fancy”.

Now, I’m at a point in my life where I think twice about what I’m wearing. As much as I try not to, I do care what other people’s impressions are of my outward appearance. Did I look like a middle-aged housewife trying to look hip? I’ve been told by friends that they don’t think of me as being 43, but I’ve always chalked that up to the fact that I’m extremely immature, not from any youthful appearance. I don’t want to become a parody like Sally O’Malley going around screaming, “I’m 50!” It bugs me that so many women (and men nowadays) are so afraid to age gracefully. I say this somewhat hypocritically because I color my hair every month to cover up the grey. So I ask you — how old is too old to wear low rise jeans?

I decided to go ahead and wear my new, hip jeans. They were a bit on the long side so I wore some high heeled boots. (Not real boots, but those slip on ones that look like boots. I have huge calves that make wearing most boots impossible — but that’s another story.) I gotta admit that I was feeling pretty sassy when I went up to my daughter’s class. My daughter gave me a big hug and told me I looked “fancy”. That’s pretty high praise from her. As I do each Friday, I read to her class then went to the cafeteria to have lunch with her. The lunch tables are basically large, picnic tables — no chairs only benches. When I sat down, I was not feeling sassy. I was feeling a draft. I was feeling grateful that grapes were not on the menu because kids from neighboring tables could have enjoyed a rousing game of butt-crack basketball. Awkward…

So, enough about me, how was your Friday?

Update: Speaking of weight loss (or not), have you tried the new deep fried macaroni and cheese bites from Jack in the Box? They’re delightful!

And now a partial repost from Wednesday’s post:

If you’re not a regular visitor here (I forgive you) or if you don’t have a firm grasp of the obvious, one of the goals of this blog is to help promote and encourage other writers. That wasn’t my original intent when I started blogging, but after some reflection and much prayer, I truly believe that this is the path God is leading me down. As if to confirm this conviction, about a week after I made that decision I came across a little blog called What I Learned Today. In just a few short months, a whole bunch of really cool things have happened with Billy’s writing career, and it’s been a pleasure to witness some minor and major victories along the way.

As if to confirm this conviction, about a week after I made that decision I came across a little blog called What I Learned Today. In just a few short months, a whole bunch of really cool things have happened with Billy’s writing career, and it’s been a pleasure to witness some minor and major victories along the way.

For those of you who think you are skilled and masochistic enough to pursue writing as a full time career, I’d like to invite you over to Sara Tribble’s blog, I Am Write to read a really fantastic interview with Billy Coffey. It’s good, y’all…

Marking the White

Excerpt from Duma Key by Stephen King:

How to Draw a Picture (I)

Start with a blank surface. It doesn’t have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can’t remember.

How do we remember to remember? That’s a question I’ve asked myself often since my time on Duma Key, often in the small hours of the morning, looking up into the absence of light, remembering absent friends. Sometimes in those little hours I think about the horizon. You have to establish the horizon. You have the mark the white. A simple enough act, you might say, but any act that remakes the world is heroic, or so I’ve come to believe.

I have on occasion referred to myself as an artist. Reluctantly so if I’m being honest – and I usually am. (Honest, that is.) I am not an artist in the classic sense. I seldom create something from nothing. Rather I find myself reproducing something I’ve seen before and taking it one or two steps further, or subtracting something. The term I’m most comfortable with is painter. Simple, descriptive, accurate.

I have always been interested in pursuits I would later learn are in the field of Creative Arts. Music, literature, painting, creating things with my hands. Some might refer to the latter as Arts and Crafts. But I would not necessarily fit some of the things I have made into that category. (Perhaps I’ll share more of that on another post.)

What has caught me completely off guard is my desire to write.

I have always loved to sing, but it was not until I was inspired by the company of talented vocalists and musicians that I considered creating music – specifically creating music for the express purpose of praising God – as an art form. What was once a very special friendship with music has now become a passion.

So, it seems, it is with writing. The first blog I ever read was my friend and pastor Jeff Hogan’s blog, Convergence. He has a gift for both the spoken and written word. He set the bar fairly high.
Next, there was Stuff Christians Like . After reading two posts, I was absolutely hooked. You had me at Rob Bell, Jon. You had me at Rob Bell. I think that’s when the writer in me began to stir.

I am in unfamiliar territory here, but because many of my readers and fellow bloggers are such incredibly talented writers and storytellers, they have given me the courage to get out of my comfort zone. Funny, irreverent, sarcastic, downright ridiculous – that’s my A-game. And while I have always tried to write from the heart, I want you to know that there will be times here when I will write from parts of my heart that you are not accustomed to seeing.

Hope that’s okay with you.

And speaking of irreverent, sarcastic and downright ridiculous – Twitter update tomorrow!

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