What People Want

This: Let me show you what people want from life.
Not this: Let me show you what a cool writer I am.

—My Pal Zan (aka, R.R. Knudson)

Peace and Joy and welcome once again to Uncle Jerry’s Writer’s Corner. Open your notebook to a blank page, Camper, and take down what my pal Zan says at the top of this blog. My pal Zan was the crabbiest, funniest, most irritatingly candid writer Your Uncle Jerry has ever known. She’s deceased now, thank heavens. One can stand only so much good advice.

Zan wrote more than 40 books of YA fiction and nonfiction. She studied constantly, wrote ferociously, and she spoke like she had no time to waste—certainly none to waste on you.

“Okay, this rewrite isn’t terrible,” Zan once said to Uncle Jerry. “But boy does it have Second Book all over it.” She roughed up her own hair and shook her head. “I’ll be so glad when you’re done with it.”

It was actually Uncle Jerry’s fourth book—a fact that I almost wrote to her later, but the nice doctor that Uncle Jerry sees on alternate Thursdays thought it could be a mistake. Never mind about that.

The problem with your writing, Camper, is that you don’t have enough Zan in it. Surely, you know this. Look at it. Why does it take forever to get where it’s going? Why does it lose focus? Most often, because it’s too busy showing off how clever you are.

I know I know I know. That’s NOT what you’re doing. Those lines are not ornamental; they contribute something vital to characterization, plot, exposition. Whatever. Leave them, in that case.

But here’s the deal. Every time you sit down to write, look again at what Zan says in your notebook.

Now write what people want from life.

In chapter eleven, Molly’s relatives are trying to figure this out, too—what they want from life.

Joy and peace.

Such Stuff as Dreams

Take your passion, and make it happen!

—lame old pop song

Joy and peace.

If there’s anything that grieves Your Uncle Jerry’s tender heart, it is the number of young persons who are led astray by believing in their dreams. Pay attention, Camper. Dreams are for bedtime. They are not roadmaps to happiness.

When a pop song, a fortune cookie, a coach, or a movie star says “follow your dream,” the wise young person will do what Your Uncle Jerry does. Deep knee bends repeatedly until you pass out.

Every young person should memorize the words of Fowler, wisest bird in the movie Chicken Run: “Madam, I am a chicken. The British Royal Air Force would never put a chicken behind the controls of an aeroplane!”

See how he did that? Fowler agrees with Uncle Jerry. The only benefit of high-flying dreams is that, sooner or later, they will introduce you to the firm reality of earth. Until you spread your wings, you'll never know how far you can walk.

Which is to say, my friend, you’re just not NBA material. You are not going to be on American Idol. And Hollywood, young person, is not going to give you a shot. Seriously, look at yourself.

Oh, yes, Uncle Jerry knows. You’re awesome. Your friends are awesome. Everybody’s awesome. Now listen up, Camper, I shall say this only once: you are a chicken. You are fat, ignorant, and your wings have been clipped. (It’s a metaphor. Get over it.) A chicken may DREAM all day long, but if you toss one in the air, they will not so much fly as plummet.

Does this mean you’re not awesome? Whatever. Awesomeness does not put a chicken behind the controls of a Learjet. You are probably an awesome chicken. Start there. Get passionate about your chickenhood. About how far you can walk. Later, let's talk about getting airborne.

In chapter ten, Molly begins to show the meaning of clipped wings to her evil Aunt Sonia.

Peace and joy.