Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Word Counts: Shorter is Harder

After 10 years, I'm finally realizing that I have a comfort zone when it comes to word counts. At least when it comes to magazine articles. I'd much rather write 1200-1500 words than anything much longer or shorter.

When an editor wants me to write front-of-the-book type stuff-- 400 to 800 words or so-- I cringe a little. I know it's going to be just about as much work as the longer stuff, for less pay. I'm still going to have to do interviews, I'm still going to transcribe them, I'm still going to write the same meat of the article... and then I'm going to struggle like crazy to trim it down to what almost always seems like too small a space for the topic.

Worse, though, is that there seem to be many editors who cannot grasp that 400 words is not enough to pack in everything they ask for in their brief. "Please write the entire history of the the automotive industry, and a sidebar about bicycles" is just not do-able.

So then I do the mental equivalent of stuffing 2 weeks' worth of clothing into a small suitcase, sitting on it and jumping on it and breaking into a sweat trying to get the darn thing zippered. Then I get the editors' follow-up questions: "This is interesting, but you haven't mentioned why tires are round, or the name of Henry Ford's great-grandson, or why puffy dice became a rear-view-mirror fad." And I have to reopen the darn suitcase and figure out how I'm supposed to stick MORE stuff in it without making the toothpaste explode.

By the end, I'm just closing it up with duct tape and a staple gun. The resulting word count is almost always longer than it was supposed to be, because there's just no way to do it otherwise. But I still get paid for the original assigned count, unless I manage to negotiate otherwise during the request for revisions. (If the editor is asking for something outside the scope of the original assignment, I can try negotiating for more money at this point. Otherwise, I'm pretty much out of luck.)

One of my fantasies involves my asking an editor what word count she wants, and having her reply, "Oh, you choose. I trust you. Heck, we'll just wait until your article arrives and format the rest of the issue around it."

That comes right after the "we'll-pay-you-$5-a-word" fantasy.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Thank you for the songs."

We go to a "Mommy and Me" group, where Sarina and I hang out and do a craft, play, have a snack, sing and dance, listen to a story, and learn about numbers and letters.

Sarina is very proud of her crafts-- almost as proud as I am. She likes to show people and say, "I made this!" Truth is I wouldn't have realized she was ready for that kind of stuff. I saw the glue and foam and glitter on the craft table and thought, "Yeah, right." But then Sarina began sticking on sequins and calling for green glitter like a little craft diva.

As we left this week, I prompted Sarina to say thank you to the owners. She did, then paused and added, "Thank you for the songs."

It snowed here today, all puffy and slushy. She wasn't here. I miss the heck out of her.

I think if my life circumstances were different, I would have been an Angelina Jolie type, with 7 kids. These days, I visit "waiting children" sites, where they show pictures and short profiles of kids who are in foster care awaiting adoption, and I dream about adopting them all. I think I'm only beginning to understand the person I'm meant to be.

Small steps. Small steps.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Other Sorts of Firsts

I remember reading an article in a parenting magazine about less-popular "firsts": sure, we all notice the first step, the first word, and the first tooth, but this writer mentioned the first time her toddler picked up the phone and said, "Hewo?"

I'm not sure if Sarina had even been born at the time, or if I was still pregnant, but I remember thinking how toddlerhood was a far way off.

Tonight I had one of those sorts of firsts.

I had cleverly hidden her Christmas gifts in my closet-- which I do a good job of keeping closed-- but my parents came over today to help me install a ceiling fan, and apparently they left the closet door open. Later, when I was cleaning up dinner, Sarina walked off for a moment... and returned with three items: Mr. Potato Head, a Doodlebops book, and her "big" gift: the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse play set. I ain't exactly rich this year (I know, who is?), so it's not like I can just go out and buy more toys to replace the ones she discovered. So I briefly tried to just take them away and hide them again. Maybe she'd forget that she saw them?

Yeah. No.

"Open it, Mommy! Open it," she begged. I finally gave up and opened the Clubhouse. She was thrilled. Thrilled. The annoyance I had about her opening it before Christmas wilted away. It was too much fun watching how happy she was.

And that's when the "first" happened. She recently began playing with figurines and arranging them on shelves, pretending to feed them, telling me what they wanted, etc., but this was the first time she actually made up a story and had them interacting with one another.

"Minnie, let's go to the bakery and get some happy birthday cake," she said, posing as Minnie's pet elephant. Then she picked up Minnie and said, "Okay, but first, let's do the Mousekedance. Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dooooog!" Back to the elephant. "Let's go to the bakery in the big red car." And she put them in the car.

I flashed back to the days when I used to play The Littles with my mom. I always wanted her to be Daphne. She made up good stories. And here was my little girl, 21 months old now, so smart and so sweet, giving me a glimpse into what's ahead for us.

The other first came yesterday: "I need to be held, Mommy." I'm glad she knows what she needs. And I'm glad she's such a snuggly girl. Otherwise, she'd be so sick of me by now.

Do you remember any sentimental sorts of firsts that aren't pre-printed in any baby books?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mickey Mouse is invading my child's brain

Have to say, I'm not a big fan of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series, but my daughter is, so... yeah. We have a bunch of the books. In them, Mickey Mouse and friends call on Toodles to come bring them their Mouseketools when they have a problem that needs fixing. Our latest book describes a machine. When it works, it makes the noise "chugga-chugga-chug-chug," and when it's broken, it makes the noise "chugga-chugga-squeak!"

Okay, that was background information. Now I can tell you what happened.

Sarina was trying on Mommy's shoes again, as she does several times a day. She toddled around in my shoes until she stumbled and fell on her bottom behind my exercise bike (which makes a great clothes hanger).

"Do you need help?" I asked.

"Yes," came the reply. "I need a Mouseketool."

The next day, we visited my parents, and Sarina tried to get water from their water machine. She doesn't know how to use it, though. The hot water button is safety-locked. Sarina pressed it a couple of times, then looked at me soberly and said, "Chugga-chugga-squeak!"