Jennifer's Journal


Sunday, April 30, 2006

Practice Makes Perfect

The average person seems to think the first piece of work produced by a writer should be a fully-formed example of their talent.  It must, so they think, be of such recognizable quality that it will instantly find acceptance in the marketplace.  By contrast, no one expects someone with musical talent to sit down at the piano and immediately create a symphony, nor are they critical of the first daubs of budding artists or less than perfect stitches from a person taking up needlework.  Strange, isn't it?
The fact is, any creative endeavor requires a learning stage.  Musicians practice constantly, singers do voice exercises every day of their lives.  People learning to knit, crochet or do needlepoint start out on small projects to develop their skills.  Painters take classes, copy the work of the masters, or paint in series to learn techniques and train their themselves to see differences in light, shadow and mood.  So it is with writers.
We must be allowed to study, to write gibberish, to learn by trial and error the art of capturing characters, settings, emotions and plots in words.  Writers should be allowed to write "starter" pieces, to begin stories and abandon them or toss pages of manuscript if they don't work. The people around us, and even we ourselves, need to accept that failing to place a manuscript with a publisher the first time out of the box doesn't mean we're no-talent failures.  It means we tried something that didn't work--and need to try something else that will.  It means we need to study books on writing, take workshops and, above all, to write something everyday.  It means we need to polish our writing skills with practice until they become of salable quality.

Hair Rant

What is it with hair styles these days?  I mean, really, who thought up these weed-eater or baby-chick's-back-end styles with hair sticking out in all directions as if whacked at random.  Or the "textured" styles, for which the hair stylist uses the scissor to poke through picked up strands until they are deliberately ragged?  Who needs a stylist for these things when practically anybody can their butcher their own hair just fine without them?  Then there are the "skunk" stripes of lightened hair that bear no resemblance whatever to anything else in nature.  And the weird colors: clown-orange, berry cobbler magenta, mustard yellow.  Okay, some of these things might be fun if they were temporary, but they aren't always.  Women have to wear these mistakes until they grow out--or else go back to the stylist to have the mistakes corrected.  Don't get me started on the mousses and jells, both of which bear a strong resemblance to the pomades used by the Victorians who needed to make hair that was seldom shampooed look decent, or the bear grease used by Native Americans to control their locks.  They weigh hair down so it just hangs without bounce or shine, as if set in syrup.
Nobody is satisfied with what nature gave them.  Women with curly hair want it straight and those with straight hair want curls.  Those with silky, fine hair think they have no body, so need a color or curl to thicken it, while those with thick hair think they need to have it thinned or dried with high heat to lessen the bulk.  All these things create hair damage that must be repaired with yet more products such as conditioners and oil treatments.  A gray hair is a tragedy that must be hidden immediately with color, regardless of how deadly dull and mummified it makes the rest of the hair look.  Or there's highlighting which not only damages the hair shafts but makes it appear the whole head has gone silver-white; where's the benefit in that?  And teenagers and girls as young as nine or ten also go for this appearance, thinking it makes them look sun-bleached and sophisticated, or else ruin their hair while trying to look as artificially blonde as a Hollywood bimbo. 
Where do we get all these weird ideas and dissatisfactions?  From cosmetic companies and hair stylists who are out to sell services and products women would never need if they simply accepted themselves as they are.  It's a racket, and it's beyond sad that women buy into it--though I've been as guilty as anyone.  Healthy, natural hair that's either long enough to be put up with various clips and pins or worn in a shorter style cut that's cut the way it grows never goes out of style.  The silver strands in the hair of older women is the perfect complement to the changing color value of their skin.  It would save much angst, time and money -- not to mention chemicals in the atmosphere and landfills -- if we all turned our backs on the cosmetic companies and went for a more natural look.               
Saturday, April 22, 2006


I’ve been reading contest entries this week, eight published books in final round judging.  Thinking about the process this morning, I was reminded of when I was a judge for the Miss USA pageant.  During orientation for this event, we were told by the coordinator to keep one thing in mind, namely, “None of these girls are dogs!”  The point was that each of the contestants had already been judged at the local and state levels so came with automatic high marks.  It would not be appropriate, then, to score any of them too low.  On a scale of one to ten, each of them was already in the high numbers.  The suggestion was that we score them, in fact, on a scale from five to ten.


So it is with the books that I’ve been judging.  They have already passed through the hands of agents, editors, readers and first-round contest judges.  None of them are “dogs.”  What I’ve been doing then is scoring them, really, between eight and ten, with minute decimal point differences.  What a task, when they are each excellent in their own way!  But it brought another point from the Miss USA contest to mind.  At a special dinner for the judges, I was seated next to a famous football quarterback who had been tapped for the gig.  To make conversation, I asked him what he would be looking for in a top contestant.  He said, quote, “I want a Tiger!”  To say that wasn’t my viewpoint would be a major understatement.  The perfect contestant, to me, was going to a classic beauty, poised, graceful, warm and articulate.  We were looking for totally different things.  And that was all right, because we were different people.


Every person, every reader, editor, critic or judge has a different viewpoint.  With the best will in the world to be objective, we can only make selections between things of similar merit based on our own ideas of what constitutes perfection.  It not exactly a new observation, but is something beginning writers, or maybe all writers, should engrave on a plaque and keep on their desks: Any judgment is always just one person's opinion.