On Writing

My favorite Stephen King quote.

If you don’t read, you can’t write

I can’t tell you how many times people have approached me at book signings and writing clinics and told me they want to write a book, have to write a book, they’re going to write a book! But I can tell you that in every one of those instances I’ve replied with, “That’s great. Now tell me, what are you reading?” All too often the responses have been a mix of blank stares and the following:

Nothing. I can’t recall the last time I read a book.

Who has the time?

I don’t have the patience for books. Do magazine articles count?

Right here and now, I’m going to tell you what I told those lovely people. If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s that simple.

And no, magazine articles don’t count. A piece of fiction or memoir, excerpted from a book and placed in your favorite magazine is fine, great in fact. I hope you read it, love it, and run out to buy the book and devour it from cover to cover. But an article on planning for retirement? Choosing the right eye shadow? Which celebrity wore what wherever? Nope. None of those count. And, full disclosure? I’m a magazine editor and a full-blown magazine junkie. I love those glossy tomes and read them all, but not one copy of my beloved Real Simple will ever replace my passion for the pile of books by my bed.

Part of the reason people think they can write without reading is that a large majority of us have gotten it into our heads that if we write how we speak, it’s all good.

It’s not.

There isn’t an editor in the world who is ever going to publish phrases like, “If you’re wanting a great gift,” “The store is so popular, and they’ve only been open six months,” and the one that makes me the craziest, “We ate McDonalds.”

Really? You ate McDonalds and somehow David Muir missed it? Clearly you need a new publicist.

But of course, what you really need, particularly if you’re at a loss for what’s wrong with any of the aforementioned phrases, is to read a book.

And then another book.

And when you find a book you simply can’t put down, I beg you, read it two, three, five times in a row. Read it until the author’s voice impacts the words you speak, (please God, no more eating McDonalds), those you write and, most importantly, the way you write them. Don’t worry; you’re not “stealing” someone else’s style. You’re simply improving your own.

If you really want to write a book, read, reread, and read some more. If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s that simple.

Keeping Your Voice

Photo of Susan McCorkindale on the new episode of #FlawsAreTheNewBlack, talking about the importance of setting and keeping boundaries.

Not speaking up, not having boundaries, and not listening to what our guts are telling us is unwise at best and dangerous at worst.

The new episode of Flaws Are The New Black is about the importance of Keeping Your Voice and was inspired by an “ah ha!” moment I had while speed walking and trying desperately to lose five pounds. (Oy vey!)

What do I mean by keeping your voice?

I mean speaking up for yourself. Setting boundaries and sticking to them. Listening to your gut. Not speaking up, not having boundaries, and not listening to what our guts are telling us is unwise at best and dangerous at worst. I was pretty hugely flawed in this area and have been known to “go along to get along,” not share my opinion and not stick up for myself even though my gut was screaming at me to do so.

Don’t be like (the old) me.

Know your value. Hold fast to your boundaries. Keep and USE Your Voice.

A Parent is Someone Who Loves You Enough to Parent You

Me and my beautiful mom. She’s my parent. My dad too, but she’s prettier!

A parent is someone who loves you enough to parent you and that’s the topic of the latest episode of Flaws Are the New Black . My feeling is that those who love you enough to do the hard work of saying go to bed, put your phone down, study or you’re not going out this weekend, are your parents. That person could be your mom and dad. Could be the mother of your best friend, your aunt, or your grandpa. Whoever LOVES you that much, so much that sometimes you hate them and they don’t care, that person is your parent. For me, it’s my mom and dad. But it doesn’t have to be that way and it isn’t that way for everyone.

What I witnessed at Wendy’s memorial service

Recently, I attended a beautiful memorial service for my friend, Wendy, and was so deeply touched by the number of her sons’ friends who stood up to talk about how when they had no one, their parents for whatever reason had dropped out of their lives, Wendy stepped in to parent them. She mothered them. Loved them. Fed them to within an inch of their lives. She stepped in and parented them. That’s what I’m talking about. There was no way those young men were falling through the cracks on her watch.

Who’s your parent?

Maybe it was your mom and dad. Maybe it was your aunt, a cousin, your best friend’s mom or dad. Whoever it was, embrace that person. Tell them right now, before another moment goes by, how much they mean to you. Use that device we’re all enamored with — the cell phone — to make a real, live phone call. And simply say thank you, I love you, I wouldn’t be here today without you.

A note of thanks from me, to you

To all of you who’ve re-subscribed to my blog posts (because I had a bit of a snafu and lost all my subscribers — eek!), to all of my friends from Ridgefield, New Jersey, Mount St. Mary’s University (hi Kaitlyn!), and dozens of others who’ve subscribed to Flaws Are The New Black, thank you so very much. Thank you for your comments and compliments, likes and shares. Your presence on this journey lets me know that what I have to say, need to say, means something. And that means everything to me as a writer.

Now go, pick up the phone, and thank your parent (or parents). You’ll thank me.



PS Please share Flaws Are The New Black with your friends and ask them to SUBSCRIBE. And please keep up with me on Facebook too. I promise, there’s never a dull moment!

A week with my mom

Casey, my 6’5″ son, hugging my super petite mom.

I’m blessed to have spent a week with mom or, as many of you know her, Dame Joan. We haven’t done a lot, frankly because she has a tough time walking for any length of time, but I think it says a lot about our relationship that we don’t have to do anything to enjoy each other’s company.

We did have dinner with my sweetheart, Robert, at one of our favorite places, Cafe Torino, and another night we dined with my dearest besties Sandra, Jenn, and Lisa at Rockwood, but for the most part we hung out. My mom with her iPad and books, me with my laptop and work. Sometimes we talked a lot, nonstop. Other times we just sat, across from each other, keeping each other company. My mom drinking her diet green tea, me drinking coffee, then water, then of course, at 5pm on the dot, wine.

She is my best friend. I can and do tell her everything.

About my sons, my job, my relationship. About my fears (of getting sick, and why wouldn’t I have such a fear? I’ve seen it happen first hand), my hopes (of doing good things with my TED Talk, of writing another book), and my crazy aversions (to buying a good set of pots and pans, I mean, I’m 57, can’t cook worth a damn, and date a man who prefers to eat out – thank God! Why would I make such an investment in a room – I believe they call it the kitchen – I spend no more time in than it takes to make and pour my coffee?)

My mom and I have always been able to spend time together, saying nothing, just sitting comfortably across from each other, doing our own thing. It has been like this since I was in high school. I’d come down to the kitchen in the morning and she’d already be at the table with her coffee and her lists, and I’d pour my coffee and sit down next to her with my lists, too. I commuted to college, so our morning “meetings” continued for those four years as well.

And then…

Then came the rest of my life. A real job. Marriage. Children. A major move to a new place. A death. A divorce. And here we are. Back where we began.

I’ve loved this week with my mom. We haven’t done a lot, and yet we’ve done so much. Talked, laughed, gossiped, shared sad stories and silly memes, reminisced about my brother David, the Christmas dinners and wonderful Saint Patrick’s Day parties we had at the house, the friends and neighbors we loved and miss. I’ve been silly and she’s responded (as she always has), “Susan, watch your mouth!” to which I’ve responded (as I always have), “Wait! I’ll get a mirror.” She even came with me to get my hair lopped off and cheered me on as I finally, after all her years of encouragement, embraced my face.

“You know,” I said, “you always told me – “

“You look better with your hair off your face,” she said.

It only took me ’til I was pushing sixty to see she was right. She’s always right. Always has been, always will be. That’s my mom. Gotta spend another week – or six – with her again soon.