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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #371

Young and Old

I don’t remember who said it, and I’m paraphrasing, but someone once said it is a common inclination of the young, when faced with a problem or setback or obstacle, to think it is unique onto them, while the old see a problem and simply say “been there, done that!”

Yes, it’s a generalization, but I think there is some validity to it. At the lofty age of seventy-two, I’m convinced there is no problem I can’t handle. Life is a series of problems and smooth sailings, highs and lows, and, as my dad always said, my job is to just keep moving forward, to navigate the rough seas until I find calm water again.

Been there, done that!

Or, as Bill Murray’s ragtag team of misfits chanted in the movie “Meatballs,” “it just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter.” It’s all life!

I hope all of you, reading this, are experiencing calm seas, but if you find yourself in a storm, I send my best wishes to you. Just keep moving forward!

Let’s tackle the Mailbag, shall we?

The Mail Room

The Mail Room

Ideas Withering on the Vine

From Rosina: “I remember you mentioning in the last mailbag in the comments section that you have a lot of future short story ideas that will never be published. Can you share some of those ideas in the mailbag? I would love to know what they are like and even take attempts on expanding and writing them.”

What an interesting question, Rosina! My first thought is why? Why would you want to expand on my ideas when surely you have so many of your own? But what the heck, I’ll give you a story title I wrote down and never did anything else with it. Go ahead and see what you can do with this . . . “Building A Meaningful Life.”

Have fun!

Seriously, I don’t have anything specific for you. I have a bunch of article ideas, snippets really, and they pop in and out of my head. I have one novel which will probably never get finished, and that’s too bad, but so be it. I have a short story I want to write about 1963, and it will start with song lyrics I will write, and I’m sure I’ll get to that in the next couple months. But other than that, nothing really specific to share with you. Sorry about that! You are welcome to crawl inside my head and grab hold of a shooting star idea, but you better be quick.

Withering on the vine of inspiration

Withering on the vine of inspiration

From One, Many

From Rodric: “Is it appropriate to take long articles and break them into smaller articles on Hubpages--not about writing but a function of Hubpages?”

I’m not sure I understand this question, Rodric. Is it appropriate? Sure, why not, although I’m not sure what you mean by taking a long article and breaking it into smaller articles. It sounds fine to me, as long as they fit into the HP guidelines.

The question I would ask is this: what are you writing the articles for? If you are trying to win the Google game, and garner thousands of views, then concentrate on the suggested 1250 word minimum for each article, and also concentrate on good linking with strong keywords. But if you are not interested in being the King of Google, or an online sensation, then break those articles up any old way you choose.

Common Mistakes and Greatness

From Lora: “What would you say distinguishes a good writer from a great one? And what is a common mistake that many first time book authors make?”

Lora, I love the questions. I also think my answers will differ from other answers, if you asked these questions to twenty other writers. But I’ll be happy to share my opinions on them, since you asked.

A good writer from a great one? Attention to detail and the gift of a storyteller.

Writing a riveting short story or novel is all about placing the reader in the setting. You want the reader to experience it all. You want it to seem so real that the reader feels like they were dropped into a particular scene. That takes talent, Lora, as you well know. And the gift of a storyteller? You either have it or you don’t. Some storytellers are naturals. They can capture an audience in the time it takes to read one page. Others will never have that gift, no matter how talented they are, with the technical aspects of writing.

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And I think the same applies for non-fiction, and I encourage everyone to pick up the Civil War Trilogy by Bruce Catton, to see just how suspenseful and magical nonfiction can be in the hands of a master.

A common mistake many first-time book authors make? In my experience, many rush the process. They are so excited to tell the story that they forget that great storytelling is a series of steps aimed at a conclusion, and a series of scenes which connect with each other and form a cohesive picture.

A great writer is a stage director for a play of words. They must be able to make scenes so believable that the reader feels like they are in those scenes. Once you have engaged the reader, you can then proceed with the story, but without that engagement, you might as well write marketing tripe for a corporation.

I hope I answered your questions, Lora, and thank you for them.

Writing the Way You Talk

From Linda: “I tend to write the way that I talk. Doing otherwise seems so stuffy. I know the rules are relaxed for dialogue, but what about everything else? My writing is littered with contractions and I fear the wrath of your beloved Sister Mary Elizabeth. Am I guilty of a mortal sin, or will publishers give me dispensation? When not writing dialogue do I need to drop the contractions and be more formal?”

Great question, Linda! For your type of writing, cooking and baking stuff, I think contractions are perfectly all right. I think one of the reasons your work is enjoyable to read is because your writing style feels warm and it feels like we are learning cooking from a favorite relative of ours. You can’t achieve that by writing in stilted, albeit correct, English grammar.

Textbooks and great grammar? Sure, you betcha! Informational articles? Write the way you talk, as long as you don’t talk like a street rat with an accent no one can understand, which you don’t, so you’re fine. lol

Been there, done that!

Been there, done that!

Young and Old

I certainly hope I didn’t insult anyone with my earlier discussion. I didn’t mean to. I know someone who has cancer would have a hard time with my “it just doesn’t matter” chant. I know there are people who are struggling financially, and that certainly does “matter.”

I was referring more to the mundane, everyday trials of life, the cat knocking over and breaking a vase, or a fender-bender in the supermarket parking lot. Yes, those events are annoying, but man alive, stacked up against the really important stuff in life, it just doesn’t matter!

I had a mentor once who told me “Bill, don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff,” and I laugh when I think of that, because there was a time in my life when I could create a hurricane out of a glass of water. Today, though, I’m just rockin’ the calm life, walking with my dogs, trying to be the best version of Bill that I can be.

Life is good!

Thanks for reading. If you have a question for the Mailbag, include it in the comments below, or send it to me in an email to

And hey, for those who care, I finally finished the three-part short story, “There Is No Way This Turns Out Well, and I’ll post the conclusion this Wednesday. Thanks for your patience, and I hope you enjoy it.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

Lora, first of all, thank you for such lovely comments. Secondly, thank you for giving such detailed opinions in your comments. Third, thank you for your questions. I suspect, at times, you are just trying to help me out by asking questions, and I really do appreciate it.

I'll have an answer for you on Monday. Until then, I hope your life is brilliant this weekend and beyond. Take care, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

I love it, Denise! I feel the same way. I have to find a way to teach my wife to do the same. She gets wrapped up in far too much drama, I'm afraid, and the stress will kill her if she doesn't learn.

Blessings always


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

It's a lot easier for me to do, Bill! At 72, my main focus is on making it to 73. lol If I achieve that, I'm pretty happy. Thanks my friend, and Happy Weekend to you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

Rodric, 4000 words is a mighty long article for an online site. Most people have the attention span of a fruit fly. Break it up! That would be my recommendation.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

Thank you Heidi! It really is amazing how fast technology is changing. I'm still trying to figure out how 3D printers work? How do you print a house to live in? That one blows my already blown mind. lol Have a fantastic weekend, my friend. Hopefully you will be sailing calm seas.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

Thank you Brenda! Rockin' the calm life...I need to transfer that, somehow, to my wife. She is a tumultuous sea on most days. She just doesn't know how to relax and calm down. Obviously this is going to be my main focus when she retires in another year.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

Mary, the Buddhists echo your thoughts. Life has struggle. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can devise a plan to combat that struggle. Thank you my friend.

Lora Hollings on July 28, 2021:

Hi Bill, I certainly enjoyed your mailbag this week, especially your answers to my questions. What a great answer to the first question I posed! That a great writer can make a story seem so real that the reader feels like they were dropped into a particular scene. That statement really brings to mind some of the novels and short stories I've enjoyed the most. In fact, your attention becomes so focused on what the writer is saying that your mind doesn't wander and you can't wait to proceed with the next part. I think that your stories fall into this category, Bill. You're great at creating a setting which really draws the reader into your story! I've really enjoyed the stories I've read by you and can't wait to finish "There is No Way This Turns Out Well." I also think your answer about common mistakes that first time book authors make is that they get so excited about writing their stories that they rush the process and forget that "writing is a series of scenes which connect with each other and form a cohesive picture." Even if you have a great idea for a story, you always have to keep in mind the storytelling itself and if you are keeping the reader's attention or if you are losing it. I think a lot of writers, especially first time ones, forget that writing is a process and a story as it unfolds always needs to be interesting.

Another question for you. Do you think that most great novels touch upon universal themes or great truths either directly or indirectly? Even the children's books that I've read and really enjoyed seem to touch upon truths or guiding principles about how one should live their life.

Thanks Bill for all your helpful answers!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 28, 2021:

Well, it is all small stuff after all. You have to have lived a few years to know that though. All the family conflict seems to have smoothed out now or am I just not noticing anymore? All the hurtful talk and rude comments don't seem to be heard anymore or am I just hard of hearing? Who cares if I am. It's a much nicer way to live. Thanks for the wisdom of the ages.



Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 28, 2021:

Nice mailbag, Bill. I really like the statement that you try to be the “best version of Bill” you can be. I think we all need to try and be the best version of ourselves. Also, not sweating the small stuff, while perhaps difficult for some people to achieve, seems to get easier as I get older. Have a great week, Bill.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on July 27, 2021:

I appreciate the answer to my question, Bill. I could have been clearer. I am writing an article about Critical Race Theory. I've been at it for two weeks and well over 4000 words into it! I don't feel I am finished, so I am wondering if it is appropriate to break it up. I do want to get hits on Google, but only for the purpose of getting readers to read what I write. I am sorely vexed by publishing a long hub. Who wants to read a hub that is a novellete? I suppose that is another question to include in a new Mailbag. I am writing two long hubs at the same time. One is my next Woza Moya chapter. I can't break that one up. I guess I could, though...

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 27, 2021:

Well, it's Tuesday again for me in the Monday Mailbag. Oh well...

Re: The Only Ones. I have to admit that I'm having more of the "been there, done that" attitude these days. But what keeps me from turning into a "get off my lawn" oldster is realizing that the younger folks are experiencing the same things we did, but often with a unique vantage point that we couldn't have imagined when we were their age. For example, they live in an era of education with computers. When I was young, computers were barely a thing, let alone a thing for the masses. All I have to do is watch even a modern era show like Seinfeld to realize how fast things have changed. The tech in those shows, much of which was the basis for the entire show plot, is now irrelevant.

Re: Writing the Way You Talk. I always tell people to write like they talk. Sure, if it needs to get all formal for presentation or publication, that can come later. But for the actual initial writing, I tell them to write like they talk to get rid of writer's block because usually they don't have speaker's block.

Well, that's all I got. I'll try to get back on the Monday Mailbag train next week. Have a good one in the meantime!

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 27, 2021:


I love that one from Bill Murray.

"It just doesn't matter. It's all life."

I've got to just keep telling myself that one and move forward.

I also love this response while replying to Rosina...

"You are welcome to crawl inside my head and grab hold of a shooting star idea, but you better be quick."

It made me smile.

I like the part about being a good story teller.

It makes me wonder though...since I can't tell a story very good when I'm talking, but I can write it down.

I always lose my train of thought when telling a story out loud.

I love the way you ended this weeks...

I’m just rockin’ the calm life, walking with my dogs, trying to be the best version of Bill that I can be.

I'm happy life is treating you good.

Take care & have a wonderful week.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on July 27, 2021:

Bill, I like the idea of you trying to be the best that you can be. That’s really what I aspire to as well and it’s a struggle everyday trying to live a meaningful life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

I didn't feel like you were dumping on me, McKenna. I did feel your frustration, and it is certainly warranted. These are tough times. Kids today are certainly navigating rougher waters than I had to navigate.

Blessings to you always!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

Thank you Vanita! I'll settle for delicious any old time. I appreciate your kind words.

Maggie and Toby send their love and their thanks!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

EK, thank you so much. I don't know about me being wise, but I do know I'm determined to succeed. Life is to be enjoyed and not defeated by.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

I like that saying, MG! Thanks for sharing it. I can see the wisdom in that, but I do think experience plays a tiny part as well. Sigh! I just hope I have some wisdom. It would be a shame to be my age and not have any.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

Thank you Bobbi! I don't know when I'll write about Maggie again. With this nice weather, I'm having a hard time carving out time to write. I feel like I need to be outside working on some chore of love. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 27, 2021:

Thanks Peggy! It's always nice to have you visit. See you on Wednesday, my friend.

McKenna Meyers on July 27, 2021:

Bill, I'm so sorry that I dumped on you and the Mailbag. I look forward to reading it each week. As you can imagine, I was feeling down at that moment and my thoughts were distorted. I'm just overwhelmed and worried about the future of our planet and the future of our kids.

Vanita Thakkar on July 27, 2021:

I am glad to be able to comment here.

First, about the article on walk with Maggie and Toby - I couldn't find it in the feed, so couldn't comment. It was a very pleasant talk with walk or walk with talk whatever we consider it. Enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to other such walks with talks.

Good observations on remaining cool in face of disturbances that become a matter of fact with time and experience. Interesting question-answer-s, remarks, encouragement and tips about writing.

Your mailbag delicacies are delicious, as usual. Thanks. Look forward to the next serving :) :)

Have a great week ahead !!

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on July 27, 2021:

I love the way you said, "I’m convinced there is no problem I can’t handle". Believe me, you are a strong person and can go through even the most difficult situations. I always admired you. Your sayings make me to think about the positive side of life. No one is living perfectly. But the wise thing to do is to accept the reality.

Stay safe and healthy...

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 26, 2021:

Thank you Bill for another good writeup. I remember reading what Acharya Vinoba Bhave wrote; wisdom does not come with age as a rule... it's built in' He also distinguished between wisdom and knowledge, frankly, I do not know. Thanks again for a wonderful article and for sharing your wisdom.

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on July 26, 2021:

Hi Bill,

I finally had a chance to read your hub---and I will say my Grandmother Knight was a very wise and smart lady--I am sorry she did not get to read your work. I want to read your short story that is a three part wonder.

I hope you get a chance to write about Maggie--real soon.

Take care--Until Later,


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Just for clarification, I never said older people are wise. I said, in most cases, they are not as concerned with the everyday trials of life as they were when they are young.. And, for the record, some of the dumbest people I know are fellow baby boomers. Of course, I'm wise, but I'm of the minority. Thanks for your thoughts....and I've held three jobs, and been homeless, so I take nothing for granted....again, just for the record.

McKenna Meyers on July 26, 2021:

I don't know. It just rubs me the wrong way these days as I have three young people living in my home--working hard, studying hard, caring about society, and tending to the environment. Yet, they're faced with what the older generation has created: enormous disparity between the rich and poor, guns in the hands of everyone, climate change, homelessness, and bigotry. It's the Baby Boomers who are spreading the misinformation about the presidential election, covid, and vaccines on Facebook (that age group is 75% more likely to share misinformation on FB). They're also the big QAnon nuts--spreading conspiracy theories online. They're disgruntled that their lives didn't go the way they wanted so they blame others: minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ folks. Young people are too busy holding down 3 jobs just to survive and eat. The notion that older people are wise is crazy; so many are just racists.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 26, 2021:

Bill, you're welcome.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2021:

Hi Bill,

I think we all gain perspective as we age. Your father was a wise man! I enjoyed your mailbag, as usual, and look forward to reading your conclusion on Wednesday. There were many good questions and answers this week.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Manatita, steal away, my friend. I'm sure, in our hands, you will make it a true thing of beauty, and I hope to read it soon.

Thanks as always, my friend. Carry on being you. We need you and more like you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Thanks Alyssa! I hope you are well. Watch that movie if you haven't already. It's worth it just for Murray.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Thank you Sha! We are in total agreement. I follow some people on Youtube for the same reasons. They make it real.

Hugs my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

No, Miebakagh, you are on balance. Been there, done that, and hopefully I learned from it. Smooth sailing ahead for both of us, my friend, and thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Thank you Dora! Linda really does write an exceptional food article. I love the history she always includes.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Mr. Happy, I can always count on your for a great question. Thanks for that. As for Bruce Catton, my goodness, you bought those quickly. I sure hope my recommendation is enjoyed by you. I fell in love with the Civil War history because of his writings.

Climate change? Good luck with that. I'm so thoroughly disgusted by corporations and governments and selfish individuals, at times it all seems hopeless.

Anyway, wishing you a happy week ahead, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Linda, I wouldn't change a thing about your food articles. I think they are excellent! Carry on the way you are going. If people don't read them, it's their loss.

Happy Monday my friend. Hot weather heading our way once again, darn it!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Rosina, go for it! I hope you breathe new life into that title, and I look forward to the results. Be happy and be safe, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Happy Monday, Chitrangada Sharan. I hope this finds you well. Have a fabulous week ahead, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

Thank you Pamela! I'm glad we are both in a position now where a bunch of small things don't upset our lives.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2021:

You are first today, John! You win the award! lol Not really, but thank you!

manatita44 from london on July 26, 2021:

Bill you speak a great deal of Truth. Naturally, we have to be empathetic to the vulnerable ... to all who find life challenging, Yet I've seen the street kids of slums laughing and playing, even when not knowing where the next meal is coming from.

It's all about perspectives ... about being the lilies of the field, but hey, some are not there yet. It's all about angle of vision ... how one sees life. Some are not there yet.

About great writers, someone said that the work has to endure. Rumi is far more popular now than he was in the13th century.

Go to Stratford-on- Avon, and you will still see Shakespeare's works selling like hot cakes! Chinese, Arabs, Jews, White ... all kinds of people lining up to pay, to see his house, grave, theatre, church ... so much more!

But yes, you covered the basics excellently! Jeffrey Archer gets lots of help. But the storytelling is all his. Some Indian poets are totally awesome, even if their grammer sucks.

I'm editing a book for a Slovenian. The grammar's terrible, yet the book is so engaging, so impactful!

Finally, I'd like to steal that title you gave to Rosina for a motivational piece. It is exquisitely beautiful!

Alyssa from Ohio on July 26, 2021:

I love that motto.. and Bill Murray! This edition is packed with amazing advice. Thank you Bill! Have an awesome week!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 26, 2021:

Whoo hoo, I made it!

I think your answer to Linda's question is spot on. I have a few food bloggers I follow for their healthy, low-cal recipes and each of them writes as they speak. They throw in side comments, make jokes, and just make the experience real. It's as if you're in the kitchen chatting it up.

Linda, don't change a thing! Continue being you, Sis.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 26, 2021:

Bill, I catch the mail bag on time, because I was expecting. I believe the old and young stuff... I've been there, seen it, and done it was an experience myth all over the world when buding teenagers and young lovers debarred the adults to "foot it" or the floor! Thinking it's exclusively they domain. I opined the best person that can specific from whom he got the point was the literary sage Williiam Sharkspeare! Bill, I enjoy the questions and answers session. And luckiy, you've been there, seen it, and done, or am I ov of balance? Much thanks.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 26, 2021:

Thanks again. I especially love Linda's question and I agree with your answer. I feel the same way you do about her work. the mailbag is so affirming.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on July 26, 2021:

"to navigate the rough seas until I find calm water again" - Where is the sweet spot between running away from problems and always trying to fix them?

"Civil War Trilogy by Bruce Catton" - Will do - thank You for the mention ... And I just bought it lmao Better be good!! jk : )

"I was referring more to the mundane, everyday trials of life" - Ohh, good 'cause I was about to ask You to hurry up and fix climate change. You know, that burning of forests all around You and the flooding that's happening in Europe and Asia now.

"trying to be the best version of Bill that I can be" - I suppose that's all we can try to do.

"Good thoughts, good words, good deeds" - Zarathustra.

Have a pleasant week ahead! Best of luck!

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 26, 2021:

Bill, thanks for answering my question. I'll never write that "great American novel" (I'll leave that up to you), but I had wondered if my style would not come across well in a nonfiction publication. You've put me at ease, and I'll go forward, assuming that Sister ME has put away the wooden ruler.

Thank you to Pamela for your kind words.

I'll be looking for that third installment of your short story on Wednesday.

I share your viewpoint on "it's mostly all small stuff." I see that in my children too. When they were teenagers everything was a crisis. Now, they pretty much roll with what happens.

Have a great week, my friend. Take care of that hip.

Rosina S Khan on July 26, 2021:

"Building a Meaningful Life" sounds like a good and interesting title. I would love to fiddle with it and write it. Loved the rest of the questions and answers too. It was educative, as always. It pays off all the time not to sweat the small stuff.

Happy Monday, Bill. Wish you a good start to the week.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 26, 2021:

Hello Bill!

All good questions and your helpful answers, with special reference to Lora’s question.

Been there and done that— Sounds familiar. You speak with experience and wisdom.

Thank you for brightening the Monday, with your mailing. Have a wonderful week ahead.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 26, 2021:

I love Linda's article as I always get a laugh from something she says, and I was glad to read your advice to her.

I think our perspective drastically changes with age. I understand your "create a hurricane out of a glass of water" as when I was young it seemed like everything was a big deal and now it is just a bunch of small things.

This is a very interesting mailbag and I always appreciate reading your wisdom. Thanks, Bill.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 26, 2021:

I am pleased that I caught this Mailbag early this time. A really good collection of questions, and answers, this week too, Bill. Have a great week.

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