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Vintage WD: Afternoon of a Part-Time Writer

This WD article from 1957 offers a humorous look at what it's like to be a writer with a day job, a family, or other obligations that take time away from writing--something many of us can relate to.

By Brooks Noel

Writer’s Digest June 1957

Afternoon of a part-time writer

I write on one end of the kitchen table.

Mostly I write at night and on the weekends. During the day, I work. This keeps the landlord from knocking at the door. The most important thing is to get something written every day.

But it’s not always easy to write every day. Take yesterday for example: I push all the dishes to one end of the table, grab the portable and two pages and 500 words later I’ve gotten a pretty good start on that suspense story I plotted during lunch.

The beautiful secretary is dead, an icepick in her left ear (they want ‘em brutal). I’ve managed to get the hard, lean red-blooded Lieutenant and his partner into the room, the coroner rushing to the scene, the approximate time of death, and the first suspect, who is not the iceman, introduced to the reader. I’ve also hinted at the motive and told the reader twice that it was the left ear. (This is the gimmick that finally traps the killer.) I’m just warming up. I put another sheet in the roller. I typed:

He knelt for a closer look at the wound. Her head was partly turned on the thick woven rug. There was hardly any bleeding. He rose slowly, eyes blazing, his head shaking visibly.

“I’m going to get the dirty rat that did this and when I do, I’m going to empty this…this…this…” He finally drew his black automatic Colt .45 with his initials on the handle that was loaded with six dum-dum shells.

There is a timid knock at the door and I stop reluctantly right there. A very small figure with freckles stands at the door, tears in his eyes, a baseball glove on his left hand. He pounds his right hand into the glove a few times.

“Coach,” he says in a broken voice, “I can’t play in Saturday’s game.”

I’m still in the murder room. “What game? Game? Oh, yes, the game. Why can’t you play, Shorty?”

“I have to visit my Grandmother in California. Isn’t that terrible, Coach. For two weeks, too.” By this time the tears are streaming. I say “I’m sorry, Shorty, but don’t worry, your spot will be open when you return.”

I return to the machine. Then it hits me. Shorty Huitte! No! They can’t do this to me! Shorty is the best eleven-year-old third baseman in the whole Little League. We haven’t a chance now against those Purple Tigers.

This is terrible. Let’s see, I can put Johnson at third, Fats Wallace in Johnson’s place at first, put the center fielder in the hole at short, shift Mike to the catcher’s spot and Speraneo to second. Fine. We’ll beat those screaming Tigers yet. I return to the story. I write:

The coroner enters, his black bag in his right hand.

Right hand! That won’t do. We’ve got to have a right-hander in there pitching. Let’s see now. Bring in Ronnie … Ronnie … what’s his name—the one that’s always picking his nose—put him in the pitching spot and shift the pitcher to second. I go back to the story.

He goes about his grisly job quickly. Lieutenant Anvil and his partner step out in the hall. He gets a receipt for the body. (I don’t know why, they all do, though.) His partner draws, “Who is Aunt Minerva’s heir? The dead girl?”

Anvil slaps him hard. “Another crack like that and I’ll send you to your Grandmother’s in California.”

“Do you think I should have the boy’s play tug of war or should we run three-legged races?” asks my wife.

“What?”

“At the picnic?”

“Picnic?”

“For the Cub Scouts. You promised to think up a game to play at the picnic. Remember?”

“Sure. Sure. I’m working on it.” I type more slowly now, thinking of the picnic, I guess.

“Now you take this floor. Ask all the tenants the usual questions. Meanwhile, I’ll work on Aunt Minerva’s three-legged angle.”

My son enters. “Who’s catching, now?” he asks.

I rack my brain. Aunt Minerva? Lt. Anvil? Finally, I came up “Mike.”

He shakes his head, no.

“Why?”

“His mother don’t want him to catch. She says, Mike is not to get too close to the batters or to run too fast because his nose may bleed.”

I shuffled the line-up again, got a right-hander on the plate, and returned to the story. Daughter, age nine, enters.

“Hey, Dad, Joyce says I’ve got to go back to my onesies and I’ve already finished my twosies.”

“Twosies?”

“Yes, you know, twosies. Hopscotch.”

Hopscotch? Way, way back I remember drawing lines on the sidewalk. I have to go back a long ways for the answer to this one, but eventually I have two girls hopping happily on the sidewalk.

She was stabbed in the right ear by a left-hander who eats salami and pitches for the Darigold Eagles and … now, there’s a team. Wish we had their pitcher … humn ….

“Don’t give me that crap, you old beetle. You know he was alive when you called at eight. Now, it will go a lot easier on you if you tell me who …

Eventually I do get a few hundred words written. The next night I put a few more hundred down on the paper. It all adds up. And that’s what counts.

A writer doesn’t need to lock himself in the attic; puncture the picture tube; give up his golf. If only a page is written each day, even a paragraph, the next day’s page will be easier.

Once I was snowbound in Alaska for three weeks with plenty of paper and a good typewriter. Not even a radio handy. No screaming, wild, Little Leagers. No noisy Cub Scouts with their perpetual questions. Not even a Brownie meeting to attend. Boy what a chance, I thought.

You guessed it. I never wrote a word.

Brooks Noel has been in the Navy for sixteen years. He took some writing courses in Corpus Christi and since then has written 26 crime-fiction stories. “So far I have received ten checks (mostly small) and a dandy little hand printer from WD for a prize in the short short contest,” he says. And he adds, “With the Little League it’s been pretty good. Last year we came in second. This year the boys look even better.”

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