I Want to be Elwood P. Dowd

“I’ve wrestled with reality for 30 years, doctor, and I’m proud to state I finally won out over it.”

Elwood P. Dowd was Jimmy Stewart’s character in the 1950 film Harvey. If you’ve never seen the film or the theater play, it is the story of a lovable man whose best friend is an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey.

Yes, this is the guy I want to be like.

In my life, I’ve had to deal with a number of people who were, to put it simply, jerks. People who seem to have no patience, no compassion, and no concern for the feelings of others.

What do you do when you have to deal with jerks? There really doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on that. The only thing I’ve always known for sure is that I refuse to treat the jerks the way they treated me. That just perpetuates the cycle of misery and would just make me one of them.

That’s not going to happen with me.

But you can’t just sit there and take abuse, can you? When it’s a customer or client, you may not have much of a choice. If a customer is rude or impatient, it is still your job to deal with them. So what do you do? That’s where Elwood P. Dowd comes in. The guy is unflappable. That’s what I strive to be. Unflappable. Elwood is sweet and friendly to a fault. Sure, it probably means that he gets taken advantage of from time to time, but I really think that might be worth the risk of being kind as much as possible.

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “in this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “in this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

Kindness matters. It really does. I’ve come to realize that kindness makes a huge difference, no matter what job you have. If you’re a barista at Starbucks and greet customers with a snarl, you’re sending those people off to work in a bad mood, which they just might spread to others. If they’re greeted with a smile, they feel good and might pass that on as well.

“I always have a good time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”

Over the weekend, I went to Ocean City, MD with my kids. We went out on a boat ride where we had friendly tour guides, including a nice kid in his teens or early twenties who went around and asked people if they wanted him to take group pictures of people on their cameras/ phones so they could all be in the photo. Sure, the kid works partially for tips at the end, but still it was a nice gesture. Just watching it put me in a good mood. His kindness mattered.

I’ve recently decided to make a career change. I was a paralegal for over ten years and I have decided that I would like to work in the medical field in an administrative capacity. Kindness certainly matters in that profession. Nobody likes going to the doctor. People are nervous. Scared. Politeness and patience on the phone and in the waiting room matters. Kindness and compassion can make people feel better at a time when they need it the most.

Still, sometimes it’s a fine line between being kind and allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. When Elwood is at a bar (which he often is…) another patron sticks him with the tab, calling out “Harvey will take care of it.” Elwood calls out “He’d be delighted!” I’m not sure I would go that far, but I really would love to have the patience that Elwood had.

“Harvey and I sit in the bars… Have a drink or two… Play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends. And they come over… And they sit with us… And they drink with us… And they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they’ve done and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.”

It’s scary starting all over in a whole new profession. Of course writing will always be my “real” job, but I don’t want my day job to be just anything old thing. I don’t want to just kill time for 8 hours a day. I want to make a difference if it’s at all possible. A new job will be a challenge and I will certainly be faced with difficult patients. I want to face those challenges with a good attitude. I want to try repay rudeness with patience. I want to be able to smile when a patient is scowling. I want to help melt an icy heart, rather than stab an ice pick through it. It’s not going to be easy, but I think it’s worth it.
Spoiler alert. At the end of the film, Elwood’s family plans to have him committed and drugged to deal with his apparent delusions of the imaginary rabbit. The cab driver mentions how pleasant his drives to the sanitarium always are – before the treatment.

“I’ve been driving this route for 15 years. I’ve brought ’em out here to get that stuff, and I’ve drove ’em home after they had it. It changes them… On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin’. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain’t no birds. And look at the sunsets when it’s raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, uh oh… They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. Watch the lights. Watch the brakes, watch the intersections. They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it’s the same cab, the same driver and we’re going back over the very same road. It’s no fun. And no tips… After this he’ll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!”
Horrified at the idea of changing Elwood’s inherent sweet nature, his sister Veda snatches him back from the doctor.

“It’s our dreams, doctor, that carry us on. They separate us from the beasts! I wouldn’t want to go on living if I thought it was all just eating and sleeping and taking my clothes off…I mean, putting them on.”

I’ve come to realize that it really matters how well you do your job – no matter what your job may be. You can have a friendly attitude and smile with your co-workers, do your fair share or more of the workload, and make the experience – whether it be getting them a cup of coffee or prepping them for surgery – as pleasant as possible for your customers. It will be a struggle to try to do that every day, but it’s worth the effort. It sure beats being a jerk. You can’t control how people treat you; you can only control how you choose to respond.

I want to be like Elwood P. Dowd

Mailman: “Beautiful day…”
Elwood p. Dowd: “Oh, every day is a beautiful day.”

So Here’s What Happened This Week (May 25, 2012)

What I Did: Developed a lengthy rewriting / revision checklist for my own use and for the blog (see yesterday’s entry!) Continued revisions on my middle grade novel, RAIN ON THE WATER.

What I Read: Finished reading BLACK HILLS by Dan Simmons.

                             MR. CSI: How a Vegas Dreamer Made A Killing in Hollywood, One Body at a Time by Anthony E. Zuiker

Cool Links I Found:

Is It Possible To Have Too Much of an Online Presence?

Do Your Characters Feel the Burn?


Revising and Rewriting Your Manuscript: The Last Checklist You’ll Ever Need (until you find a better one…)

Do you really have to revise your manuscript?

Yes, you have to revise your manuscript. Many, many, many times. You can either accept that fact of life now or you can:

A. Send out your first badly written, error-filled, dreck of a first draft and watch the rejections pour in and/or listen to the sound of crickets when professionals in the industry won’t even bother to dignify your hack of a manuscript with a response.

B. Give up now, deciding that becoming a fry cook on Venus would probably be easier than this whole writing thing.


If you’re still reading, that means you’re willing to do what it takes to be a real writer.


Hear it, learn it, live it.

Though hashing out a first draft of a novel is hard work, rewriting is truly what makes you a REAL writer. It separates you from the hacks. Anybody can write down a story, slap on a title, and rush to try to sell it. You’re better than that. You’re serious about your craft.

First drafts are often awful. That goes for New York Times bestselling authors and people who are just starting out. Rewriting is what makes any piece of writing great. No exceptions.

On the plus side, if you love writing, rewriting really can be fun. Stop rolling your eyes and making snarky comments. I promise, it’s not like when your math teacher told you that math can be fun. I don’t care if she did bring a pizza into class that one day. Fractions still suck. This is different. It’s really very rewarding to see your work get better and better. If you love your characters, think of rewriting as getting a chance to spend more time with them. Though going over each sentence, each paragraph, and each word a bunch of times can be exhausting, it’s a great feeling when you finally get it right. Trimming paragraphs, carefully selecting the right word, and developing that perfect line of dialogue will tighten your work and turn a rough draft into a piece of really great writing.

Do the work. It’s worth the effort.

If this sounds like too much work, do it anyway. If you still hate it, you can always quit writing and do the fry cook thing. The one thing you CAN’T do is get out of rewriting and revising your manuscript numerous times if you want to make it as a writer. Lots of wannabe writers choose to stay in denial about this fact for years before they finally give in to the truth and realize that, no matter how carefully they outline their story and characters ahead of time, rewriting is crucial to success as a writer. Lots of writers waste years of their precious time denying the necessity of rewriting their work. You’ll be way ahead of the curve if you skip those years and get right to work.

I said GET TO WORK!!

Checklist for Revising

** Wait at least two weeks after you finish a draft before you start revising.

** Read the whole novel from start to finish and record your gut reaction. Don’t censor yourself and try to be as honest as possible. Were there parts that bored you? Did a character get on your nerves or not seem fully fleshed out? Note what you think needs to be fixed but don’t try to fix it yet. Just jot down notes and keep reading.

** The next step is macro edits. You need to fix the big things. This can include fixing things in the plot that don’t make sense or are just not believable, strengthening the characters, and cutting parts of the novel that are redundant or just unnecessary. It helps to have a specific goal in mind for each rewrite. For example, for this first rewrite the goal is to strengthen the main character’s motivation. The next draft might be to fortify a specific relationship between two friends or maybe the goal is to add more suspense. The final revisions should be the ones where you really focus in on specific details like grammar and punctuation.


** Did you jump into the story right away or did you begin with lengthy description or boring exposition?

** Does your opening scene begin with a problem for the protagonist? Does it open *with* the protagonist? The story should almost always begin with the main character.

** Do we know what your characters are after and why? Remember that the more a character wants something, the more compelling the story will be.

** If at all possible, provide at least a hint of what is to come in the opening even if you can’t reveal the whole problem just yet.

** Cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward or reveal character.

** Be sure to clearly describe your characters so your reader can see what you see. A few concrete details are better than a lengthy description.

** Remember that action can usually reveal character better than a physical description. When the phone rings, does the character rush to answer it or does he roll his eyes and ignore it? Little actions can say a lot about a person.

** Did you set the scene so the reader knows where the action is taking place?

** Reveal setting through the character’s eyes and viewpoint (whoever’s POV you are writing in).

** Be sure that important events in the story are revealed in a scene. A scene means people in action. You don’t want to gloss over the good stuff by simply telling us about it. Conflict is the heart of a good story and scenes are the only way to elicit an emotional response from the reader.

** The characters should enter the scene with a goal, struggle for it, and then end up either achieving little or none of it. Otherwise, why should we keep reading?

** Save most of the backstory, exposition, and character thought for the “sequel”, which follows the scene.

** Are you going too easy on your characters? Make it difficult for them to get anything they want.

** Make sure each chapter ends with something to keep the reader turning the pages.


** The POV you chose should be clear and consistent throughout.

** With first person, try to sneak in some kind of physical description, though it can be tricky.

** If you chose Third Person POV, where you pick one character’s viewpoint, be sure you only show what this character sees, hears, feels, and knows.

** Multiple POV allows you to reveal action that doesn’t always take place within sight of the main character and enables the reader to experience the emotions of more than just one character. Be sure to make it clear when you are switching to another character’s POV, either by adding multiple spaces or starting a new chapter.

** Omniscient POV is when the writer sees and knows all and therefore can show the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. Be sure to be clear about whose consciousness you are in at any given time. Be wary of too much “head-hopping” when the POV changes too rapidly, which can be annoying and difficult to follow for the reader.

** With the Objective POV, you can only show what can be observed from the outside. Instead of she felt angry and bitter when her Cheetos got stolen, it would be she looked angry or she grabbed her Cheetos back and slammed the door . Objective POV is extremely limiting, but can be useful for stories in which revealing a lot of thought and emotion would give away the plot.


** Read dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds authentic and true to the character. Omit boring pleasantries and unnecessary chatter. Get to the good stuff, the conflict.

** Use said as your dialogue tag about 95% of the time, preferably before the character’s name. People rarely say things like said she in real life and words like grunted, hollered, and muttered can be distracting and unnecessary. Also, people can’t laugh and talk at the same time. Instead of she laughed, write she said, laughing.

** Be sure to use dialogue tags frequently enough so the reader is clear on who is talking.

Style and Language

** Limit adjectives – one is usually stronger than two or three. Sometimes none is the right number.

** Watch for adverbs, especially those ending in “ly”. She angrily and forcefully grabbed the umpire is not as strong as she grabbed the umpire or she grabbed the umpire with great force. Use adverbs sparsely.

**Choose a strong, specific noun or verb instead of several weaker ones. Consider the difference between the word ran and the words sprinted, dashed, darted, and fled. Make each word count.

** Active voice is usually best.  Watch for passive voice words like was, were, here, there, and that. There were two drunk guys building a pillow fort vs. Two drunk guys built a pillow fort.

** Keep an eye out for words that you tend to overuse. Do a search to find them and weed them out.

** Omit redundancies like screamed out loud or quickly dashed.

**Watch for “weasel” words that are unnecessary. These include words like about, actually, almost, basically, just, here, there, really, practically, simply, suddenly, utterly. Consider the difference between: When they finally arrived there, it was already too late. She had already gotten a tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow is not as good as When they arrived, it was too late. She had gotten the tattoo of a unicorn vomiting a rainbow.

** Avoid “filter” words that seek only to distance your reader from your character’s experiences. These include words like: see, hear, think, wonder, realize, watch, seem, feel or feel like, decide, sound or sound like. He felt hot and looked down. He realized his underwear was on fire vs.  Heat burned his face and he looked down. His underwear was on fire.

** Seek and destroy long passages of boring description.

** Don’t overuse the past perfect verb tense, as in would  or had. When writing a paragraph in this tense, begin in the past perfect : Right before his father had become a drag queen in Vegas, Robert would have long talks with him  when they would go to the mall to buy high heels, then switch to past tense – They mainly talked about makeup and glitter instead of continuing in the past perfect: They had talked mainly about makeup and glitter

** Make each sentence as strong as possible, keeping in mind that the end is the most powerful part. “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor,” he said as he put down his rapidly melting lab beaker is not as powerful as He put down his rapidly melting lab beaker and said, “I’m leaving you for my chemistry professor.”

**  Avoid overwriting. Trust that the reader is at least as intelligent as you are.  They will be able to figure out what you are trying to say without hitting them over the head with it.

** Reading out loud is the best way to hear the rhythm of the sentences. “The Phelps family sounded like bigoted idiots” might look okay but try saying it out loud. “The Phelps family sounded like ignorant bigots” sounds much better. At any rate, both sentences are true…

Grammar and Punctuation

** Carefully proofreading for typos and grammatical errors should usually be one of the final steps in revision. There’s no sense in spending a long time perfecting a paragraph only to cut the whole thing out later.

** Use a Comma:

— To separate items in a series: She gathered her baseball,her glove, and her dose of steroids.

— With a small conjunction, such as and, but, for, nor, yet, so, to connect two independent clauses, as in She liked the guy, but she kicked him in the head with her cleats.

— For introductory elements, such as Before joining the circus, he worked as a stock broker.

— With parentheticals (a parenthetical could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence) He put on his floppy shoes, which were completely unnecessary, for his prostate exam.

— When both the city and the state name are mentioned together, it is considered a parenthetical element. We saw the Orioles kick some major Yankee posterior in Baltimore, Maryland, last summer.

** Use a Semicolon:

— To separate two main clauses that are not joined by a coordinating conjunction.  Those in glass houses who throw stones don’t need windows; those in stone houses who throw glass do need shoes.

— To separate main clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb, such as however, consequently, otherwise, moreover, nevertheless. Many people think it is necessary to go to college; however, it’s not so if your dream is work at Chuck E. Cheese.

** Use a Colon:

— For a summary or a series after a complete main clause: They were a ragtag team of misfits: a circus clown, a stock broker, an angry female baseball player, and a guy from Chuck E. Cheese.

** Use a Dash (–)

— For a short summary after a complete main clause: At the bottom of the backpack was a surprise—used chewing gum.

— In place of a pair of commas to set off words, phrases, or clauses that interrupt a sentence with additional–but not vital–information: Of all the well-known Muppets—Miss Piggy, Scooter, Rowlf, Fozzie—great as they were, Kermit made the most money.

Fine, Have It Your Own Way

This revision list was compiled from a bunch of different books and websites and I find it helpful for my revisions. If you’ve got a better way that works for you – go for it! Just make sure you rewrite and revise as many times as it takes to make your writing as good as it can be. Otherwise, brush up on your short order cook skills.


Revising Vs. Rewriting  

 Tips for Revising Your Manuscript

 Revising Your Manuscript

The Joy of Revisions

 How to Cut Thousands of Words Without Shedding a Tear 

Rewriting: Different Ways to Edit Your Manuscript

Five Traps to Avoid When Rewriting Your Manuscript

How to Edit and Rewrite Your Manuscript

How to Rewrite 

Why I Would Decline an Edit on  Manuscript 

The 13 Most Common Errors on a Novel’s First Page

What Does the Editing Process Look Like