The final writing class of the term was last night. I haven’t mentioned the writing class in several weeks because I haven’t gone; buying a new house has kept me busy.

I’m sad to have missed so many sessions. The instructor, Rick, is quite good, and I always came away from Wednesday night inspired, motivated to write. I want to create something.

Last night, Rick shared various bits of wisdom he’d gleaned from years of writing classes. While these may seem like platitudes, I think they each contain an important insight:

  1. Talent does not get you published; hard work and perseverance do. Perhaps this is obvious, but some of us it ought to be a mantra. You may be talented at something, but that talent is meaningless if you don’t use it.
  2. Self-loathing is far better than cowardice. This, of course, is just a re-wording of the old “better to have lost in love than never to have loved at all”, or the similar “shoot for the stars”. Basically, the idea is that if you try and fail, you’ve still done more than by not trying at all. Take a chance!
  3. Observe the world around you. This is especially important for writers, of course. Pay attention to the actions and conversations of the people you encounter. Observe what happens in the natural world. Learning to notice details makes life richer.
  4. Live life with an insatiable curiosity. Ah, yes. This one I’m good at. Never stop learning!

Rick’s rules reminded me of Action Girl’s Guide to Living.

I first discovered Action Girl when Dana mentioned her during our superhero discussion several weeks ago. Action Girl, created by Sarah Dyer, isn’t a superhero in the traditional sense of the word. She has her own comic book, sure, but her main super power is the ability to help people take charge of their own lives. Dyer has a personal agenda, and she’s pleased to share it with the world.

Here is an abridged version of Action Girl’s Guide to Living (follow the link for Dyer’s extended version).

  1. Action is everything! It really doesn’t matter what you say or even what you think; it’s what you do that matters. Be less of a consumer and more of a creator. Write. Sew. Cook dinner. Put on a play. Publish a magazine. Make a web site. Don’t just buy stuff: make it!
  2. Support other’s actions. Support what other people are doing; spend your time and money on things done for something other than profit. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy the new U2 album, just try to buy things on smaller labels, too.
  3. Have a code of ethics. It doesn’t matter what your code of ethics is — everyone’s is different — what’s important is to have an articulated set of rules you follow. You can change your mind as you go along — what works for you now might not work in ten years — but you should know what it is you stand for now.
  4. Don’t be a hypocrite. Once you’ve developed a code of ethics, live by it. Consider your actions and how they relate to your standards. Don’t make compromises. For example, if you believe that it’s wrong to eat meat because it exploits animals, then don’t wear leather, and don’t use products tested on animals. Be consistent.
  5. Be positive. Life is short. Don’t wast time bitching about others. If you can do something about it, do it. Otherwise, get on with life and forget it. Re-route your negative energy in a positive direction. If you hate something, fine, but don’t make it your career.
  6. Be open-minded. Read books and magazines and newspapers and web sites. (And not just the ones you already agree with or like.) Listen to other people’s opinions. You don’t have to welcome every new idea with open arms; just be willing to change and grow.
  7. Forget the “scene”. Discard the idea that a thing has to be underground to be legitimate. Or that something popular is necessarily bad. Good work is good work, no matter the forum, no matter how broad its appeal.
  8. Most things suck. Become more discriminating. Pursue quality. Don’t waste your time with the mundane. You’ll have more time to do something fun!
  9. Be adventurous. Try new things. Eat new food. Learn a new skill. Travel. Watch foreign films. Change your hairstyle. You might not enjoy everything you try, but then you might find something you really love.
  10. Live life. Never stop buying toys. Write letters to complain about things you don’t like. Make your own clothes. Do stupid tourist things with your friends. Never pay for a haircut if you can help it — that’s why you have friends. Learn to cook more than just spaghettios. Don’t hurt other people. Start a collection of something you like. Make elaborate valentines for your friends. Don’t be so serious. Learn to do more things and feel more competent. Don’t be afraid of technology. Don’t worry about what other people think. Have fun!

Dyer has distilled these rules into a succinct “Action Girl Manifesto”:

ACTION IS EVERYTHING! Our society, even when it’s trying to be “alternative” usually just promotes a consumerist mentality. Buying things isn’t evil, but if that’s all you do, your life is pretty pointless. Be an ACTION GIRL! (Or boy!) It’s great to read / listen to / watch other people’s creative output, but it’s even cooler to do it yourself. Don’t think you could play in a band? Try anyway! Or maybe think about putting on shows or starting a label. Don’t have time/energy to do a zine yourself? Contribute to someone else’s zine. Not everyone is suited to doing projects on their own, but everyone has something to contribute. So do something with all that positive energy!

It’s a great philosophy, one I endorse wholeheartedly (though I may not always practice it myself).

I have a couple of additions:

  1. Ask for it. You’ll never get it if you don’t ask. And you might be surprised at what you can get just by asking.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Who cares if your shirt isn’t ironed? If you forgot to mail the phone bill? If you can’t remember someone’s name? Take it easy. It’s not that important.

What’s the gist of all these rules? Do something! Don’t just sit there; get up and live!

Don’t watch a movie on television; go make one yourself. Don’t write a book; go write your own. Don’t buy dinner from a restaurant; cook it yourself. Don’t shop for new clothes; sew your own. Don’t drive to the store; walk, or ride your bike.

Be creative! Build things!

Discover new foods and friends and books and movies. Don’t be stuck in a rut.

Lighten up. Relax. Don’t be so critical of others. Instead, support what they do. Enjoy life.

These rules are important because our modern society programs us to operate like mind-numbed robots, driving everywhere, buying pre-packaged everything, consuming mass media. I’m just as guilty as the next person, but I want to change.

And that’s why I’m happy that over the past six months I’ve begun to write fiction. That, if only occasionally, I ride my bike around town for errands. That we’re buying an old house that will require personal care and attention.

I want to be an Action Girl. Er, Action Boy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go eat breakfast. I’m going to have some of “Rick’s Precious Granola”, cereal my writing instructor made himself.


On 10 June 2004 (09:22 AM),
Johnny said:

Ask for it. You’ll never get it if you don’t ask. And you might be surprised at what you can get just by asking.

I am asking for everyone to send me a million dollars and join my cult, er, I mean my new religion. I have asked for this in the past, but this time I really, really mean it. If you have to choose between one of the two about things, please just send the cash. Thanks in advance.

PS. Just so you know, I need the cash because I’m going to meet the President of Nigeria. His assistant undersecretary sent me an email asking for my help in getting back a bunch of cash that apparently the evil former regime had socked away in a Swiss bank account. Once they transfer it to my bank account I can help them out, but I need lots of cash first in order to get the wire transfer authorized. So it’s obviously for a worthy cause. It’s not like it’s just going to lie my own pockets. I mean, line my own pockets.

On 10 June 2004 (09:41 AM),
Denise said:

Johnny, you’ve tried this cult thing before, haven’t you? Do you think you’ll have better success this time?

I love this post, J.D.

On 10 June 2004 (10:00 AM),
Johnny said:

“Action is everything”. I’m sure it wasn’t the success I wanted because people just forgot about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

On 10 June 2004 (10:10 AM),
Betsy said:

Great post, J.D.

Especially the ‘ask’ part. I hate asking people for stuff, or help.

It took the death of someone I am close to in order to jolt me out of my ‘I cannot possibly ask’ mode – but last week, I started asking. And people started responding. No one even thought twice about it, and people were glad to be able to do something, anything.

We all felt better afterwards, I am sure.

On 10 June 2004 (10:20 AM),
Virginia said:

I’m reminded of the saying,

He who whispers down a well,
About the things he has to sell.
Does not make the shinning dollars,
As he who climbs a tree and hollers.

On 10 June 2004 (10:43 AM),
Anthony said:

These rules are important because our modern society programs us to operate like mind-numbed robots, driving everywhere, buying pre-packaged everything, consuming mass media. I’m just as guilty as the next person, but I want to change.

Well put.

Action is everything! It really doesn’t matter what you say or even what you think; it’s what you do that matters.

I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but the point made is important. If you really believe in something, you will act it out in real time, so it is our actions, not our ideas, that faithfully reflect who we really are.

While I certainly do not agree that “it doesn’t matter what your code of ethics is,” I do think every person should be consistent with the code they choose. I continually try to maintain consistency in my own life, and I congratulate you, JD, in striving to escape the mindless herd and build your life around your ideals. Only people who think and do for themselves are free.

On 10 June 2004 (02:42 PM),
J.D. said:

Who knew? Benjamin Franklin was the Action Girl of the 18th century, though some of his advice seems dated now. Here are Franklin’s Goals of Virtue (via

  • Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, waste nothing.
  • Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; speak accordingly.
  • Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries; or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Moderation: Avoid extremes; forebear resenting injuries so much as you think deserve.
  • Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  • Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

I wonder what other good advice I can find on the net…

On 10 June 2004 (04:46 PM),
Hmm… said:

Ask for it. You’ll never get it if you don’t ask. And you might be surprised at what you can get just by asking.

Can you buy these for me?

On 10 June 2004 (04:58 PM),
Johnny said:

Well Nick, if you don’t tell us who you are how will we know where to have them delivered?

On 10 June 2004 (05:06 PM),
Nick said:

Hmm…good point.

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