Find A Penny

We’ve all heard the old saying, find a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck. I’m a firm believer in picking up found pennies. Probably because I am notoriously cheap and there have been several occasions when I had to pay for milk or other necessities with change I have stashed away. Part of it also is that hope for a little bit of good luck even though I tend to dismiss luck for the most part. For whatever reason, I pick up pennies.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I drove into the parking lot before Christmas and there was a penny shining up at me when I opened the car door. I automatically lock the door as soon as I open it to ensure I don’t forget, since several cars have been burglarized here. I leaned down to pick the penny up and noticed another one. I got out of the car and the ground was littered with change of all kinds. I figured someone in an apartment was watching that crazy old woman squatted down, picking up money, but I didn’t care. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m sure I thought, if one penny buys a day of luck, there are enough here to buy a whole year.

Then a breeze came up and blew the car door shut. Oops. Keys are still in the car.

An hour and $37.95 later, I had my car open. On the plus side, the Pop-A-Lock guy was really nice and commented on my cool old highway patrol car.

I went in the apartment and dumped my lucky change in the five-gallon water jug I keep for change. Yes, I’m an optimist. In case you’re wondering, there was $5.27 in lucky change. Just think how rotten the day might have been if I hadn’t found my lucky pennies!

I’ve been thinking about luck a lot. I’ve never been very lucky. I won a $10,000 race horse once who turned out to be worth $500 and I owed $2,800 in taxes on him, but that’s another story. I used to win a little money at the horse races, but only because I’m a chintzy bettor and nickel-and-dime all day.

Perhaps that’s one reason I am going back over Paladin again. I don’t think luck will get me an agent or sell the book. I think it’s going to take a very strong story and voice, which I think I have. It’s also going to take some stellar writing. Ah, therein lies the rub. I’m a natural storyteller, but I am not a natural writer. It’s work for me. I can see the story in my mind like a DeMille epic, but getting it out of my head and onto the paper is another thing.

That’s why I have to keep going back over it. I know some agents will do some editorial, but that doesn’t give me an excuse to be lazy. I have to go as far as I can with it and then listen when the agent makes suggestions. Even so, I am getting close to the end of what I can do on my own. I could fiddle with it from now until doomsday, but substantial improvements are getting short. At some point a writer has to say, “enough,” and set it free.

How do you, as a writer, know when it’s time to set your child free? When do you close that last chapter and lean back with a feeling of relief? How do you know it’s time to stop fiddling?


  1. So the lucky change story (up until the key locked in the car part) reminded me of finding a stack of change I know someone dumped out of their ash tray, and me feeling kind of dorky because I was actually bending over and picking up every pretty piece of copper. I was in the parking lot on a college campus so I justified my ass in the air with “It’s probably a psych experiment and I’m being observed for science” or “I’m a poor college student, and I have a right to be this cheap.”

    In either case, you went on to ask, when do you set the story down. And I have no idea how to answer that. And that is the kind of answer that would make someone throw the blog at the wall if they could. My own experience is that I just have to draw the line. I finish what I have done with it. I acknowledge each of the steps I have taken in editing and the value of each step, and I just walk away. Needless to say, I believe I have actually learned a lot in the process with the manuscript I have in mind, especially compared to my other manuscripts, so I do feel some degree of closure (if that is the right word).

  2. Elizabeth,

    It is puzzling, isn’t it? When do you reach closure?

    I was working on chapter 22 tonight and realized I was just changing things to be changing.

    I think it’s time to go back over once more and stop.

  3. I haven’t noticed any problems with your writing. And as I’ve said to you before, your skill with storytelling is GREAT. My advice, then, is: don’t sweat the “stellar writing” thing. Be sure the story on the page is the story in your head, read for typos, then stop fiddling and go with it. Every one of those points where you see — or think you see — less-than-stellar writing is a shiny penny on the parking lot. Then there’s another, and another, and before you know it the door has clicked shut behind you and the story’s gone…

    My sense of my own pattern is that I’m satisfied way too soon. I type “The End,” think, “Okay, now what?” and wander off to a subsequent distraction.

  4. John,

    You have such a way with words.

    I knew it was time to stop fiddling last night when I realized I had cut a crucial scene. Now I have to go back and add it in or the rest of it makes no sense whatsoever.

    “My sense of my own pattern is that I’m satisfied way too soon. I type “The End,” think, “Okay, now what?” and wander off to a subsequent distraction.”

    Yes, but you are one of those people who have such a beautiful writing style I think you are like Diana and very close to done when you type The End. Your blogs are proof of that.

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