Deb Erika’s Best Performance Review Ever

Having held lots of jobs in the past twenty years—from matchmaking-service telemarketer to textile designer to cookie baker to construction worker, I’ve received a lot of professional advice. But there’s one piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years more than any other.

I was in my late 20’s and had a job at a custom furniture shop in the marketing department. My boss was a supremely cool guy: sharp, sophisticated and a great talent for design. A natural manager, he made a point of helping everyone to reach their potential, to challenge them, to keep them involved and energized.

Conviction. Don't let yours fade away like a sunset... (Or an ellipsis.)

We got along great. So when it came time for my yearly job performance review, I didn’t worry. And sure enough, it was a good meeting, brief even. He was pleased with my work and he looked forward to future collaborations. I sat back, collected my notes, my coffee and prepared to leave.

Oh, but there’s just one more thing, Erika.

His face—always wearing a wry smile—had turned serious.

I really feel I must point out to you that you have a bad habit of letting your sentences drift off in conversations, that you don’t always finish your thoughts. You really should. It suggests you lack conviction.

What?

I was stunned—did I do that? Really?

But I’m not lacking conviction, I thought as I walked numbly down the hall back to my cubicle. I’m not intimidated or uncertain of my opinions. I’m not, dammit!

But over the next few days, to my horror, I realized he was right. Sure enough, my sentences trailed off. One might even say, faded away.

I corrected myself promptly, but I’ve never forgotten that advice–or how much I valued it.

And here’s the thing: it’s a piece of advice that doesn’t just apply to the work place. I can—and have—applied that advice to my writing too.

Let’s be honest–sometimes it’s easy to be noncommittal in our writing. We can dance around the scary stuff—be it subject matter or an emotional arc. We know what we want to say but at times we’re not sure, so halfway through our chapter, our scene, maybe even our whole draft, we let that idea, that subplot, that character trait fade away or maybe we just don’t put it in at all, suddenly no longer so certain we mean what we say–or write. My boss was right: it takes conviction to finish our sentences—those that come out of our mouths and those that came out of our pens (or keyboards, as the case may be).

What about you all? Have you ever had trouble finishing your sentences?

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13 thoughts on “Deb Erika’s Best Performance Review Ever

  1. Gosh, now you have me wondering…

    Hmmm. I AM overly fond of ellipses…

    You know, I’m going to look into this, and make an effort to finish my darn sentences with authority. And the scenes in my books, too.

    (Seriously, this was very good advice. A big retroactive thank you to your former boss!)

    • Just like Joanne said yesterday about her teacher, Mr. Kropp, we all have some incredible bosses over the years (if we’re lucky!) and can glean precious advice.

      (And did I mention he was Canadian, Joanne?)

  2. That is AMAZING advice. Isn’t it wonderful to have a respected mentor who takes the time to help you along (even if you don’t see it as helpful at the time)? And I know I’m guilty of this for sure, so I’m going to take this advice and make a conscious effort to NOT LACK CONVICTION! YES!

  3. What I think is great is that he had the guts to tell you what you needed to work on. I think it showed that he really cared about you and your success; how great to have a boss like that!

    I admit, I have skirted around intimacy in my novel but as I develop my writing more and more, the more confidence I have that I can put it the tough stuff. 😉 I want scenes to flow as naturally as they would in real life and we have all dealt with tough issues in life. I think if I just dig deep within myself, I will find a way to express my characters’ voices realistically.

    Love the post, Erika!

    • Thank you, my dear! I couldn’t agree more–I was SO grateful that he cared so much to tell me something like that.

      Intimacy is such a tough one. Especially because so much needs to happen for the reader to believe the level of intimacy is authentic. I think back to how I wrote so gratuitously in my stories’ intimate scenes before I really had a grip on them in my personal life–which I think just goes to prove that showing intimacy in our writing isn’t about the mechanics as much as the emotions attached to those mechanics.

  4. Very good advice right now when I need it during edits/revisions! Thank you! As for drifting off at the end of sentences, I’m not sure I’ve ever before had that problem, BUT ever since being on Twitter, my husband says I end ever sentence early…. at about 140 characters. Go figure.

  5. Well, maybe so far I am the lone male party-crasher here. I was referred to this site through Greg Gutierrez’s page as he mentioned this site as among his favorites and so I chose to check it out. Your post was especially timely as I have written the manuscript for a book which, although written as fiction, deals with the dark side of today’s workplace. The story is titled “Judas Times Seven” and, as you can guess from the title, it is a story of betrayal through office politics. Bruce, the male lead, is a low-key middle-aged man who is glad to acquire a job in a bank processing facility. He paces his activites at work accordingly and seems to get along fine. Along the way he takes a substantial liking to Janice, who is his lead person on the job as well as the female lead in the story. On the surface she seems to be attracted to him as well, but once he comes clean and confesses, although he confessed to no more than an attraction without any subjective innuendos, the working relationship crashes and seven people behind the scenes plot his ouster. Sadly, they succeed, leaving Bruce high and dry. Story goes on to describe the futility of fighting Corporate America in this day and age, and I believe it would appeal to those who cast a critical eye on the so-called corporate jungle.

    Hope this earns a place on your dance card, and any thoughts on how to proceed with getting this story to market would be greatly appreciated and would be glad to share sample pages upon request. Also any thoughts on where I might be able to find, say, a volunteer mentor.

    • Hi Brian–so glad you stopped by. No party-crashers here–all are welcome to chime in and take a spin around the dance floor.

      We have some great posts in our archives that deal with every aspect (or at least most of them!) on the journey to publication, from stories of finding an agent to working through tough scenes. The posts on query-writing might be a great place to start. As we of the current 2012 Debs are proof, it can be a long and winding road but it sounds like you are on your way. Best of luck in your pursuits!

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