Wow, dogs who actually *want* to take a bath? Who knew!?
Dachshunds can’t wait to take a bath
Well, the sad truth is, you probably will tire of it—right about half way. Or hate it, or doubt it, or think you have SCREWED THIS ONE UP big time because you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.
The other truth is, right around halfway is when so many new writers abandon their manuscripts because they are sure it is going to be a big mucky mess, and hey, that new idea that has come flirting with you is so much shinier and cooler, and it keeps winking at you and whispering in a sultry voice, “Come hither.” Yeah, that must be the one.
You reach dry, bone-parched valleys in the process of writing all books. I have never spoken to a fellow author who was exhilarated through the entire writing process. Novels take a long time. It’s a commitment. Sometimes it’s down and dirty work—showing up and just doing it. And yes, a mucky mess. When I’m in that mucky mess (for the umpteenth time) and bemoaning my progress, my very wise writer friends remind me, “Just get it down. You can’t revise a blank page.”
And that of course is key. Revision. When you finish a draft, it will still be crap, but you can fix that. You can’t fix a blank page.
With all that said, when a shiny new idea comes knocking (with their seductive little smiles) I always tell them to wait. If they are worth spending a year or more of my time with them, they will still be waiting for me when I finish my current project. If they are still needling and poking me at that time, I might examine them a little closer to see if they have legs too and not just a smile. I might jot down a few more ideas about them, an opening line, some fuzzy thoughts, search out the character a little more deeply. And then at some point I know, I CAN’T ignore this story. It’s latched onto me. I have to write it because it’s not going away.
I highly recommend reading writing books on craft. Lots of them, because no one writes or thinks exactly the same way you do, but you can pick up a few tools from each book—ones that fit your hand and your style—and those tools will help you when you hit the valleys that play with your confidence.
Another little trick I use that helps me through the muddle, is a little post-it note that I plant somewhere on my desk. I answer the question, what is the point? Because seriously, sometimes when you are knee-deep in the muddle, you can’t remember! Though there are lots of points and layers in a book, what is the overarching point? Redemption? Belonging? Justice? What does your main character or the world they live in desperately want or need? Sometimes a few words on a post it can be a much needed beacon.
Good luck anon. Power through.
I’ll bet he was a barrel of monkeys at parties!
It’s worth noting that one of Nabokov’s detractors said, in glorious metaphor, that he could “hear the clatter of surgical tools in his prose." Also it’s worth noting that I can imagine many people sneering over the idea of a cage match of Nabokov vs. Stiefvater, as I write commercial supernatural fiction, and he wrote celebrated literary novels that have stood the test of time. Further, further worth noting I haven’t read the essay, so I don’t know the details of his thesis.
That said, I think what makes a good reader is defined entirely by what your goal is as a reader. It’s subjective. If you want to analyze a book’s prose only, I suppose that is a fair way to do it. But it seems like a sterile, incomplete jury.
As a writer, I spend a good deal of time crafting chapters in such a way that it’ll make the reader feel. Tears or laughter or anxiety or even simply temperature. A lot of times, I’m doing it by appealing to experiences readers have already had, throwing out a metaphor to help them climb the ladder to whatever situation I’m trying to get them to experience viscerally. I’m relying on the reader empathizing and identifying. I’ve read that readers store emotional memories from novels in the same places as actual memories, and that’s what I want: to create a story that lives in the same place as your real emotions.
So why would a “good reader” hold themselves impartial? Because an emotional reaction clouds the knowledge of whether or not the prose was accomplished? The emotions are part of the craft!
Of course, emotions are subjective — what pushes one person to catharsis can make another roll their eyes. But I still think it can be analyzed as easily as whether or not the prose or structure is any good; I think there’s as much universality in emotional resonance as there is in style preference.
Even if my goal is to read as a writer, I don’t see the purpose of holding aside my personal baggage. Instead, I come into a novel with all my biased guns firing, and then I watch the novel disarm me or not. Then I ask: how did it do it? How did I suddenly sympathize with this character; why did I start to doubt the pacing here? I don’t think I could effectively use novels as craft textbooks without coming at it as a biased, emotional reader.
Here’s what I think makes a good reader at any level:
- read all the words. If an author fails to convince you on any point and you haven’t read all the words, the first person to blame is yourself, not the author.
- look for layers. The best books say lots of things at the same time, and you can miss out on half a book’s greatness by taking every single sentence at face value only.
- be patient. Especially if you’re reading outside your comfort zone, a book can seem dull or confusing until you learn its language.
- remember that the characters are not the author.
- remember that a flawed character is not necessarily a bad character. Please, internet, please remember this in particular when reading female characters, because it’s getting a little crazy out there.
- shoot your snobbery in the head. You’re doing yourself no favors, and you’re only going to look like a shitnozzle when you look back on yourself ten years later.
ETA: I have now read the essay. And even though he does say identifying with the main character is poor reading, that’s not all that he says, and in context he’s not even really saying that. I disagree with a lot of the language of the essay, and I think it’s stunningly condescending, but I don’t know if I disagree with the heart of what he’s saying, which that in fiction anything is possible, and the good reader remembers that.
Some really great thoughts here, both for readers and for writers!
|—||Tina Fey (via onlinecounsellingcollege)|
“Let your fear drive you to do your homework. But no matter what, don’t ever let your fear stop you.” Yes, yes, YES!!!
Read This: Gene Luen Yang’s rousing comics speech at the 2014 National Book Festival gala
From the Washington Post, article here.
GENE LUEN YANG, Library of Congress, Jefferson Building:
Good evening. Thank you, Library of Congress and National Book Festival, for inviting me to share the stage with such esteemed authors, and to speak with all of you. I am deeply grateful for this honor.
I’m a comic-book guy, so tonight I’d like to talk about another comic book guy. Dwayne McDuffie was one of my favorite writers. When I was growing up, he was one of the few African-Americans working in American comics. Dwayne worked primarily within the superhero genre. He got his start at Marvel Comics but eventually worked for almost every comic book publisher out there. He even branched out into television and wrote for popular cartoon series like “Justice League” and “Ben 10.”
Dwayne McDuffie is no longer with us, unfortunately. He passed away in 2011, at the age of 49. But within comics, his influence is still deeply felt.
I was lucky enough to have met him once. About a year before his death, we were on a panel together at Comic-Con. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me.
In a column Dwayne wrote in 1999, he talked about his love of the Black Panther, a Marvel Comics character. The Black Panther’s secret alias is T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. He has super senses, super strength, and super agility. He’s an Avenger, though he hasn’t yet made it into the movies.
The Black Panther wasn’t created by African American cartoonists. He was created in July of 1966 by two Jewish Americans, Stan Lee (who was born Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (who was born Jacob Kurtzberg).
By modern standards, the Black Panther is not a flawless example of a black superhero. In their first draft of the character, Lee and Kirby called him “the Coal Tiger” and gave him a goofy yellow and black costume. Even in his final form, his superhero alias includes the word “Black.” This is true of many early African and African American superheroes, as if what makes them remarkable is neither their superpowers nor their heroism, but their ethnicity. Most problematic, though, was that Marvel made their most prominent black superhero the star of a series called Jungle Action.
All of these flaws were lost on Dwayne McDuffie when he first encountered the Black Panther in 1973, at the age of 11. What struck him was the character’s commanding sense of dignity. The Black Panther wasn’t anyone’s sidekick. He wasn’t an angry thug. He wasn’t a victim. He was his own hero, his own man. As Dwayne describes it, “In the space of 15 pages, black people moved from invisible to inevitable.”
Dwayne’s love of the Black Panther eventually blossomed into a love of comics in general. Dwayne was a smart guy with a lot of options in life. He’d earned a master’s degree in physics. But he chose to write comics as his career. I would argue that without the Black Panther, this flawed black character created by a writer and an artist who were not black, there would be no Dwayne McDuffie the comic book writer.
Dwayne wasn’t just a writer — he was also a businessman. In the early ’90s, he teamed with a group of writers and artists to found Milestone Media, the most prominent minority-owned comic book company that has ever existed. The Milestone universe have since been folded into DC Comics, so these days characters like Static Shock and Icon – characters Dwayne co-created – fight crime alongside Superman and Batman.
In the early ’90s, I was finishing up my adolescence. I visited my local comic-book store on a weekly basis, and one week I found a book on the stands called Xombi, published by Milestone Media. Xombi is a scientist who became a superhero after he was injected with nanotechnology. He allied himself with a secret order of superpowered nuns. One sister was known as Nun of the Above, another Nun the Less. Together, they protected the world from all kinds of supernatural threats.
Xombi was inventive and fun, but he stood out to me because he was an Asian American male carrying in his own monthly title. And even more notable – he didn’t know Kung Fu. Xombi wasn’t created by Asian Americans – his writer was white and his artist black – but he did make Asian Americans a little less invisible.
We in the book community are in the middle of a sustained conversation about diversity. We talk about our need for diverse books with diverse characters written by diverse writers. I wholeheartedly agree.
But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.
This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.
After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.
I told you the story of Dwayne McDuffie to encourage all of us to be generous with ourselves and with one another. The Black Panther, despite his flaws, was able to inspire a young African American reader to become a writer.
We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.
Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.
Also, it’s okay if stereotypes emerge in the first drafts of your colleagues. Correct them – definitely correct them – but do so in a spirit of generosity. Remember how soul-wrenching the act of writing is, how much courage it took for that writer to put words down on a page.
And let’s say you do your best. You put in all the effort you can. But then when your book comes out, the Internet gets angry. You slowly realize that, for once, the Internet might be right. You made a cultural misstep. If this happens, take comfort in the fact that even flawed characters can inspire. Apologize if necessary, resolve do better, and move on.
Let your fear drive you to do your homework. But no matter what, don’t ever let your fear stop you.
get to know me meme: favorite male characters [5/5] → Tim Riggins
“This young man has done a lot of things wrong. I’ve seen him do a dozen things wrong, but let me tell you something right now. He is not a bad young man, and he’s certainly not a criminal. And I can tell you this kid right here has got more heart than almost any person I know.”
A summer full of shared readings / Un verano lleno de lecturas compartidas (ilustración de Marie-Louise Gay)
The Pioneer Woman on Instagram - October 2, 2013