Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
|—||10 word story (via hiddeninstars)|
— Ray Bradbury
T.S. Eliot, born on September 26, 1888, on idea-incubation and the mystical quality of creativity
My friend Christine Heppermann’s book POISONED APPLES: POEMS FOR YOU MY PRETTY released this week. This collection is an unabashedly feminist look at girls, body image, and eating disorders told through the lens of fairy tales, designed for young adults.
The book is arriving at an interesting…
This makes me proud to be writing YA for young women. Thank you, Anne, for saying it better than I ever could. The whole thing is worth a read, but I especially love this part:
“Girls are told in ways large and small, that they are silly, that they do not matter, that their job is to become invisible. And so they become invisible.
The way women get treated in the media, on the internet, casually, is, among many other things, a serious failure of empathy in our society. Women who speak out, who dare to exist and have opinions, get rape and death threats, get slut-shamed, get pictures of their bodies leaked on the internet. The failure of empathy gets repeated, again and again, by organizations and institutions that see rape threats (or actual rape) as a cost of doing business and nothing worth acting upon.
You don’t matter, these institutions say.
And girls hear the message, again and again.
The girls are not all right. They wage wars on their own bodies, and should they dare to speak out about something, people will wage war against them.
Books for girls matter. Books for kids, teenagers matter. And that’s why we write them.”
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!