I can’t tell you how many times writers hand me a stack of pages and ask, “Is it any good?”
I’ve stopped answering this question. Sure, some writing is better than others. Sure, I have strong opinions about what makes a good story. But I’ve become increasingly wary of writers’ need to ask this question and my ability to answer it.
When a work-in-progress is deemed “good” by a reader, what purpose does this serve? All artists—all humans—want and need external affirmation; to continue hard work, we need our efforts affirmed and the essence of our endeavors recognized. Continue reading
After allowing my novel to rest for half a year, I launched back in to make some major changes. I restructured the first hundred pages, shifted the personality of the main character, and changed her reasons for making a pivotal decision. As I revised, I experienced the complicated joy of being fully immersed in a project. The sensation is one of absolute concentration—I move into the cosmos of the book and see nothing beyond its boundaries—coexisting with absolute rebellion. I squirm, I want to get a glass of water, and then ice, then a coaster. I need to clip my toenails. When these powerful, contrary forces rise up, I know I’m in the heat of writing.
This discomfort reminds me of meditation, how part of me is drawn into the vast oblivion of silence and another part fights mightily to maintain the dignity of selfhood. Continue reading
If I had to point to one piece of writing advice that upon which my work is built, it would be the fervent words of children’s author Jane Yolen. She had just finished a lecture on the importance of addressing faith questions in books for kids, despite the fact that the primary book-buyers are public schools and public libraries, when a member of the audience challenged her: Shouldn’t writers be accountable to those who buy the books? Yolen got angry. “All writers are accountable to three things, in this order: First we’re accountable to the story. Second we’re accountable to ourselves. Only lastly are we accountable to our audience.”
So many of us jumble these priorities! Continue reading