Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Choices (or, Why I Don't Have a Six Pack)

Recently, a friend posted a "fitspiration" meme that got my hackles up a little. 

This is it:

Now, I don't see anything inherently wrong in that sentiment--a person who trains his or her body is showing dedication, patience, persistence, and a host of other positive traits that have nothing to do with the end result of "attractiveness."


You know what else takes dedication, patience, persistence, and a host of other positive traits?

Writing a book.

Writing several.

Pursuing publication.

And here's the rub--doing so has left me with less time to pursue other ends.  Like working out.  Before I had a child, I did work out multiple times a week, hard.  I did cardio.  I went to a gym.  I had a dedicated schedule and recognized the other people who had the same schedule I did.

Now I have a choice.  I work, have a child, have a house, and writing is important to me.  Here's the truth, in a nutshell--you can't actually do it ALL.  You can do most of the things you decide that you value, if you budget your time and work your tail off.

It's like that old adage about college: You can have a social life, good grades, or sleep--pick two.  But you can't pick all three, all at the same time.  You can't do it all.  Not this week.

Nope, you can't do it ALL.  Just the stuff you decide you value the MOST.

Guess what?  Being as fit as I can be is not, right now, on the top of the list of things that I value the MOST.

I value being healthy.  I value cooking healthy meals and taking walks and doing core strength exercise while my kid stacks blocks on my imperfect plank position.  But I don't value having a six-pack over finishing my latest draft.  I don't value Michele Obama arms over wrapping up revisions with my agent.  And I definitely don't value looking hot in a swimsuit over getting my book on a bookstore shelf someday.

It's ok to value elements of your life differently than other people do.  Everyone's goals and talents and life situations are different.  Mine revolve around writing and my family and a few choice hobbies.  Yours might revolve around music, or your career, or fitness, or restoring your house, or rescuing abandoned ferrets.  Tons of passions out there.  But pursuing one thing over another does not mean that you are any less dedicated, passionate, patient, and driven than someone with rock-hard abs.

So, why do I think authors are amazing?  Not because they have published books or a stack of drawer novels.  Because they're dedicated, disciplined, patient people with more than the usual dose of determination and self-respect.  A finished draft shows me work ethic.  A revision shows me passion.  Keep writing, because an author is so much more than how good his or her stack of drafts looks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Reads: History of the World in Six Glasses

Genre: Nonfiction

By: Tom Standage

What's it about?  How six beverages, still popular today, influenced and shaped world history and culture
Why did I pick it? It was a gift.  And honestly--I typically skip "pop history" like this because it's forced into the kinds of generalizations that can make a historian twitch.  However, had I picked it up on my own, I would have found the delivery enjoyable and thought-provoking anyway.

Who will like it?  Hardcore historians may find the treatment too surfacey, but those with an interest in broader historical topics, the history of their favorite beverage (like where, exactly, did beer come from?  Did you know it used to be drunk from straws?), and the interplay of what we eat and drink with social customs will be drawn to the book. 

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  The multiple covers of this book all show what the book tells about--six glasses of well-loved beverages.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Revising Out Damn Good Writing

One of my tutoring students wrote an amazing paragraph.  She was writing a comp paper analyzing a short story, and pointed out a really brilliant interpretation of one section.  It was well-written and insightful.

The trouble was, it didn't fit in her paper.  At all.  She was writing a paper analyzing symbolism with a strong thesis to match, and this piece, while very interesting, was a complete non sequitor.  It was a blaring interuption in the middle of a well-organized paper.

So we put it on the "back burner" which is my shorthand for telling students, "You don't have to throw it out right now, but if you can't find a way to make it work, it will be easy to know what section needs to go."

Just because something is good doesn't mean it belongs.

It's another angle on "kill your darlings."  I think we sometimes fail to acknowledge that those darlings are not only bits that we like, but are often objecively good.  Damn good.  Well-written, insightful, provocative, interesting, beautiful.  It still might need to be revised out of your work.  Just because it's a damn good piece of writing doesn't mean it belongs--in your English paper or in your novel.

We take a lot of things out of our novels during the revision provess--cliches, placeholder words, weak writing.  The thing is, we often need to take good things out, as well.  Well-written scenes that interupt the storyline.  Fantastic, witty, well-rounded characters who just don't fit (and man, but they fight to stay in, don't they?).  Beautiful description that, unfortunately, does nothing but bog down a section that needs to be pacey. 

If it helps, don't delete it outright.  This is what I do--I keep the damn good writing that has to go in a new, separate document.  Call it the recycling bin.  Or the back burner.  It can always go back in if you find a way to make it work.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Reads: The Story Collector

Genre: Short story...ish.

By: Susan Price

What's it about?  An eccentric, wealthy, aging man decides to collect stories from his servants and their network of lower-class friends.
Why did I pick it? There are certain books from my childhood I remember, vividly, adoring.  Susan Price's Ghost Drum is one of those books, so, in this magical world of e-readers, I decided to see what she's been up to in recent years.

Who will like it?  If you enjoy swapping tales with friends, or listening to storytellers, or telling ghost stories around a campfire, the style and delivery of The Story Collecter may interest you.  There are also elements of various folk and fairy tales woven into the stories, so folk tale enthusiasts will enjoy chasing the trails of stories they recognize.

Judging a book by its cover: Can you for this book?  The silhouette art motif draws together the many storytellers "collected" in the book, and pays homage to the silhouette portrait art popular at the historically imagined time the "collection" takes place.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Would a Grown-Up Read Young Adult?

There are two kinds of grown-up readers in the world.  Grown-ups who enjoy young adult fiction and grown-ups who deride young adult fiction.

Maybe I'm exaggerating.  But I've never met someone my own age or older who didn't either admit, maybe a little sheepishly, "Yeah, I'm reading that Marie Lu Legend trilogy...and I like it a lot" or state adamantly, "I don't get why grown people read kid books." No one seems to be on the fence, unopinionated, just kind of meh on young adult lit.

I'm not saying grown-ups have to like young adult books.  Not at all.  To say that would imply that everyone should like everything, and we all know that's not a realistic outlook.  I don't care for romance novels.  There, I've said it.  I'm not big on most epic fantasy.  Don't make me read Dickens, because you know what? His novels make me roll my eyes.  (Now, his short fiction, on the other hand...but I digress). 

But I'm not going say I don't understand why people read romance, or epic fantasy, or Dickens.  There's something to connect to in each, if you're seeking that particular connection.

I think that people who don't see why adults read young adult don't understand the connection adults make with the books.  They see young adult as a genre that's written about adolescents, for adolescents.

That's not really the case.  Young adult is a genre written about adolescence, not for adolescents

That might seem obtuse.  Here's the thing.  Adolescence isn't just a period of rapid physical growth, unfortunate acne, and confusing hormones.  Adolescence is a period of self-discovery, change, and growing into oneself. 

If you think that people, once they can vote, buy a beer, and rent a car have finished discovering themselves, changing, and growing, then I say that a) it makes sense why you don't connect with young adult literature and b) I think you're wrongsies.  Wrongsies on so many counts.  I've grown and changed--fundamentally changed--through so many adult experiences.  Marriage, new jobs, having a kid, moving--all experiences that foment personal change.

And all experiences that connect to what you might read in young adult literature. 

Katniss takes Prim's place in the Games and says "Shoot dang, who I was and what I did prepared me a little bit for this, but not nearly enough.  I need to change.  I need to change, fast."  I got married and say "Wowza, who I was before and the experiences I had give me some framework for this relationship, but not nearly enough.  I need to adapt."

Harry Potter finds out he's a wizard and says "Oh man, who the heck am I now? I thought I was one person, and I find I'm something else." I had a child and say "Wow, does this change who I am? I thought I was one person, and now I discover new elements of my personality."

Life keeps changing, we keep changing.  We keep learning more about who we are.  That element of adolescence never really ends.  And I'm in no way saying that reading young adult lit is the only way to connect to that fundamental experience, or that, if you don't enjoy YA, you're a stagnant and unchanging person.  Just like, if you don't like romance novels, I would never assume you have a black and bitter heart incapable of love. 

But we read, in many ways, to connect.  And there is something unique in what we connect to in YA, for those of us who enjoy it.

Or maybe we're just perpetually seventeen.

What do you think?  Is Young Adult for everyone, or are adults who gravitate toward it "reading down?"