I’ve been thinking a lot about what Cheri said when she blogged a few weeks back. You know, how we need to write for ourselves and no one else. That we need to write for the joy of writing. Like good ol’ JD Salinger–we need to write for the pleasure of putting words to paper. You know (again) sell a googillion books, then stuff the rest of our manuscripts in drawers and drink our own pee. Or grow flowers that smell of pee.
(Bits of the following story have been changed to make the story sound better.)
Yesterday I went to an Authorpalooza with Ms Ann Dee Ellis. She came to pick me up. I greeted her with, “Now don’t get mad, but guess what? Little, Brown just offered the lady who won the Printz a 2-million dollar advance for a four book deal.” (Earlier I said to Cheri, “Do not tell Ann Dee about this. It might hurt her feelings.” Then I went running outside and shouted it to her before she had even backed out of my driveway.)
“Have I told you lately all the people I hate?” I asked. I would have checked my hair in the mirror on the sun visor but I’m not that kind of girl.
I nodded. “Yes, I hate two million people.”
“No, a two million dollar advance?”
“Yes, can you believe it? The Printz AND 2 googillion dollars. I would have taken one of those.”
“I’ve decided,” Ann Dee said, not even steering erractically like I would have been if I had heard this news, “that I am going to be happy no matter what.”
Now she nodded.
Did this mean I wasn’t going to get to tell her all the people I hated at the moment?
The fact of the matter was, and is, that I had thought this very thing. Not the hate thing. The feeling happy no matter what thing. The thing that Cheri Pray Earl and JD Salinger (minus pee) and now Ann Dee were saying. I had already made that very decision: to be happy with my life.
(“Here it is,” Cheri would say if I were talking to her on the phone.) It’s sad and it’s ugly and you all are going to have to turn your heads when I say this, but I’m not sure how to be happy with what I have.
I need to say that I am very happy with my daughters. I would much rather have had my children than publish. They are the best part of my life. And I am happy with my friends, and that I have very little debt now, and that I have a bit less stress in my life, and that Kyra plays the piano and Carolina is mostly cheerful and that Laura has a terrific boyfriend who likes me, too, and that Cait is enjoying her job and that Elise is loving school. That list goes on and on.
So, I have to change this sentence a little: It’s sad and it’s ugly and you all are going to have to turn your heads when I say this, but I’m not sure how to be happy with what I have in my writing life. I haven’t figured it out. I’m jealous when people sell googillion-zillions of their books and when I read those novels I can’t believe how badly written they are and how the plot stinks and how the even on the sentence level the stories fail and yet people buy buy buy these stories.
I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I ask my friends.
“People want plot.”
I thought my stories had plot.
“They want a good story teller.”
Aren’t I a good story-teller?
“They don’t care about powerful language.”
What?! Why not?
What my friends are saying to me is that I write beautifully but that I am a lousy story-teller who has no idea what a plot is and gets offended when someone says beautiful language doesn’t matter. Are they right? (I’m not asking you to respond. I’m just thinking this through.) Are they?
I just don’t get it. And my not getting what I’m doing wrong causes me to hate others. (But not drink my own pee, which I think is good. Not the pee. The me not drinking it. Whatever.) No, really, not getting it? It makes me feel all confused.
Because I don’t get it I can’t resolve my unhappy feeling about my writing.
I will say this–my good friend Mette Ivie Harrison said that fantasy readers excuse the flaws of the genre and trade for a strong plot–but not one that is too complicated (Mette is seriously smart, everyone.). (Also, I think Mette’s theory goes for many readers not just fantasy readers.) (Is it acceptable to put these parenthetical statements side-by-side like this?)
Another friend of mine, librarian Pat Castelli, says that readers are blind to style.
And a Newbery winning author once told me, “Just write something good and people will read it.” Oh, yes. Thank you for that advice. All this time I was writing bad things hoping people would read that.
There is truth in all the statements above. But even these truths have not answered my sadness of watching good books, truly terrific books, get passed over for lists and awards and etc. Two of my friends books were passed over for ALA Best books and I was simply sick. Sick. Two of the best books written last year, passed over.
The real truth is that we writers are sensitive. Way more sensitive than anyone else in the whole wide world. That’s why we write. And I bet, if we took a poll of REAL writers (maybe I will blog about what I think REAL writers are some day), we’d see they mostly feel the way I do–unsettled and pained over their writing and what happens to it.
And also about the pee.