Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

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Category: Reading/Writing (Page 1 of 79)

“How to Be a Writer” by M. Molly Backes

This is kind of an old post, but it’s new to me (via Rose).

Let her have secrets. Let her have her own folder on the family computer. Avoid the temptation to read through her notebooks. Writing should be her safe haven, her place to experiment, her place to work through her confusion and feelings and thoughts. If she does share her writing with you, be supportive of her hard work and the journey she’s on. Ask her questions about her craft and her process. Ask her what was hardest about this piece and what she’s most proud of. Don’t mention publication unless she mentions it first. Remember that writing itself is the reward.

Let her fail. Let her write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. Let her write dreadful fan fiction. Don’t freak out when she shows you stories about Bella Swan making out with Draco Malfoy. Never take her writing personally or assume it has anything to do with you, even if she only writes stories about dead mothers and orphans.

Let her go without writing if she wants to. Never nag her about writing, even if she’s cheerful when writing and completely unbearable when she’s not. Let her quit writing altogether if she wants to.

Let her publish embarrassingly personal stories in the school literary magazine. Let her spill the family’s secrets. Let her tell the truth, even if you’d rather not hear it.

Let her sit outside at night under the stars. Give her a flashlight to write by.

Let her find her own voice, even if she has to try on the voices of a hundred others first to do so. Let her find her own truth, even if she has to spin outrageous lies in search of it.

Let her write thinly-veiled memoirs disguised as fiction.

Keep her safe but not too safe, comfortable but not too comfortable, happy but not too happy.

Link again here at the end, because it really is worth reading in full.

Some of this is just good parenting. Some of it was 100% spot-on to my own childhood. I don’t think my parents were intentionally raising a writer, but they did a good job of it anyway.

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Stuff worth reading

“On how to live life ‘on fire with the same force that made the stars'” by my friend Rose

Every day I recalibrate and try to do better at living with bravery and pushing what I thought were my limits, but I also remember to be kind to myself.

We limit ourselves all the time. We create boxes, we set boundaries, and write ourselves into corners because we are terrified that if we approach something greater, that we will fail. What if, instead, we imagined immensities?

From a Facebook post by David Gerrold, a writer for Star Trek: The Original Series:

Star Trek was about social justice from day one — the stories were about the human pursuit for a better world, a better way of being, the next step up the ladder of sentience.

“Write, Erase, Do It Over: On Failure, Risk and Writing Outside Yourself,” an interview with Toni Morrison

I may be wrong about this, but it seems as though so much fiction, particularly that by younger people, is very much about themselves. Love and death and stuff, but my love, my death, my this, my that. Everybody else is a light character in that play.

When I taught creative writing at Princeton, [my students] had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends. Think of somebody you don’t know. What about a Mexican waitress in the Rio Grande who can barely speak English? Or what about a Grande Madame in Paris? Things way outside their camp. Imagine it, create it. Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through. I was always amazed at how effective that was. They were always out of the box when they were given license to imagine something wholly outside their existence. I thought it was a good training for them. Even if they ended up just writing an autobiography, at least they could relate to themselves as strangers.

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HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway

On Monday I decided to ignore the computer and silence the phone, and to just read instead. Partly because I have a book club meeting coming up, and partly because I could feel that my mind and body needed this. It’s so easy to be a slave to the screen, to social media, to all the alerts and messages vying for my attention. I wanted to assert my freedom. I wanted to establish a boundary.

It was wonderful. I read ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes in its entirety. (And I used up the better half of a tissue box while doing so!) I can’t remember the last time I sat and focused on one thing that way, for that long. It felt great. Almost like meditation.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I don’t have favorite lines from it to share and reflect upon. It wasn’t quotable in that way. I think part of the reason it could make a great movie is because it’s more about the plot and less about the prose. Also because Emilia Clarke has been perfectly cast as Louisa.

How to Be an American HousewifeAnyway, I do have a small backlog of books that are quotable, so I’m going to highlight one of those today instead. First up, my friend Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. This book came out a few years ago, but the subject matter is timeless to me. It’s about a Japanese woman reflecting upon her early life and what led her to marry an American man, as well as about their daughter’s journey back to Japan to reconnect with family and culture.

“You are right to be afraid,” he said, “but where does this fear lead you? Nowhere. You must let go of fear.”

It’s easy to tell someone, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” But the truth is, there’s plenty to be afraid of, so I love the idea of accepting fear as reasonable and real, but then setting it aside anyway. It’s hard — but valuable — to be able to sit with an uncomfortable feeling without letting it overtake you.

Forgiveness is a skill that, like cleanliness, should be learned early and practiced often.

What a smart and beautiful analogy. I’ve read a little bit about forgiveness lately — especially in the wake of the Charleston shooting, here and here. I’ve also been thinking about forgiveness in the context of an old friendship that soured. What I realized is that I may not fully understand the nuances of it. I think I’m better at forgetting, burying, “moving on.” But maybe that’s not the healthiest way? Maybe I need to practice more.

“Is it funny to feel homesick for a place I’ve never been before?”

In my opinion? No. Because that’s how I felt the first time I explored Madrid. I recognized it as a home of my heart, even though I had never been there before. (At least not in this lifetime…)

“If you wait for happiness to find you, you may be waiting a long time.”

I think I’m good at this one. My whole life, I’ve gone after what I wanted. I’ve failed often enough, but I try not to let that deter me. I guess it’s the whole “you can’t win the lottery if you never buy a ticket” thing.

Do not protest against life’s strains, but let them unfold and carry you through wherever they may.

This one is harder for me. I’m an emotional person, so life’s disappointments and injustices do hit me hard sometimes.

Sometimes letting go brought more peace than holding on, I realized, though it was harder to do.

And this, to me, seems very interconnected with the previous quote, as well as with forgiveness. All I can say is, I’m working on it. On all of it.

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“There’s a lot to be said for the long game”

My college friend Michael Szczerban is now an editor, and he also contributes interviews to Poets & Writers magazine. From his latest, a roundtable with 4 young agents:

Ballard: I often take people on and then work with them for a very long time. The first novel I sold this year was something I had worked with the author on for four years. It wasn’t that I was editing every line. We just had to find out what the story was. I work very closely with my clients, and I bet everyone in this room does. The better you make the book, the better the sale.

Flashman: Your point is really important because sometimes writers think, “Oh, I’ve got an agent! We’re sending it out, it’s going to be a best-seller tomorrow!”

Habib: There’s a lot to be said for the long game. Look for an agent who’s in it for the long haul.

This turns out to be a fitting post for today since Twitter tells me that it is Agents Day. I’ve been with my agent, Tina Wexler, since April of last year. In that time, she has already proven to be a kind, wise, generous, and patient advocate. Even when I lay bare my insecurities and frustrations, she guides me through them with confidence and grace. Sometimes I worry that I’m a bit of a disappointment to her, like an investment that hasn’t panned out. But then I remember that she’s in it for the long haul, and so am I, and the years ahead hold unlimited potential.

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“All roads lead to writing”

From “Just. Keep. Writing.” by Victoria (V.E.) Schwab (with bold emphasis added by me):

The fact of the matter is, if you’ve written a book, and it doesn’t sell, and you want to keep going, you need to write another. If you’ve written a book, and it does sell, but doesn’t do well, you need to write another. If you’ve written a book, and it does well, you need to write another. All roads lead to writing.

And this is good, because when it comes to publishing, very little is in your control. But the one thing you CAN control is the book. The words you put on the page.

So when everything is going well, and when everything is falling apart, you have to keep writing. It is your tether in the storm, and your grounding when you might otherwise float away. It’s easy to lose focus, to get caught up in the successes and failures, but you must. keep. writing.

From a speech given by agent Jim McCarthy:

Your greatest asset is your writing. But almost equal to that? Your endurance, your fortitude, your belief in yourself.

Both links are very much worth reading in full.

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