First, a quick administrative note: I am so sorry if you’ve recently had any problems with posting comments here! Apparently all comments are going into the spam folder, and I didn’t notice until a few days ago. Now that I know, I’ll keep a better eye on things, as well as search for a fix.
It was an important milestone in my personal writing journey to realize that these were not the same thing. In fact, I often find I might agree with McKee’s statement that story talent is rare. When a book is weak, it is seldom the literary writing that has disappointed me, but the design and telling of the story itself that I have problems with. Additionally, books lacking in beautiful phrases and witty dialogue, somehow still have me turning pages because the design of the story is so good.
Our impulse as writers is to attempt to salvage the words, to make good on the promise we made to ourselves when we penned the very first line. While there is beauty in perseverance, sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is let it go, and give yourself the freedom to begin again.
I’ve always been fine with that. I don’t need Publishing to be my friend. I don’t even need Publishing to like me. As a writer, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me a career. And as a reader, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me books I want to read.
That last sentence is going to be my thesis statement for this entire blog post, so maybe I should put it in bold.
Publishing tries to give people books they want to read.
A few nights ago, I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. As I tweeted the other night:
My thoughts can be further articulated by this well-written, thoughtful review at Wired. (Warning: There are MAJOR SPOILERS for both new and old Trek films!) While I agree with almost everything in that review, good and bad, I want to be clear: Overall I really enjoyed the movie, despite its imperfections.
Also, in talking with Andy about it on the drive home, I found myself remembering the many ways in which Star Trek touched my childhood.
My “sister” Alex started everything by introducing me to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I used to squirm with excitement each week as 7 PM approached on the day of a new episode. I sat on the edge of the coffee table because it put me closest to the TV, closest to the action. I hummed along with the opening credits.
My affection quickly spilled over the allotted time slot and into my daily play. I turned cardboard boxes into navigation consoles, tire pressure gauges into hyposprays, and the fireplace into a warp core. I pretended to explore new planets, stun hostile aliens with my phaser, and of course go on dates with certain charming crew members.
My first “serious” stories were fanfiction for The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. (With occasional JAG crossovers, hehe.) I created original characters and sent them on missions with the beloved regulars — learning about pacing and conflict through trial and error, as well as practicing grammar and flow.
On a subconscious level, I think Star Trek also taught me to value science, teamwork, peace, and integrity. When I realized “Trekkie” was basically synonymous with “nerd,” I learned to wear that label with pride. And honestly, when I think about an ideal future for our world, a lot of it is based on Gene Roddenberry’s visions and predictions.
It’s amazing to me how one man’s stories grew into such a vast empire, and how those stories have impacted so many lives and minds, including mine. Amazing, humbling, and inspiring. This is what good writing can do.
After getting engaged, getting sick, and then hosting friends for a few days, I am back with a vengeance. And by vengeance, I mean “poem.” And by “poem,” I mean thing that I wrote after reading and loving and being inspired by an actual poem, written by Barbara Ras. (Big thanks to my friend Rose for sharing it on her blog.)
You Can’t Have It All
But you can have the wood behind your house and its hidden multitudes
of birds, rabbits, and deer. You can have the rise and fall of a dog’s warm, furry chest
beneath your palm, as you sit on the couch trying to work.
You can have the hum of the refrigerator and the cyclic rumble and whine
of the washing machine, the noises of home, which remind you
there will always be a familiar place to come back to. And when it is August,
you can have heat and abundantly so. You can have hope
though it will often be bittersweet, like the chunks of dark chocolate
that you nibble on throughout the day, sugar melting on your tongue,
until you realize hope isn’t the same as conviction.
You can have the softness of your soulmate’s cheek,
pressed against your lips. You can have the garden of imagination,
creeping upward into the sunlight, less than wild,
but more than the seeds that others plant
and never water.
You can reach for your mother’s heritage, sometimes,
and brush it with your fingertips. You can pray to the god you don’t believe in
when you worry about those you love. You can’t fix everything,
but you can find the best parts of yourself in the worst of times
and polish them brighter than silver. And you can be grateful
for tank tops, the cool air on your bare arms, too little, too much, grateful
for TV shows that make you laugh and cry, for books
that take you to another world, and for deeper adventures,
for airplanes, for trains. You can have the dream,
the dream of Greece, the ruins of Greece and you walking among history.
You can have your grandmother listening to you play piano,
in a Christmas memory, you can have waves and chalkboards, the fogging
of windows, and oil sizzling like radio static as it jumps from the skillet.
You can’t expect success to float down to you like a leaf
but here is your friend to teach you how to keep swimming,
how to fight your fear of drowning, onward,
until it doesn’t matter how far or fast you go, only that you continue,
and here are bluebonnets, bunk beds, photos developing in a slow fade
under dim red lights. And when adulthood isn’t what you expected,
you can summon the memory of fairy wings tied to the costume
of your childhood, the M&M Blizzards and chili cheese fries
that you ate with your parents every time you went to the sailboat.
There is the wind you still hear on the roof, like a friend,
it will always sing, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
I promise not to go on about the engagement forever, but a few people have asked about the scrapbook Andy made of his other proposal ideas, so here are a handful of my favorites.
Andy and I don’t have a song, but we do have a movie. And that movie, of all things, is Mulan. Because as soon as I found out that he hadn’t watched it, I borrowed my roommate’s copy and marched over to Andy’s dorm room. (I was a sophomore, he a junior.) It was the perfect excuse to spend an evening together, and after a couple hours of sitting next to each other on his futon, buzzing with electricity anytime our knees or elbows bumped, we finally confessed our feelings for one another.
For the Mulan Proposal Plan, Andy was thinking of taking me to a movie theater, ostensibly to see something else (i.e., something current), but the surprise would be an empty theater showing Mulan for just the two of us, followed by his proposal at the end. A super sweet idea, but Andy was worried that the suspense and excitement would fizzle out over the course of the movie.
Like the Mulan plan, this one hinges on our shared history. New House 5 is where we met — the top floor of my freshman dorm, for which Andy was my RA. And then he was RA again the year after — for a different set of kids, but I visited him a lot. And then I was the RA on that floor for the next 2 years. So many of our fondest memories, both together and independent, are rooted in New House 5. It was and forever will be a home in our hearts.
Getting engaged there would definitely have been meaningful and wonderful, but since everyone we know has graduated by now, I’m not sure he could have taken me back without arousing suspicion.
The seeds of Andy’s final proposal plan are probably first visible in May of 2010, with the Art in the Window scheme. This concept hinged on the fact that whenever we travel, we buy a piece of art as our souvenir. (Andy loves stuff, but I do not, so this is our compromise. No snow globes or keychains for me, thanks!) His idea was to lure me into a specific art gallery, and then after I expressed fondness for whichever item, the owner would say that he had other similar, better offerings in the back.
In the back room, the owner would show me through a series of paintings or sculptures — each created by one of my family or friends — which together would tell a story. Andy would unveil the final masterpiece himself: his proposal, in art form.
The logistics of this would probably have been a nightmare, but I’m glad that the core concepts — meaningful creations, friend involvement, sneakery — made it into the final proposal.
I think this might be the coolest, but also the riskiest, of Andy’s scrapped ideas. First, he would have had to sneak the ring with us to Ecuador without my seeing. Then, he would have had to plant the ring in a secluded snorkeling area. Finally, he would have had to propose underwater (!!).
While I adore the idea, the reality is that we were housed in a room smaller than some SUVs. He wore swim trunks most of the time. The currents were strong, and the wildlife were unpredictable. Either I would have seen the ring, or else a sea lion would have stolen it.
Plus, this was the trip where I discovered I was allergic to the sun. I would not have been happy to be proposed to when I looked half lizard, all bumpy and itchy and red.
And of course, the one that finally planned out. When Andy made this page for the scrapbook, he didn’t have all the details ironed out — namely, how he would present the book to me — he just knew that this is the one he wanted to go with.
It wasn’t the most elaborate or exotic of his ideas, but it was so thoughtful. So well-executed. So… me.
The scrapbook holds about a dozen other proposal plans — planting a tree together, watching a meteor shower, serenading me on-stage with Keith Urban — but the ones above were my favorite.
A rather unassuming looking book, but now one of my most beloved in the world. Along with THE STORY SO FAR, of course.
Disclosure: I make money off this site. Very little, but I want to be open about it. There are ads in the sidebar, and sometimes Amazon Affiliate links in the posts. I never do paid content or reviews. That's it. So are we cool? Awesome!
My Web Serial / Ebook
Beautiful and confident Sophie Lin, goody-goody aspiring writer Claudia Bradford, and boy-crazy scientist MJ Alexander are ready to tackle work, love, and life after college -- or so they think.
As their relationships go sour, their careers sputter, and a few too many ethical dilemmas arise, the girls turn to the one thing they can always count on: each other. But even that will be put to the test...
Welcome to New House 5. It’s not just the top floor of a brand new dorm. For 56 freshmen, it’s home. A place where friends are made and doors are always open. A place where hearts are broken and tears are shed.
Watch as these students try to overcome their flaws and fears to create a bond so special that nothing can pull them apart. Not even themselves.