Tag: Stuff Worth Reading (Page 2 of 15)

How a story starts

“What Form It Will Take” by Roxana Robinson

I start out with a particular moment that I find troubling, or compelling, or devastating. Sometimes it’s a moment that I’ve been part of; sometimes it’s something that I’ve watched happen; sometimes it’s something I’ve heard about. That moment itself is always drawn from life; it’s always a moment that I find deeply disturbing. If it’s powerful enough, then I need to write about it.

My task then is to write a narrative that will make that moment become as powerful for you, the reader, as it was for me, the writer. I must describe a landscape, introduce characters, and create the action as it unfolds, but all of this is directed toward the creation of that last vivid moment—difficult and breathtaking—that I found so compelling.

This is often how it starts for me as well. Not always, but often.

It’s like the eye of a storm. Everything else can swirl around in chaos — characters, setting, plot points, language. It can all be thrown about, changed, destroyed. But what’s at the center, that emotional core, that’s where you as the writer have to stand and stay and make your home. That’s where you have to bring the reader. Into the heart of it all.

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Roxane Gay and writing about oneself

“Having a Heart, Being Alive” by Roxane Gay

I am a fiction writer who stumbled into writing nonfiction. Though I had written a handful of essays as a younger writer, I spent most of my time writing stories and trying to lose myself in the lives of imaginary others.

I also resented how as a woman, it seemed like to write nonfiction, I had to savage my own life to find stories people would be willing to hear. I wanted to keep my stories to myself.

When I began to write more essays, I thought carefully about the choices I would make in exploring myself. What parts of my life was I willing to expose? What parts of my life was I willing to share? I didn’t want to simply bare my pain and have that be enough. At the same time, I was tired of carrying my past around, unexamined.

Why do these explorations of myself matter? How do I make them matter? How do I make my words more than catharsis, more than mere excavations of pain?

I’m still finding my way to the answers to these questions.

There are never going to be universally satisfying answers to these questions. That’s okay.

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Stuff worth reading

“Letter to My Younger Self” by James Brown

I don’t care what the circumstances might be — you always stand on truth. No matter what the tide might be, no matter the trend or how the winds are blowing, you always stand on truth.

A mistake is an opportunity for those open to self-reflection, and you will make plenty. And they will make you better.

“On Growing Up” by Meg Fee (who feels like a kindred spirit to me and has quickly become one of my favorite personal bloggers)

You will arrive at an age when you develop this insatiable need for the conversations that come at the end of the day.

Oh, you’ll want the other stuff too—this kisses and the sex and the Sunday morning coffee runs. But there is a thing so particular about needing a person in which to empty secrets big and small.

You do not have to be liked by everyone. Let me say that again: YOU. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO. BE. LIKED. BY. EVERYONE. And you must be courageous enough to accept that.

The great challenge of adulthood (other than figuring out just what the hell it is you are actually doing with your life) is learning to speak honestly and kindly. Finding where those two things live—which, I’m pretty sure, is in that sacred space where courage and self-worth meet.

“Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure” via the Guardian

It took me a long time to understand the nuances of success and failure, to see how they are often intertwined, how success to one person is failure to another.

The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion, that these illusions will keep you from the desk, they will spoil your talent; they will eat away at your life and your sleep and the way you speak to the people you love.

The writer’s life is one of great privilege, so “Suck it up”, you might say – there are more fans than trolls. But there are two, sometimes separate, ambitions here. One is to get known, make money perhaps and take a bow – to be acknowledged by that dangerous beast, the crowd. The other is to write a really good book.

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Stuff worth reading

“No Indian Friends” by Priya-Alika Elias

I’m thinking of answers to questions that we’re embarrassed to ask, like why we’re so quick to describe ourselves as “white on the inside.” I’m thinking of answers we don’t have yet, ways we can tear the roots of internalized racism out of little brown kids. I’m thinking of Toni Morrison explaining how she embraces the title “black woman writer,” because she didn’t consider it reductive to be writing as a black woman. It isn’t a place of weakness, she said. It’s a place of strength.

“The Fire and the Snow” by Jennifer Tseng

Writing a convincing story is like setting fire to your own hands using only the match of your imagination. Success seems unlikely but it is possible. In both scenarios, no one really goes anywhere and yet in both scenarios, with practice and concentration, hearts beat faster and bodies grow warmer.

“What Makes a Woman Is Less Important Than What Makes a Feminist” by Jill Filipovic

Part of the work is to push ideological boundaries, to listen to each other with respect even if that doesn’t translate into agreement, and to face injustice head-on while building the foundations of a kinder, more flexible, more expansive society.

“Hi. I used to be transphobic. Here’s a story about that.” by Sara Benincasa

I’ve come a very long way in this regard, and I feel good about that. Not proud, exactly – I don’t think one deserves a pat on the back for realizing, “Hey, I’m a hateful fucking asshole. I should stop being one of those.” But I’ve shown myself that people can change, if they want to. Person to person contact is the most important aspect of change. It is hard to look into another person’s eyes and hear their honest story and still fear them, or hate them, or see them as less than you.

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“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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