Homer: “I just hope we put in enough steampunk. Whatever that is.”
LOL! Big thanks to Sonje for telling me about it.
Whoops! Didn’t mean to go incommunicado there, but sometimes that’s just how the kibbles roll, you know?
Anyway, I’m back from the holiday, and I’ve been thinking a lot. About family. About hard work. About writing, of course. And last night in the shower, I realized something.
It’s very important to me that I write 1 of 2 kinds of books: either a story that I really want to read, or a story that I really think the world needs.
My guess is that most (if not all) “good” books fit into 1 of those 2 categories. I think Stephenie Meyer, for example, really wanted to read a book about all-consuming love. So she wrote one. And it resonated with people.
And I bet — well, we know — that Suzanne Collins thought the world really needed a book about war and its effects on everyone, even those not directly/willingly involved. So she wrote one. And it resonated with people.
Jodi Picoult is another great example of someone who (I believe) has made a career out of writing books that she thinks the world needs, in a style that is uniquely hers. She’s a “commercial” author who tackles big topics and provokes readers into actually thinking about them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in “mindless entertainment.” But I don’t think entertainment has to come at the expense of passion and/or purpose.
(In fact, I think if you look closely, the best “mindless entertainment” has plenty of both.)
Books that are only written with dollar signs in mind? That’s not for me. And I’ve put down many books for pandering to the marketplace. They practically play Bingo with the various elements of popular fiction and then Frankenstein the pieces together, creating horrific monsters indeed.
Even though money is a concern* I aspire to more than a healthy bank account. Trite as it may sound, I do want to make a difference. I want to shed light on stories that aren’t being told or heard. I want to sweep myself off my feet, want to fall in love with my characters and get caught up in their world. I want to move readers. I want to open their minds and maybe — just maybe — change their lives.
The shift doesn’t have to be huge. I’m not so naïve/arrogant as to think that my stories will turn someone inside out. But even one tiny star twinkling in the night sky lets us know that there’s more out there. One star can make us look. One star can make us wonder.
So, it’s your birthday. You’re 26 today. Congratulations.
What, you wanted more? Sorry, dude. This isn’t a milestone. You can already smoke (didn’t want to anyway), can already drink (didn’t want to anyway), can already rent a car without paying a premium, and already had your insurance rates reduced (25 = lame). No new perks, plus now you’re closer to 30 than 20. Scary, huh?
Here’s the thing: I know what you wanted. You wanted to be an established author. Heck, you wanted that for your 18th birthday. And your 20th. And pretty much every birthday since you wrote that terrible synopsis and 15 pages for the Scholastic “first novel” competition in high school. You wanted to be the Taylor Swift of books.
But you’re not. Do you want to know why? Because you weren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
Now before you run off to a corner to cry, listen: I don’t say that to be mean. I don’t say that to belittle or discourage you. You do work hard. You are talented. You will make it.
But Taylor Swift? She’s one in a million. She put music before everything. She gave up a normal life in order to pursue her dream. You didn’t.
And that’s okay. It’s okay that you went to high school, and worried about grades, and got a college degree, and then a job. It’s okay that you watch a few TV shows, and have a boyfriend and a dog, and take time to travel. It’s okay that sometimes you do the laundry when you’re stuck on a sentence, or that you get nervous/embarrassed when people ask what you do and you have to explain that you’re an unpublished, unagented writer. It’s okay that you like to nap.
Because here’s what this birthday DOES mean:
It means that, at 26, you’ve been writing seriously for almost a decade. In that time, you “finished” your first ever novel (which needs a lot of revision). You experimented with a web series that nearly got published and is now available as an ebook. And soon you’ll be querying your first YA manuscript, which is definitely the best thing you’ve ever written. You’ve been blogging for several years, have made many good online friends, and even went viral once. You’ve gotten work experience, life experience, love experience. You’ve done things on your own terms, and you won’t have any regrets.
(Not that T Swizzle regrets her choices. I’m sure she’s quite happy with her sparkly clothes, bajillion awards, and famous, fodder-for-lyrics boyfriends.)
Rarely do things work out so neatly as JK Rowling’s 1-story-per-school-year structure, but I do feel like each November since middle school, you’ve managed to reflect and to learn something important. If there’s anything I want you to learn from this, your 26th year, it’s to throw your plans out the window. Don’t try to predict what will happen, or put your life on a schedule. Just work hard, have fun, and be kind. If you do that, everything will follow in its own way and its own time.
Hey, remember the time Maureen Johnson broke my blog? Oh right, it was yesterday.
Me in the afternoon vs. me in the evening. (Credit: Sailor Moon screencaps.)
In fairness, it wasn’t JUST Maureen. A staggering number of authors/writers/bloggers linked to my post “A reminder about what really matters” — like the INTERN, Stephanie Perkins, Myra McEntire, Malinda Lo, Kate Hart, Carrie Ryan, Lisa Schroeder, even agent Michelle Wolfson, among many, many others. To say I was floored would be putting it mildly. More like I went right past the floor, down through the earth’s crust and into the core.
The rush of traffic from everyone’s Twitter followers (thousands!) had me dazed and grinning all afternoon. Y’all’s comments blew me away. I had no idea that what I’d written would affect and resonate with so many people. I’m glad it did.
But then, around 5 p.m. my website crashed. I had a very basic hosting plan, which had served me fine for years, but it couldn’t handle the sudden spike. After hemming and hawing (and hoping things would magically fix themselves — because, you know, they always do??) I ended up having to switch to a new host, which got me up and running within an hour. Luckily I had a backup of my site from last week, and I was able to copy and paste recent comments from my inbox. Stressful, but successul.
Live and learn and upgrade your servers, eh?
(Still, I really regret all that downtime, when people who may have been trying to come here got “this account has been suspended for bandwidth overage” instead. If you know anyone who wanted to read the post and couldn’t, please let them know it’s up again!)
Anyway, I know that this incident, like the one in October, is just another “15 minutes of fame.” But it’s still exciting and encouraging to see my name linked in any way, shape, or form with so many writers that I admire. It’s also … interesting, for lack of a better word, that something I wrote took on such a life of its own. I mean, it’s only a blog post. I can’t imagine the magnitude of what I might feel when something “bigger” (a personal essay, a short story, a novel) takes off.
Or rather, I can imagine it, and I can’t wait.
A few days ago, my dad forwarded me an email titled “the Charles Schulz philosophy.” Now, snopes.com has informed me that Charles Schulz did not in fact come up with this little exercise, but it’s still a good one. So I decided to adapt it for us writers.
(Big thanks to Disney for all the characters who read!)
There are two “quizzes” below. Scroll slowly and read carefully to get the full effect. Note: It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers, just keep going.
1. Who are the 3 wealthiest writers in the world?
2. Who are the last 3 winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature?
3. Who are the last 3 winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction?
4. What are 5 of the “Top 10 Best Books” of last year?
5. What’s the latest book on shelves that was signed for a 7-figure deal?
How many did you get?
The point is, few of us remember the headliners of yesterday. And these are no second-rate achievers — they are at the top of our field. But the applause dies, accolades are forgotten, and the “crown” is passed on.
Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:
1. Who are your 3 favorite authors?
2. What are the last 3 books that made you laugh or cry?
3. What are the last 3 books that inspired you?
4. Which 5 books do you most frequently recommend?
5. What’s the last book that you stayed up until the wee hours of the night reading?
The lesson: The books and authors who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that you connected with, the ones that moved you on the merit of their prose, characters and stories. Not the ones that someone told you were good or worthy. Because the success given by others is never as enduring as the success bestowed by our own hearts.
Keep that in mind as you check your Twitter stream and learn that so-and-so has a new agent or just got a big deal. Keep that in mind when you read publishing blogs and see the latest award nominations or starred reviews. Keep that in mind when you’re on Facebook and your feed is filled with posts about book tours and movie rights.
And then put everything out of mind when you’re sitting down to write. Because that’s your time, your space, your joyful play with the characters that you love and the world that you’ve built. Let nothing get in the way.