Monday, February 06, 2006

Boyfriends, Truth, & Progress

I finished reading E. Lockhart's YA novel The Boyfriend List today. It immediately won me over with its fun use of footnotes. Being a rather parenthetical thinker myself, I tend to love footnotes in fiction. Two of my favorite recent books, Susanna Clarke's adult novel Jonathan Strange & Dr. Norrell, and M.T. Anderson's midgrade novel Whales on Stilts, have almost nothing in common, except that both make generous use of footnotes. I especially loved the way multiple footnotes tracked Ruby's thought process in The Boyfriend List. I thought Ruby's parents bordered on being caricatures, but that probably is how she would see & describe them, & I loved how different they were than the parents in most novels (for those who haven't read it, her mom is an angry performance artist, her dad constantly talks in touchy-feely psychological mumbo jumbo, and they live on a houseboat). As for the rest of the book, there were a few places where I began to think E. Lockhart had been spying on my teen years.... It especially amazed me when Ruby thought the same wacky thing I would have thought, with the same goofy reasoning, when I didn't realize anyone else thought about things that way!

This brings me to the best writing advice I've picked up recently. When we were driving through Louisiana, I went into two decent-sized convenience stores looking for a magazine to read, & couldn't find any, but I did find a free regional paper so I picked that up. I read an article about Cajun musician D.L. Menard, who had once met his hero, Hank Williams (Sr.). Hank Williams told him that everyone does things every day that they never stop to think about, and if you write about those things, your audience will love it. I realized it was true for books as well as for songs. Books (and movies, and plays, and comedy acts...) capture our attention when they ring true, and especially when they tell us something about ourselves that's been true all along but we've never noticed! I love it when I read something new or unusual that I've never thought about before, but I'm also blown away when I recognize myself on the page, and realize I am not alone in some thought, feeling, or experience. So, I aim to work harder than ever to make sure I put truth into my writing--true moments, and especially particular, small incidents and thoughts and feelings that may cause a reader to think, "Yes! That's just how it is!" Which may mean putting more of myself into my writing, which is scary, but I realized last night that if I don't take a chance on sharing what's real, my writing may not resonate with anyone.

The second piece of advice Menard got from Hank Williams was not to worry about naysayers, especially those further along than you who point out how far you have to go, because tomorrow you may be better than them. Menard realized he wasn't getting better, & set out to correct that. It's a daunting question to ask oneself: Am I better today than I was yesterday? I need to ask myself, and keep asking myself, that question in regard to my writing (I flinched big time the first time I asked myself that), as well as in other areas of my life--relational, spiritual, even organizational! Eek. That's about all I can handle for today.

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