On Writing

Back in February I wrote a piece for Writer’s Digest, which was pretty cool. Now that I’ve opened up my own writer’s blog, I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

I loved fairy tales from a very young age. It never really mattered whether it was a book, movie, or someone telling me a story before bed. I loved the adventure, mystery, and fun of them. I devoured them so quickly, I remember going through all the shelves in the children’s section of the library and my mother speaking directly to the librarian for advice.

In my teens I was a budding storyteller myself, and I heard the advice over and over that you should write what you know. The first time I heard this advice was actually in Little Women. Jo March, a writer, sells mad fantastical stories of murder and mayhem. But her mentor Professor Bhaer is disgusted. He tells her these tall tales are nothing but trash. That she has the potential to write something great, and she’s wasting her time. She then put together a book that’s autobiographical, and he has it published.

Being a lover of fantasy, a nerd who read Lord of the Rings at twelve and had a rather large collection of Star Trek books, I was heartbroken. I looked for advice in books, but all of a sudden a book was telling me something that seemed wrong. I didn’t really understand. To further complicate things, teachers began to say similar things. Did that mean I couldn’t be a writer? Did I have to wait until I was old so I had something interesting to write about? At this point, I stopped. Nothing seemed good enough. I kept reading, I kept watching movies, but I put my pen and notebook away.

In college I fell in love again, but this time with fandom: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire. Everything was exciting; suddenly there were other people who understood my adoration of story. And I found something else. Fanfiction.

It felt more than vaguely illicit. Even now, many fanfiction writers don’t like to admit it. You’re not being original. You’re stealing from a real writer. Shipping, Crack!fics, Alternate Universes. No one cares what you do, and there’s no limit to your imagination. There’s no pressure write something great. So I just wrote. I wrote a story every weekend.

I came to the realization that writing was something that I really loved to do. And that there were at least certain aspects that I was good at. No, great at. I had audience feedback telling me that my story about Lois & Superman had made them cry. I wasn’t Lois, and there’s no such thing as Superman. Did that mean that the advice I had been hearing all my life was wrong? Had I become a writer without even realizing it?

I went to graduate school for creative writing and put together a book of my own ten fairy tales. Did I write what I know? I guess it depends on your definition. Even while writing my collection I had professors tell me that my writing was just as good without all that “magic stuff.” That I didn’t need genre to be interesting. Of course, no one does. I don’t think that’s the point. Sometimes magic has been metaphor, and sometimes it’s merely garnish.

My Tips

1. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you enjoy writing

2. If what you love is genre, learn more. Study the origins, read criticism, read books about it

3. Take the pressure off, and just practice. You don’t always have to be original

I don’t say that I write what I know, but I do say that I write what I feel, I write what I think is beautiful, and I write what I enjoy. And so should you.


Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park IV

Blenheim Palace - Fountain - 1993

(Photo credit: ell brown)

I wrote this piece a while back, but I didn’t want to share it right away, because it’s shorter and more of an overall look at Mansfield Park. More from my imagination of what could have been Austen’s point of view, rather than us as the entertained readers.

So, Lord Bertram. Lord Bertram is in trade, actually. Which is interesting for a Lord. I’m probably forgetting Austen’s explanations from the story. Where MP was inherited from, as well as the titles. But their money is, predominantly, from the slave trade in Antigua.

I would put forth that the dysfunctionality of the Bertram family overall, and all the troubles that befall them, actually stem from and are symbolic of this. The corruption comes from Lord Bertram himself–as the head of the household. The 1998 version dabbles in this–when it portrays Tom as an artist and his internal conflict with having seen his father enact atrocities against other human beings. But that is not an overt theme in the original narrative.

Someone should correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe I watched a documentary that said Austen’s family had connections to the slave trade, and she herself benefited from this. Even if this is not the case, England’s economy at that time was definitely benefited by slavery in the colonies. So that would still be an indirect benefit to Austen herself.

We don’t allow slavery in the United States, but we still benefit from it today certainly. Almost all of our every day products are produced in sweat shops, or created by companies that have enacted horrific human rights violations. Check out some lovely info about Nestle, as well as other well known corporations, for some good examples.

Mansfield Park, then, might be seen to enacted her own turmoil upon the page. How life is tainted by human cruelty. I can’t be sure, but it’s interesting to think about.

P.S. It’s likely that others far more academic than myself have said this already, and better. I definitely recommend checking out some of them on Amazon.