It’s no secret that I read a lot. No. That image that just popped into your head is inadequate. I read more than that by at least twice. What this actually means is that every year I read a handful of amazing books, a few more really good books, and a whole bunch of mediocre books. I also forget most of them as soon as I read them. This may seem like a real waste to some of you, but for me it’s just part of the grand sorting of life. It’s like looking out my front window every morning. Most days it’s nothing remarkable that I see out there, but some days the sky glows orange in the sunrise, or the roads glisten with untrammeled snow. Does it mean that all the other days I looked out were a waste of time? Of course not. Every day I look out the window I benefit from it, if only for the information about how to dress for the weather. Those are ordinary days, a part of the routine that keeps me moving from this day to tomorrow. For me, books are like that, they help me see my way along the road to tomorrow, with some days being muddy with dog poop all over the lawn (it’s been a long winter out there) and other days shining and glorious. Even the ordinary books help me understand my fellow travelers in life, so I glean from them.
As I’ve met fellow writers from every genre and walk of life, I’ve been educated by them. They often don’t realize all they are teaching me along the way. I’ve learned most of all that anyone who can push their way to write “once upon a time” all the way to “the end” or “happily ever after,” has accomplished a task that deserves respect. A person who can do that and then slaughter the whole thing with revisions, piece it back together, and still keep the story breathing has taken an even bigger leap up my ladder of respect. I have yet to have a story survive that process, but I’m working on it. Thank heaven stories are not human beings or I’d have manslaughter and malpractice charges against me.
I’ve learned through all this, that just because I don’t enjoy reading books of certain genres, doesn’t mean I can’t learn a great deal from those who write them. This is part of the reason I like going to literary conferences like Life The Universe and Everything (LTUE). I don’t read a lot of sci-fi or high fantasy, but I learn a ton from people who write it, and it helps me to see the things I write in new ways that may help me bring back some of my stories from the brink of death.
I attended a class once with a panel of writers who were talking about the importance of infusing the element of romance into our stories without “going too far”. The conversation quickly disintegrated into a diatribe against the erotica genre. Let me be clear – erotica is not my thing. I’m not comfortable reading it, and I don’t write it. While everyone else was speaking harshly about the genre, one writer on this panel spoke calmly and with a tone of respect. She said something to the effect of, “Hold on. There is an audience and market for this. There is an artistic standard for it and it takes the same amount of work to get from beginning to end, with the same revision demands, and we need to respect that those who write it are working just as hard as the rest of us.” I appreciated this attitude. Will I run out and get a bunch of erotica books because of it? No. If I meet someone who writes it will I treat them like fellow travelers rather than as pariahs? Yes. Honestly, if I want people to try seeing the world from my perspective, will I be more likely to win them over by saying to them, “I hate you and think you only put garbage into the world.” Or will they be more likely to give my ideas a chance if I treat those I may disagree with kindly and with the respect I give to people I know work hard at what they do?
It’s important to use personal judgment to decide what things support my standards and values and what things violate them. There’s a big difference though, between that, and being condemning and judgmental of others. The moment I start pointing fingers and name-calling or labeling people in derogatory ways I lose the opportunity to “win friends and influence people.” The moment I objectify people, I lose the opportunity to teach and learn. If I think it’s hard to soar with eagles when I work with turkeys, I’ve lost an opportunity to create good in the world. If I laugh when people who struggle with mental or physical handicaps are mocked by others, I’ve lost an opportunity to be the good I wish to see in the world. If I judge the value of others by their intellectual or physical abilities, then my values are mixed up.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that what goes around, comes around. Whatever I send out into the world will come back multiplied. If I need help, I need to serve others. Short of material things? I need to share everything I have to my best ability. Need time? Give some to help a good cause. It’s worked every time I’ve tried it. If I want to find swans, I need to look for ugly ducklings and help them see who they really are. At the same time, it’s important to remember that, though ducklings are not swans, they still share the same pond and fulfill their own purpose in life.
I am not yet perfect in this. I say snotty things to drivers on the road who irritate me. I sometimes catch myself thinking or saying ugly things about others, but I’m learning, and as I learn it becomes more and more clear to me that the road of life is difficult enough without me saying or doing things that hurt or make it harder for others who are traveling it with me, whether I know them personally or not.
I’m including some links here to a few writers who have made my learning-to-write road a little less bumpy. Check out what they’ve written and look for their books in stores, or the library. Maybe you’ll find one of their stories makes your own road a little easier or more pleasant. If you click on the author names, it will take you to the author’s website, if they have one. If you click on the book image, it will take you to an Amazon.com page.
L.L. Muir is a fun writer who makes me laugh every time I read one of her books. I love that she is willing to throw in a little romance genre satire every now and again as well.
J Scott Savage writes books for the young and young at heart. He’s taught at almost every writers’ conference I’ve been to and is super-humanly dedicated to helping other writers move forward.
C Michelle Jefferies gave a presentation on plotting a book at the LTUE conference that helped me SO much!
David Farland has helped so many writers on their journey to success that I can safely say your reading and movie world would be dramatically altered without him. If you want to write so your books will sell, I highly recommend you take one or more of his classes.
Carol Lynch Williams organizes The Most Awesome Children’s Book Writing Conference ever. No exaggeration there at all. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from going to WIFYR. She’s also a remarkable writer. And my friend. Hi, Carol.
Ann Cannon (A.E. Cannon) was also a teacher of mine one year at WIFYR (just sign up for that conference already). She’s amazing. She’s done it all when it comes to children’s literature and is a wonderful encourager.
Johnny Worthen is another writer who gives generously of his time to help all us wannabe’s learn howtobe “real” writers. (His secret? Write!) Thanks a million for your 90-day Novel class at LTUE, Johnny.