I was trying to put together a post yesterday, but my boy woke up coughing at 4:30, I burned myself on the fireplace and impaled myself on my cat’s tooth. Sometimes, it’s better to keep to yourself.
Ron asks about our ambition in the post below. I’ve certainly had many works Karl me–When You Reach Me was the latest, and perhaps the most devastating. Speak is another. Holes. The Wednesday Wars. Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End. My work is not the Karl-ing sort, I don’t think. But sometimes when I close a book I am filled with the need to write, to add to the well of stories that produced this one. I would love to leave people with that feeling.
I’ve been watching the Olympics rather obsessively. Short track skater Apolo Ono–geriatric at 27, apparently–decided to come back this time for one more hurrah. He had to get himself in mental and physical shape again after long revels with Bacchus (and reality TV), and he said when he was training he asked himself every day, “Did I do everything I could do today to be the best?”
So I’m thinking about that. About the things I can do to be better. About good work, and the good things it produces. All that leads me to the inevitable conclusion that I need to do exercises in poetry. I’m no good at poetry. I don’t have the patience or precision. But I have a book–In the Palm of Your Hands. It has exercises. It looms on my shelf. I eye it warily, like an unpaid bill.
“Did I do everything I could do today to be my best?” It’s hard–there are sick toddlers to care for and calls to the insurance company to be made and taxes to procrastinate doing. But I’m thinking it’s time to crack open that book.
On another note, back to first sentences, Kate Coombs at Book Aunt has a post on MT Anderson’s.
You will love Steve's book, Ann! It's as sweet-natured as he is. There are a couple of my poems in there, old ones from the 60's when he and his wife and me and my (first) wife ran around together You'd love his poetry, too. Goggle him and see what's out there.
I've been thinking about sports analogies for writing lately. My son takes judo, and while the six-year-old judo matches are far from olympic quality, they are entertaining. The kids can't knock over their opponents unless they fully commit to whatever judo move they are attempting. But initiating a move makes them vulnerable to being knocked over themselves. So they have to go at it with a Zeus-sized ego, despite the fact that they may get their feet knocked from under them. Sounds like writing, right? My sweet boy usually takes a thumping. He could use a little more inner Karl.
As writers, some days we feel like we're getting thumped. Cheryl, I can just picture your son at judo. I too am an Olympic nut and love to watch the thrill of competition and the come from behind victories. But often the competition we feel as writers is inside our heads. Am I good enough to keep stringing words together every day? Can I put aside family worries and undone taxes? Can I say yes, in spite of thousands of new books coming out every year? We'll never know if we don't sit down every day to do the work. Sometimes that is the best we can do – show up.
Claire talked about life arcs at residency, what about life motifs? The Olympic mantra has put me in sport watching mode, and I am also reading “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” by Chris Crutcher (lots of swimming in this book). Then I stumbled across a quote from Fitzgerald (if Mary Rockcastle hasn’t started “cribbing” for advertisement purposes, she should):
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.”
Full immersion, indeed. I guess all of the viewing, reading and writing makes me remember that pushing ourselves is important, and YA readers spend a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy on competition (sporting, academic, the game of love). Watching some of these TEEN Olympic athletes reminds me that they are still kids, our audience, too. And also, that if we aren’t trying our best, why bother?
PS: I "mixed" the Fitzgerald Quote from Writer's Digest Online Magazine…
I'm recuperating from surgery this week, enjoying finally having time to read some wonderful books I have been wanting to explore. Have finished Speak and The Graveyard Book, now enjoying Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Waiting at my bedside are Chains, Going Bovine, and When You Reach Me.
My grand plan is to launch in earnest into the revision of my novel during my doctor-ordered medical leave, as soon as I am able to sit upright long enough to tackle it.
My worry is that, after reading all these wonderful books, I will open my my draft, come face-to-face with my pedestrian prose, and want to hurl it across the room or bury it in the backyard where no one will ever see it. My hope is that I will draw some power from these authors (and from my work with my wonderful advisors), and bring it into my story.
Thanks for the Fitzgerald quote, Jason. I will be thinking of that when I'm ready to dive back into the water.