Posts Tagged: writing

My Writing Philosophy, AKA Meg Cabot is My Hero

Have you read the Princess Diaries books? If not, please go read them. I’ll wait.

Okay, so you’re set now? Great. Then you get why I’ve always loved them so much. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand. For one thing, they’re funny. Like, actually laugh-out-loud funny, filled with weird side characters and hilarious situations and a voice-y narrator who instantly feels like she’s your real best friend. And just as importantly, they’re romantic. Michael Moscovitz is near the top of my list of Ideal YA Book Boyfriends (and I’ve read a lot of YA, you guys). The most recent PD book, Royal Wedding, was just as funny and romantic and goofy and sweet as every other book in the series. Meg Cabot is the queen of the YA (and adult!) romcom.

But, if I can keep fangirling over Meg Cabot for a little while longer, she also gave me something even more important than wonderful books: a writing philosophy.

So here’s the thing. I have a lot of friends who are extremely educated. They have multiple degrees and letters after their names. They have big, important jobs where they make actual money and save actual lives. They talk about doing things at work that I can’t even imagine. It’s all enough to sometimes make me feel a little bit inadequate, with my little bachelor’s degree and my job that basically involves sitting at a computer and listening to a weird Youtube mix called STUDY MUSIC BRAIN POWER because it helps me zone out and write fighting scenes, or kissing scenes, or fighting and kissing scenes.

Because that’s what I write! Kissing books! Okay, so I’ve only written the one, but the likelihood that I’ll ever write a book that doesn’t prominently feature a climactic first kiss is pretty slim. That’s what I like, but I’ve spent a long time feeling like it’s not enough. I was lucky to study creative writing with professors who were surprisingly open to genre fiction (that’s not always the case!), but creative writing programs are almost exclusively focused on literary fiction. That means, basically, that you’re gonna end up with a room full of 21 year olds writing about divorce and aging. When I was in school, I just sort of assumed I’d write stories like Lorrie Moore or Charles Baxter or George Saunders. That was partly because I love their stories–there’s no one funnier than Lorrie Moore, or more emotional than Charles Baxter, or better at making me sob while laughing than George Saunders. But it was also because I thought that’s what I was supposed to write. After all, I was “studying” the Best American Short Stories compilation, not paperbacks from the romance section of Barnes and Noble.

Although I love literary fiction as much as the next girl, commercial fiction has always taken up the biggest piece of my heart. Commercial YA, specifically. I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I actually read one of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books hidden behind in a textbook. Contemporary YA, the kind that’s funny and involves a whole lot of kissing, is my jam. It’s just what I like!

But even though I like it, there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t enough. I’m certainly not saving lives with it, like my friends do at their jobs. And writing isn’t exactly a great career to pick if you’re set on making reliable bank. And then there’s the whole thing about how I like to write funny things that involve kissing, not the next Great American Novel. Like, Jonathan Franzen would actually hate everything I’ve ever written (as well as everything about me, if I’m being honest).

That’s where Meg Cabot comes in (seriously, thanks for hanging in there for so long). In one of the later Princess Diaries books, when Mia is writing a romance novel and Michael, her boyfriend, is busy inventing this high-tech robotic arm that’s going to be used by doctors during surgery, Mia starts feeling kind of useless. She’s got this genius boyfriend who’s literally saving lives, and she doesn’t feel like her kissing books are as important. Michael tells her something that really stuck with me: While his fancy robot arm is saving someone’s life, that person’s family members are sitting in the waiting room. And those people are sad and scared and freaked out, and they need something to comfort them. Maybe Mia’s books don’t save lives in the literal robot arm sense, but to those people who need something to read to distract themselves from what’s happening and to comfort themselves when they’re scared, those books can be life-saving in a different way.

It’s something that I’ve come back to over and over again in a year that’s been emotional enough that I simply haven’t wanted to read anything “serious” or “depressing.” I’ve been reading a lot of kissing books, a lot of funny books, a lot of straight up romance novels. And you know what? The Nora Roberts Bride Quartet may not have literally saved my life, but it sure did make it better. When I was younger, I used to think that using art as a means of escaping from your life was somehow weak or sad. (I was dumb.) The thing is, life is hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s really hard. And maybe you deal with it by dancing with your friends to some dope Outkast jams at a wedding (ahem, me last week), or maybe you deal with it by helping other people, or maybe you deal with it by picking up a book that has a guaranteed happy ending. That escapism and comfort is important, and meaningful, and honestly, sometimes essential.

So maybe I’m not operating on anybody, or counseling anybody, or saving any animals’ lives. But I do believe that what I’m doing is making a difference, even if it’s in a less obvious way. I probably would have realized this on my own eventually, but hearing Meg Cabot say it through the words of Michael Moscovitz helped a lot. I remember those words every single time I sit down to write, and I keep them in mind throughout every kiss, every friendship, and every happy ending.

The Things I Want to Write

Have you noticed that I haven’t been writing on this blog even half as often as I used to? “No, Kerry, because we all have lives that don’t revolve around you,” you say as one. Well, okay, guys. Maybe you DON’T CARE, but I will explain my absence anyway: I’ve been doing a lot of non-blog writing, and that gives me less time for this blog. I do love Welcome to Ladyville, but I also love writing other things. And, because writing begets writing, all I can think about now is all the stuff I WANT to write. So here’s a list. Some of these are more serious/more practical than others.

-About 15 million YA contemporary romances, because these are probably my favorite things ever and I just want to be Meg Cabot (aka write all the time and live in Key West).

-A girl detective series, like Nancy Drew but the detective is Bess and she messes everything up constantly. Or maybe the main character is George and she barely even gives a SHIT about yr dumb mysteries.

-A screenplay with my brother Alex, because we’re both writers and we need to be more like the Duplass bros (or the brother/sister team who wrote Our Idiot Brother).

-A blog with Lauren because we email each other multiple times a day and, I know I’m biased, but our emails are so great that it’s a real shame they aren’t shared with the world. But they’re probably 50% shit-talking, so maybe it’s best that no one else reads them.

-A short story that’s good enough for Rookie.

More fanfic about Lenny Kravitz because I’m only human and I really do love him/make up stories about him in my head all the time.

-A blog about romantic comedies (whoops, I’m already writing that).

-A YA/MG book in diary format because those were always my favorite growing up (and, again, I just want to be Meg Cabot).

-Romantic comedies that aren’t YA.

-A TV show set in a small town full of quirky characters like Hart of Dixie. One where everything always ends up pretty happy at the end of each episode, and also Jason Street is involved.

-Those mysteries that are all about food and have, like, a picture of pie on the front and a recipe in the back? Have you ever seen those at the library? They look fun. Also I’m obsessed with mysteries because I love them and CONSTANTLY tried to write them as a child. The murderer was always the next door neighbor.

-A series about four bffs, because Sisterhood the Traveling Pants is perfect.

-Updated Baby-Sitters Club books. I remember a LOT of details and I can totally do it. Mallory might be “mysteriously” absent and/or this series can turn into the murder mystery I always wanted to write.

-Anything you will pay me for, basically. Give me $$$ for words, please.

Writing about writing

Here’s how I used to write in college:

Whenever I had a story due for workshop, I’d hole up in the library for an entire weekend. I’d leave to eat and sleep and stuff like that, but mostly I’d just stay there. Some of my favorite college memories took place in an empty library on Friday and Saturday nights (when everyone else was out partying) or on Saturday or Sunday mornings (when everyone else was hungover). Clearly I was a crazy party animal; like, tone it down, college Kerry! Don’t be so buck wild.

I liked sitting in one specific cubby because it was the one of the few where passersby couldn’t easily see what you were writing, and I’ve always hated writing where people can see me. One of my brothers, as a baby, used to hide behind the couch when he pooped, and I’ve always thought of writing kind of like that. It’s a gross process and I need to hide behind a metaphorical couch to do it. In this particular cubby, someone had scratched the words “WHEN I SAT HERE I TOUCHED MYSELF.” I ignored that and tried not to think about some strange college bro’s penis. I was mostly successful.

I’ve always been a slow writer, and my writing process has always been “Start writing one thing, write it for several hours to a day to a week before realizing what you’re ACTUALLY supposed to be writing and then write that quickly.” It’s not an efficient way to write, but it’s my ~*~style~*~ and I can’t change it, try as I might. This means I have a lot of frustrated break time and I often feel like giving up and/or reading something. So that’s what I’d do. I’d write a bit, go find a short story collection or a literary magazine and read a story, go write some more, read another story, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I loved the weekend I spent writing a story for my junior year creative writing workshop while reading every single Miranda July story at the library. This was before her short story collection came out, so her stories were spread out across various journals. I read every story the library had while trying to work out a story about how lonely and sad and directionless I felt. It came out as a story about a girl who worked for a phone sex hotline, and I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to write it if I wasn’t reading Miranda July’s fearless, weird stories about strange women and their strange desires. The story wasn’t really about anything I knew, but the feelings were, the feeling voiceless and small. It felt good to get that out, and it felt like she was holding my hand the whole time and telling me I could do it.

That’s how I wrote everything–with the whole library full of writers cheering me on and giving me hope. I could’ve written stories at my weird, raccoon-infested apartment, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

I don’t write at the library much anymore, but my writing style is still the same. I still read while I write, just hoping the writer will help me keep my head above water while I’m confused and lost and doubting myself. Even if the story or book is nothing like what I’m writing, it helps to see that other people are doing it, too. I might feel like I’m all alone, but I’m not. Not at all.

Lady Inspiration: Roxane Gay

By now, you probably all know and love Roxane Gay. If you don’t, then we are clearly using different internets. Either way, Roxane Gay rules and she’s one of my writing role models. I’m always in awe of her productivity, her amazing and emotional prose, and her great attitude. This interview on The Great Discontent just further illustrates her awesomeness.

The whole thing is worth reading, especially the part about the Midwest, but I’ve really been thinking about this:

“Writing is not a tortured act for me. I don’t have any angst about it, and I don’t find it to be a painful misery. Writing is the one endeavor that makes me purely happy, and it comes fairly easily to me. I don’t know why I’m that lucky, but it’s true.
There are definitely times when I have writer’s block, and it’s infuriating, but writers love to dramatize the suffering of the writer. I don’t judge them on that, because it’s their truth, but I’m suffering when I’m not writing: it’s what I do for fun. When people say I’m prolific, I think, “Well, it’s kind of my self-medication, and it doesn’t feel like work.”
I’m a happy writer, and although that hasn’t always been the case, I count my blessings. I’m finally in the place I’ve always dreamed of. Maybe my dreams weren’t that big, but I just wanted to write and have people read what I had to say one way or another. I have that, and I have been lucky to work with editors who let me be myself in my writing. I wrote the novel I wanted to write, I wrote the essay collection I wanted to write, and I haven’t had to compromise. I’m truly creatively satisfied.”

Pretty often, it’s easy to get sucked into this whole “writing is torture” thing, because that’s the way a lot of public writers treat it. It’s good to remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s not how everyone views writing! Most of us started doing it because it was fun, or satisfying, or just because we were good at it, and I think it’s useful to reconnect with those feelings when we’re starting to get discouraged. Writing is work, but it shouldn’t be torture.