Tag Archives: writing lessons

Giving some love to the books I didn’t love

The past couple months I’ve been moving… packing, sorting, hauling, cleaning, painting, unpacking… it seems never-ending, and I’m not quite done yet. Hence my slight presence online.

During that time, I found myself making little lists in my mind. Everything from your standard “things to do today” and “things to remember to move to the new place” etc. to a bit more random ones, like “the 5 grossest things the previous tenants left behind” or “types of dogs I’ve seen on my new street” (an astonishingly long list for a short street – suburbia, you really like your dog breeds, eh?) Which totally reminded me of November and her list-journals in Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente.

I reviewed Palimpsest a while ago, here. Basically, I said there were a number of things I liked about the book, some things that didn’t work for me, and ultimately I didn’t love it. I mostly got reactions along the “sorry to hear that” line. But what’s wrong with not loving it? Obviously some part of the book has stuck with me, since I thought of it and related my own behaviour to one of its characters, months after I read Palimpsest and wrote that review. Isn’t that the goal of literature? To stick with you in some way? Even if it’s just to make you grin a little when you catch yourself writing lists in your mind.

Maybe it’s the recent(ish) David Gilmour internet-storm still fresh in my mind, but it seems to me that loving a book is not necessarily the goal of picking a book up to read. Awesome if it happens, and I like most people gravitate towards books I think I will at least enjoy–but if I read a book that it turns out I don’t love, that doesn’t mean reading it was a wasted endeavour.

Maybe it’s not a book of my heart, but maybe it teaches me something new. Maybe it helps me consciously realize some writing lesson (since it is much easier for me to analyze something critically when I’m not busy fangirl-squeeing all over it). Maybe it points me in the direction of a new-to-me author or book or topic.

I recently finished Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (trans. Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen). I can’t say I loved that book, either. I was enjoying it, right up until the last couple of chapters when the main character made the opposite choice than the one I was hoping for, and then the ending didn’t stick for me. That doesn’t make it a bad book–kind of the opposite, the fact that I was invested enough to be so thrown at her choice suggests that it’s a very strong book. So, I didn’t like the ending. I’m still glad I read it, for a lot of reasons. Because it had an interesting story structure. Because I don’t read a lot of Mexican fiction, and it’s important to consciously realize these things and strive to be more diverse. Because I like reading translated fiction and wondering how that extra layer of language changes my reading experience from someone who can read the work in the original.

A book has not failed me if I wind up not loving it. Finding a book I really, key-smashingly, tweet-and-tell-all-my-friends-to-buy-it, truly love would be a lot less special if I did love every book I read.

So here’s to all the books I’ve read that I’ve liked but not loved!

Thinking about critiques

I’ve had a writing revelation! Well, possibly. Possibly not much of a revelation at all.

But you know when you get that critique that goes something along the lines of “this story doesn’t feel finished!” or “this story is great but I want to know more!” And you think to yourself how awesome it is that your characters and setting are intriguing people to want so much more than you’re giving them, and then think to yourself they’ll probably be waiting a while because this story was a once-off, or a throwaway bit of flash fiction, and you don’t really intend on revisiting the world/characters/whatever.

Maybe that’s not really what the critiquers are trying to say. Maybe what that critique really means is that there are a lot of good things going on in your piece, enough to mask the fact that there’s not really any plot.

What made me start thinking about this was the question of “how does the main character change from the beginning to the end of the story?” And it seems to me like the not feeling finished or wanting to know more reaction is a reaction to there being no answer to this question. And that probably one of the main reasons why there would be no answer to that question would be because there is no plot, or not enough plot.

I dunno. Something to think about, at least.

life lessons from a lot of rejections

I started submitting short stories and poetry for publication in Jan 2008. That means I’ve been submitting for five years. I’ve been accepted a couple times and rejected a whole bunch.

Some things I’ve learned?

  • Never reject yourself. It is so easy to read guidelines and think “yeah that kinda sounds like my story!” then read some of the published stories and go “oh woe, these stories are great and mine is horrible, they’d never accept me here, I won’t even bother.” But you lose nothing by trying, whereas you definitely lose when you reject yourself. Let the badgers do that, that’s what they’re there for.
  • Read guidelines carefully. Do exactly what they say. Seriously, not rocket science.
  • Always read agreements/contracts carefully, even if you’re 99.99% sure it’s all peachy.
  • Everything is subjective. And that’s fine, because otherwise the body of published work would be pretty damn boring.
  • Rejections are no big deal. Sure, they’re not the best news. Sure, they’re disheartening when you’ve gotten a bunch of them in a row. But they’re not attacks, and the personal ones are usually super helpful. So sit and make Eeyore faces for a bit if you have to, then send out the stories again, and start writing better ones in the meantime.

Which pretty much boils down to: Don’t reject yourself. Read carefully. Deep breath, relax, and keep going no matter the setbacks.

And you know? Those have been pretty important lessons for me to learn, in all areas of my life, that I’m not sure I would have if I weren’t submitting and being rejected.