Saturday, March 10, 2012

Knowing My Genre and Trying to Measure Up

I took the advice on agent blogs and web sites that encourage writers to know their genre by reading other books that are out there.

I have been reading the classics since I was twelve.  I fell in love with Milton, Chaucer, Hawthorne, Dickens, Poe, Austen, Steinbeck, Faulkner.  Did I mention Milton?  Few things give me as much pleasure as Book I of Paradise Lost.  I highly recommend it.  The personification of Satan is priceless. 

I haven't read much in the way of women's literature since my women's lit classes in college about twenty years ago.   So I did a search on Amazon and ordered a stack of books (real ones, the paper kind, which apparently only cost about two dollars more than the virtual kind).

The first on the list was Kathryn Stockett's The Help.  I couldn't put it down and devoured it in three days.  When I finished the last word in the last chapter, it was past 1 AM.  This is the best book I've read since To Kill a Mockingbird


On Thursday, I picked up Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.  I saw the movie when it came out but don't remember much of it.  By page 46, I had cried three times.  I was so upset by it, I couldn't tell my daughter why I was crying when she asked.  All I could do was hold up the book while I wiped my tears.  I don't like books that make me cry, but I couldn't put it down.   

I had several moments reading both books where I felt completely inferior as a writer, as if my weaknesses had a flashlight shining on them. 

Instead of feeling like I should give up, like I can never measure up, like maybe I suck, I feel like rolling up my sleeves and putting the work into my stories to make them equally awesome.  I think my novels are good, but now I want them to be great.  I want people to read my novels, hand them to someone else, and say, "You've got to read this!"  How cool would that be? 

It's definitely time to get to work.

What books have inspired you to be a better writer?

23 comments:

  1. I loved all the classics, too. I didn't read most of them until college, though. Dickens is my favorite. I love his characters - they remind me of JK Rowling. You're right about rolling up our sleeves. Gotta have something to strive toward.

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    1. I agree, Dickens has great characters. It's a great feeling to know other writers are doing the same - rolling up their sleeves and working at the same time.

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  2. I promise you, it is cool!
    The Help isn't my style of read but I do want to see the movie.

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    1. That's awesome that you got great feedback on your book!! I'm going to wait until my daughter reads it, then we're going to see it together 'cause that's how we roll.

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  3. Tonja, I'm back to tell you that you've been tagged in the Lucky 7 Meme - come by my blog and check it out. http://rungwenrun.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Gwen. I accept the challenge. :)

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  4. I adored The Help!

    Like you, I feel inspired when I read a novel that blows me away. JK Rowling's world and characters, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss, and my most recent read, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, to name a few, have all inspired me to be a better writer.

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    1. I haven't read any of those books - will check them out if/when I get to the bottom of my stack of books.

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  5. I LOVE when an amazing book inspires me to write, instead of making me not want to write! Those are the best kinds kinds of books out there.

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  6. I was inspired to write by reading science fiction books that were more like technical manuals than they were narratives. It took me awhile to appreciate the storytelling aspect.

    What made me realize that maybe I might writing more than so many other hobbies is that when I encountered something truly magnificent, instead of wanting to never write again, I got the same burning desire that you have to do better.

    That is opposite to the reaction I most often got, or still get, when I've seen great artists paint, or heard great musicians play. When I experience those things my immediate reaction is to quit those artistic endeavors... writing is different though.

    Have fun making your stuff amazing.

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    1. That's awesome. I agree exactly - maybe it's because with writing we can see the path to getting to the greatness. With other things (art, music, photography, cooking) - I can't see how I would get past being a novice.

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  7. It is good to read in your genre to understand it better. When he was learning to write mysteries Raymond Chandler studied other authors in that genre. That after reading those he found ways to make them better.

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    1. I definitely see the value in it, and it's not just for inspiration. I think we can definitely improve on technical aspects as well by reading other authors and looking at what they did well (or didn't).

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  8. I'm sure you don't suck at all. Just remember every book gets polished and polished some more before it hits the market. It's all good. Don't worry.


    NOTE: Shelly loves your blog writing. Thought you should know.

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    1. Thanks, Shelly! :) I love your blog writing too.

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  9. I know what you mean, reading some books can be totally intimidating. I'm really fond of the classics, but their lengthy descriptive style, along with generally slow-moving first chapters, just doesn't translate well in today's on-demand type market. I write historical fiction, BUT I'm not fond of reading much of it...just certain books. For instance, Girl with the Pearl Earring. I love the way the characters drive that story, and it's not CHOCK-FULL of extraneous details. I hate when hist. fiction gets so wrapped up in explaining how they did things DIFFERENTLY, we forget that those people were basically a LOT like we are, same emotions, not freaks we can't relate to. So I was definitely aiming for a Girl w/the Pearl Earring vibe with my Viking historical novel. Cool post!

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  10. I read The Help and felt that same "why do I bother" as a writer. But like you said, after the first wave of "I suck" wears off you roll up your sleeves and get busy trying to write the best sentence you can.

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  11. I love finding quality books like these. They really inspire me to work harder.

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  12. It's great advice to read books in your genre. I read a lot of books by Jane Yolen, Kate DiCamillo, Rick Riordin, and Mary Pope Osborne. These are all excellent authors who write in the genres I write.

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  13. I loved both of those books. I understand what you mean. I keep telling myself that everybody is different and have different tastes. The question is, "Would I read my books?"

    I've read some killer YA books this year. (Yes, they also made me cry.)

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  14. I bought "The Help." I'm really excited to read it.

    I love the classics as well. It sounds like we have the same taste in books. That means I really need to read "Paradise Lost."

    I hope you're doing awesome ;)

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  15. Those are both great books. To Kill a Mockingbird...can any of us measure up to that one? We measure up by honing our craft and finding our own voice. One day some floundering writer will wonder if they'll ever measure up to what you wrote. :)

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