Menace to Society
Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette devoured me last week. A sixteen year old boy, son of a friend, handed the book to me. It had been required reading for his eleventh grade class and he'd loved it. He generally sticks to works created by Stan Lee and Alan Fine so I was intrigued. When I learned that Semple wrote for the awesome TV show, Arrested Development, I was even more eager to dive in. (In case you're interested to learn more about the author, you can find an interview of her here from the New York Times.) I'm not always a fan of epistolary-style stories, but Bernadette's incisive social commentary, the mystery surrounding her disappearance and Semple's excellent pacing kept my nose firmly planted in that book. But I'm not writing today to give a review of the book. At the time that I was reading it, I was experiencing some challenges in my own writing world. I'd decided to stop seeking representation for my completed novel and the residual effects had me seeing nothing but warts on my new projects.
At one point in the book I mention above, Bernadette, an architect who, 20 years prior, walked away from her work and a promising career sends a looooong email to a former colleague going on and on about why she hates Seattle and why she stopped designing buildings. The colleague's response to Bernadette's seven page email is this:
"Are you done? You can't honestly believe any of this nonsense. People like you must create. If you don't create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society."
A menace to society. Do you hear that all you writers, musicians, visual artists, video game designers, crazy cake bakers? Put away questions of whether or not your art has a point or whether or not it will serve some productive result out in the world. The point is for you not to go crazy or drive your family crazy. The productive result is the sense of release you feel from the act of creating.
Later that same week, I read an interview on PW with Jackie Mitchard on her new publishing house. On being a writer she said:
"'If you had a normal ego that could be satisfied by normal things, you wouldn’t be a writer.' Despite having written more than 20 books for adults and teens, she said, 'I still live with self-doubt. It’s not easier. The only thing that’s easier is that I know where to look for what I need for the story. And I know whether the story is good or bad.'"
Learning that a well-established author still experiences self-doubt after 20 books gave me hope. The doubt I'm feeling while facing my third novel is normal!
And then I listened to a biography on Dorothy Parker, the doing of which was inspired by reading Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts. On the jacket of the book a reviewer noted that the book was like Dorothy Parker for teens. Parker spoke about the elements of good writing, one of which, she said is "a magnificent disregard of your reader." This, at first glance, seems at odds with much that I've learned about writing for children and young adults. We were often told to keep our intended audience at the forefront of our minds. What I take from Parker's advice, however, is to be daring. Go for the unusual metaphor, write the unexpected story, try a new structural approach. By writing with a magnificent disregard of your reader, you will turn off the internal editor, you will write with glee and in the end, you will win more readers, different readers, readers who can see that you're jumping with no parachute and they will jump with you.
On the blog Books Around the Table, Laura Kvasnosky shared this Flashmob performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony in Sabadell, Spain. Laura stated that Beethoven was deaf when he composed the symphony. Curious, I found this article about the well-known piece of music. Talk about having a magnificent disregard of your audience, apparently Beethoven's piece has stumped many a music scholar. What he did was unexpected and the result is that this is one of the most-played pieces of classical music ever, a piece of music that gives people goosebumps while also encouraging them to hum along.
What more inspiration do you need to make your art? Go and create. Do it not for the end result, but despite what might come of it. Do it because it wakes your spirit. Do it so that you do not become a menace to society.
(Where'd You Go, Bernadette image from Amazon.com; The Portable Dorothy Parker image from venturegalleries.com; Beethoven image from Slate.com)