Wow, it’s been about two years since I wrote a blog post. Time fly’s when you have toddlers.
As many of you may know I have been working on a book for many years now. Part of the reason I stopped blogging was in part to concentrate on writing my book. You’ll be happy to know, or perhaps you won’t, that the book is coming along nicely. I am hoping for a release next summer. It’s called A Whistle In The Dark.
Over the past year I have spent countless hours reading or listening to various books, mostly Newberry Award winners and honor books. This morning while driving from Washington to Eugene I finished another great book that got my mind racing, imagining, and planning, so I thought I would write a quick post.
Writing is hard. You quickly find out how hard when you set out to write a book. It’s not just the writing that is difficult, which it is, but the hardest part by far is overcoming fear. I’ll get to that in a moment though.
There is nothing that captures the imagination like a good story. It is my opinion after reading or listening to probably 100 books in the last year, that there is no genre or writing better than that contained within the young adult genre. If you want to read a great piece of writing I would encourage you to look up any Newberry Award book in the past 5o years and you’ll quickly learn what I mean. I’m constantly blown away by the amazing writing and creativity demonstrated in the pages of those that have won this coveted award. I’m convinced that the standard and bar is consistently notches ahead of any other genre in the book industry today.
So what makes a book great? What makes one piece of writing stand out above the myriad of other works published each year. The answer to these questions are subjective of course, but after finishing a great book this morning my mind was wrestling with these questions and landed on this.
Great works have at least one moment contained in their pages in which the words on the page transcend the mind of the reader and reach the heart with such unexpected delight that one can’t help but be emotionally moved to laughter, tears, anger, or even something as simple as an inward uncontainable joy that seeps out in a profound smile. These emotions or reactions may seem trite, but they are far from it. It is in these moments that a writer has done the almost impossible task of connecting their words to the larger context of the human experience eliciting something on the verge of divine. It’s so profound in its simplicity that the meaning is easily lost. It awakens the heart, for perhaps just a moment, to something far to many of us have starved ourselves of, feeling.
As I mentioned before this is a difficult thing to accomplish. Some of the books that have made the Tom Mueller personal favorite list only have one of these moments, then there are the few in which the author is so in tune with the human experience that these moments come almost naturally. It’s maddening for a writer and under no circumstances do you want to read one of these while writing your own book unless you love to feel like a complete loser. This is a very short list in my experience. I’m convinced it only takes one of these moments to elevate a good book to that of a work of art.
This is where the fear part I talked about comes in.
Writing a book is not for the faint of heart. It’s stinkin hard. It takes planning, research, perseverance, patience, and time. A lot of time! Most importantly it takes courage. Courage, you say? What’s so courageous about writing a book? Well, because of this one question that permeates the cerebrum of every writer I know; What if it stinks? Don’t underestimate these four words. This one little question has derailed countless writers throughout history. It’s derailed me. I’ve been working on A Whistle In The Dark for about 6 years now. It’s not because it has actually taken 6 years to write, but because numerous times the perceived answer to that little question caused me to shelf it, and even the thought of going back sent 8.0 tremors through my being. So what brought me back?
I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but about a year ago the inward nagging of walking away from this work due to the fear of failure was finally made apparent to me. I’m convinced most writers don’t even recognize this fear in the moment, but it hit me, and it hit me hard. I sat down for the first time in over a year to examine what I had written, and in the darkened corner of my heart I heard that question arise, “what if it stinks?” For the first time I had recognized that it had paralyzed me. In that moment something rose up within me to say enough is enough. You see, like most writers, I wanted to write a work of art my first time out. I know, ridiculous, right? It’s true though. I wanted a New York Times bestseller even though I know deep down my writing is nominal. This was the secret for me. This is my first book. Nobody on their first book hits it out of the park, unless your Paul Young or some other anomaly. I had to free myself to write crud. It’s not that I’m trying to write crud, but when your new that’s just what happens. I’m probably being hard on myself and I actually think it’s pretty good, but that’s not the point. I had to free myself from this unrealistic expectation as a new author. I can only get better by writing. I can only improve upon my first work by actually finishing a first work.
So be courageous writers. Feel free to write crud, Tom Mueller give you permission. Keep challenging yourself and above all keep writing. My book is being written 25o words a day. Set a realistic goal and stick with it. Most books are 60,000-80,000 words. If you write 250 words a day you will haven written a book in little over half a year.
Reading inspiration and books I have loved off the top of my head. (Not all Young Adult)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (This is the best book I have ever read. It’s really long, but if you can’t stomach it get it at the library for free on CD. It’s worth it.)
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy and Gary Happenstand
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart (This is the most endearing and amazing kids book I have read.)
Hatchet by Gary Paulson
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Giver by Lois Lowry
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage by Joe Wheeler
I would love to hear about the books you love. List them in the comments.