Posts tagged ‘writing’

June 27th, 2011

There’s So Much More than Meets the Eye

by Madeleine Rex

DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended to dampen the morale around here. I simply want to address a few issues and clarify things for those who might be confused. I hope that the ultimate message here is a positive one, and I certainly mean the closing paragraphs to be uplifting.

There was a lot of buzz concerning the Slate article written by Katie Crouch and Grady Hendrix, the authors of The Magnolia League. It’s an article concerning the “realities” (note the quotation marks) of YA and writing YA. The article outraged many YA writers, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely impervious myself.

Once everybody had made their way through it (eyes rolling intermittently), my twitter feed was clogged with upset tweets. Regrettably, I added to the negativity, but a few fellow writers calmed those of us who had lost our cool. I decided to take a some time to let the article’s contents settle in my brain before confronting this blog post.

The article is supposedly the inside-scoop on YA and oftentimes discusses the contrast between YA and literary fiction. Typically, I’d think: Yay! People will hear the truth about the YA and why it appeals to so many. Fantastic, right? Unfortunately, though the writers of the article talk about the benefits and draw of YA, they do so rather condescendingly, depicting YA as a sort of “cop-out” genre for writers who want to work and make money fast (authors who essentially want instant gratification) and readers who want beach reads with little depth or truth-telling.

While I’m sure this is the case for some YA writers and readers, it’s undoubtedly the truth for readers and writers of any genre. In other words: It’s not the genre, it’s the people in question. However, can it really be said that YA is as frilly and superficial as they seem to think it is? Is there no truth-telling or emotional depth? Of course there is! There’s loads of it! Particularly if you look in the right places. Consider John Green’s books, or Melina Marchetta’s. There are brutally honest portrayals of characters’ rough teenage years out there that have captivated audiences of every age. And despite the popularity of dystopian and fantastical books in YA, there are many talented authors that manage to infuse those books with realistic characters who have the same complicated emotions and problems teenagers like myself are forced to confront in our everyday lives. As writers of young adult, most of us strive to be as truthful as possible in an effort to connect with the real teenagers who are our target audience. Any additional frill and frufru is simply included to make the story and plot as much of a fun and adventurous jaunt as possible.

Also, it cannot be said that YA authors don’t spend hours critiquing their own work to make it as impeccable as possible. The claim that YA authors only write 2 or 3 drafts is an absurd generalization. Stephenie Meyer might have written Twilight in one fell swoop, but I think we’ve all come to realize that Twilight is not the only, nor the best, example of young adult fiction. YA is a vast and expanding genre that encompasses myriad topics. There are subgenres galore, and every reader has his or her own preferences.

Of course, I’m taking a risk by writing this post at all – and I might be insane to post it – but I believe something needs to be said beyond 140 character spurts of frustration. I don’t want to make a fuss, but I want to clarify for those who might have read the article that are not young adult fiction writers. Never believe in stark generalizations, but even more to the point: Don’t sell YA short, and don’t for a minute believe it is substandard. Why is it that Young Adult is thought to be petty simply because it incorporates some plotlines that aren’t profoundly serious? YA, like every genre – from middle grade to literary fiction – is simply targeted toward a specific audience and therefore strives to incorporate aspects into the story that are regular problems in a teen’s life.

I love young adult, not because I don’t want to invest my time or take my plotlines seriously, but because I love the audience, the genre’s potential, and simply love writing it. That is why YA is awesome. (And I’m sure it is way better than prom.)

P.S. If you haven’t read it already, head over to my “Dear Writers, Respect YA” post from awhile back.

June 5th, 2011

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Bird by Bird

Author: Anne Lamott

Published: September 1st, 1995

Number of Pages: 239

Rating: 4/5


Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

With this basic instruction always in mind, Anne Lamott returns to offer us a new gift: a step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.

If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this books for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eves open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life. [From Goodreads]


There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer’s block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talen run down your leg and into your sock.

Now, you also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? What would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had sixth months to live? Would they start smoking again? Would they keep flossing?

…clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.


Despite the fact that many, many were, it’s odd to find out that certain books were written before I was born. For instance, this book was written almost two months before I was born, and now here I am, reading it and understanding it. Isn’t wonderful how time has no hold over literature? And it’s quite fortunate, considering how much this book has and will continue to help me with my writing.

As I’ve said before, it’s always a comfort to read a book on writing by someone who can very clearly write well. If the author can manage to make their nonfiction interesting, I am willing to learn from them! They’re gifted.

Bird by Bird is definitely the… deepest of the three books on writing that I’ve read recently. Anne Lamott ties life experiences of her own and of others into the concepts she’s trying to teach. In many cases, I forgot that I was reading a book on writing at all, because the “on life” factor is so dominant. At the same time, I learned loads about writing, specifically theme, characters, and the lifestyle that a person must adopt to devote themselves to writing. Anne Lamott was born into a literary household (her father was a writer). She learned to love books from her loved ones, and eventually learned to write from them as well. I was inspired by the stories she told of writing books for her dying father and best friend. What could be more worthy of our time, energy, and creativity than the people we love most?

I think the key thing I got out of Bird by Bird was a strengthened appreciation for the writing craft (or art?). It affects everything a writer does in life. The way we speak, the way we read, the way we think of people, and the way we see the world. As I come to understand how to create characters, I understand people far better. The more I learn about intriguing description, the more I appreciate the things around me. Anne Lamott stresses how wonderful – though sometimes brutally difficult – writing is, and it’s evident that she thinks it’s the best sort of life.

And isn’t it?

Bird by Bird is a touching, funny, and informative book that will teach and motivate. You will want to jump right back into your work-in-progress. You’ll remember why you began writing in the first place – it nurtures you.

May 6th, 2011

Learn from the Classics

by Madeleine Rex

We’ve read some very well-known books in my English class this year (many of which I’d already read). We began the year with Of Mice and Men, a book I’m a huge fan of. However, it wasn’t until I dug into it for a second time with the aid of my fabulous (or “rad” as one of my other teachers described her) English teacher that I realized just how spectacularly detailed Of Mice and Men is. There’s something that writers like Steinbeck have managed to do with word choice that gives their words layer upon layer of meaning.

There’s a passage in which Steinbeck describes Lennie’s and George’s physical features, such as the way they walk and the angles of their face. It’s mystifying. I’d never noticed before reading it in class that Steinbeck manages to write the sentences in a way that reflects the image he’s trying to create. The words he uses to describe George’s skinniness are, well, skinny words, and vice versa for Lennie.

Ray Bradbury accomplishes something similar in many parts of Fahrenheit 451. When we’d discuss the intricacies of Bradbury’s or Steinbeck’s word choice, I was almost exhausted by the very thought of putting that much consideration into the words I choose. Certainly, diction’s important to me and something I love to deal with, but I can hardly imagine creating something so complex. It’s far more fun as a reader to untangle the meanings of specific paragraphs or individual sentences of other people’s books.

In Les Edgerton’s Hooked: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go, he says:

…every word needs to count and to represent much more than the few syllables it takes to utter.

Some writers have truly taken that advice to heart and created magic. I aspire to be half as brilliant before I die. Leaning to play with words and create illustrious images is a process I’ve yet to master and likely never will. But isn’t it fabulous to read a paragraph in a book and simply gape at it? Stare at it for ten seconds, and then reread? I love it when I come across something so magnificent that I wish I could tattoo it on my mind and carry it around with me as a constant reminder of what words can accomplish.

Someday, I want to make someone feel that way. Don’t you? Let’s look to the masters. Reread those books you were forced through in high school because there’s a pretty decent chance you’ll learn more the second time around. Don’t analyze. Analysis is too cold. Savor. Enjoy.

P.S. I just got my 100th follower! Thanks, Vy! There’s a giveaway coming up soon! Goodness knows you guys deserve it for putting up with my irregular posts!