Before I get to the topic addressed in the title, let me take care of a little business first. To choose the winner of the $20 Amazon card for use in purchasing Believe by Sarah Aronson, I turned to the Random number generator instead of drawing a name out of a box. (If you’ve reached this blog for the first time and are totally mystified, click here to learn more about Sarah.)
Congratulations, Brickhousechick! Please comment below with your email address or contact me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com.
Okay, now I’ll tell you what else has been on my mind lately. First, let’s travel back in time a bit. Picture in your mind large dinosaurs roaming the earth. (Feel free to think of the movie Jurassic Park, if that helps.) I was an undergraduate then, writing genre fiction. But in my critique group, genre fiction wasn’t exactly celebrated, nor was writing books geared toward an audience of kids.
“That’s not ‘real’ writing,” several members of the critique group informed me.
I touched the paper on which my story had been printed. It felt real to me.
“Real writing is writing for adults. Anyone can write for kids.”
I heard sentiments like that expressed over and over through the years. The implication was that writing with “literary merit” (whatever that may mean) can only be found in books for adults.
I stopped writing genre fiction or stories for kids for many years and wrote novels for adults. Now, I shudder to think of the manuscripts I wrote—sad, pretentious things they were—in my quest to be “real.” Don’t get me wrong. I like adult fiction. I just know my heart was in none of those manuscripts.
As I ponder the question of what “real” writing is, I’m reminded of a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (illustrated by William Nicholson). If you’ve never read that classic story, you can read it here. The Rabbit asked a question of the Skin Horse, another toy in the nursery.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
I love the Skin Horse’s response:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Some might discount the love a child has for a book or a toy. They cite the fact that children don’t have fully formed frontal lobes or the fact that kids often like interesting mixtures of things—like peanut butter and eggs or peppermint and pickles. But how many of you readily recall books you loved as a child—books that were a formative part of your life? And judging by how well received the Toy Story movies have been, many people have fond memories of old toys.
My entire life changed when a librarian handed me a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. In case you’ve never read this blog before (I’ve written about this experience before) or have never seen this book, let me school you: this is a science fiction book for kids. A Newbery-award winning science fiction book for kids, in case you’re of the belief that writing a book for kids isn’t all that challenging, since even a ferret could be trained to write one. (If you truly believe that, I’ve got some swamp property to sell. . . . See me after this post.) I decided to join the ranks of writers then and produce the types of stories that transformed my existence as a kid.
So, what is “real” writing? That which is that life changing, life giving, life affirming. Whatever turns a light bulb on in your head, puts a spring in your step, or makes you laugh or weep with joy. Whatever you LOVE—whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, humorous contemporary fiction, historical fiction, poetry, chick lit, guy lit, graphic novels, nonfiction—that’s “real.” Because writing what you love makes it so.
Velveteen Rabbit image from word-ink.net