Writing Can Be Messy

Note: This post is more than a book review, however, it does include some story spoilers.  You’ve been warned.

Last night I finished one of the most difficult reads of my life: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  I had heard ripples of conversation about it through reading groups, but I didn’t seriously get intrigued until I read Writer’s Digest’s article about Hosseini, which happens almost every time I read an author’s personal story.  They become real people to me.  Real people with a passion for writing just like me.  Never, though, did I expect the tale that would unfold when I downloaded this novel onto my Kindle.

There were times while reading The Kite Runner that I felt like I was witnessing a violent roadside accident, and I couldn’t take my eyes away.   I almost called it quits when Amir’s best friend is raped by the neighborhood bully.  However, Hosseini had me caring so much about these kids that I had to see them through to the end.  His character development is probably some of the strongest I have ever read.  I honestly believe I would have closed any other novel forever.

Despite the pain this book inflicted on my heart, I was delighted with layers of meaning and fabulous writing.  Hosseini’s writing is beautiful.  He has a flow I’ve never encountered anywhere else.  His images were brilliant.  I felt I was right beside Amir and Hassan in the biting cold, my neck aching from gazing skyward for hours, guiding their kite to victory.  I was in the room screaming with Sohrab while Amir battled his childhood nemasis for the boy’s freedom.  I invaded the intimate moment under the green veil as Amir and his new bride gazed at themselves for the first time in a mirror at their wedding.

Hosseini taught me something.  I never would have thought of Afghanistan as a happy, peaceful place where people could prosper and children could run free in the streets.  It reminded me of the stories older American generations tell about life in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  I also recognize that a portion of the story was told through a child’s eyes.  A child who grew up in a wealthy home.  Perspective is everything.

I also didn’t know much about the Taliban reign in Afghanistan.  Yes, I saw the CNN reports, but really I just dismissed much of it–I have a whole soapbox speech about how I feel about American media, but I will spare you.  This book took me there.  It tore at my heart.  I hurt because I live in such a wonderful country and have been spared the injustices and unacceptable living conditions these people have been subjected to.

The next layer was the growth and development of Amir.  I see him as an anti-hero.  He did horrible things as a child in scrabbling attempts to win his father’s approval.  Sometimes as an adult, he wasn’t that great of a human either, but he was evolving.  I saw hope for him.  For much of the novel, Amir was not very likable.  I have realized in several books I thought hated, I just hated the main characters.  They were crappy people.  The Great Gatsby (most of the cast was shallow and irritating).  Gone with the Wind (Scarlet, I love to hate you).  Those characters made me nuts.  After some reflection, I discovered what I was really encountering was some damn good writing!

I learned a lot about writing from The Kite Runner.  Sometimes you have to get messy, challenge your reader to go past her comfort zone.  If you have done your job and created characters a reader can’t leave hanging you have written a winner.  Take your reader to a place she’s never been.  Teach her something.  Make her care about something she never would have given a second thought in her mile a minute, self-absorbed life.

I tend to be a tidy writer.  My natural tendency is to create a safe, happy little world for my people to frolic in.  When problems hit, they almost aren’t believable.  I started a piece last winter with a main character I never warmed to.  I’m beginning to think I need to bring her back out to play.  Get my hands dirty and see what the outcome is.

Thank you Khaled Hosseini for giving me permission to go places I normally wouldn’t.  The atrocities in The Kite Runner were not gratuitous as I first thought.  They were necessary.  This was not a tidy story.  In fact, it was a hot mess.  It didn’t even have the happy ever after I look for when I pick up a novel.  I’ll admit, that stung a bit.  I wanted to wrap a bow around the ending, but alas that ribbon is going to have to wait until my next read, and I’m going to be careful about pulling it out too soon on my own work.

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More Than a Job

Remember the overused saying, “You need a taste of your own medicine.”?  Good.  I’m taking a dose of that right now.  A couple of things have happened this summer.

1.  My writing schedule and approach to my work was blown to bits when my seven-year-old got out of school for the summer.  I could not for the life of me find a way to work and have her here.  It was incredibly frustrating as I wrestled with mommy guilt and my need to create.  I ended up filled with anxiety and irritation.  Not a good combination in any situation.

2.  Last weekend Courtney Carver at Be More with Less published a post I wrote in April about my simplified approach to working as a writer.  Reading my words from months ago when I was on fire for my new career and ready to do what it took to get the work done was a huge slap in the face.  I had pretty much forgotten about that post.  When I wrote it school was in full swing and I had the perfect set-up to write and care for our house during the day and be ready to be mom when the last bell rang at three o’clock.

A couple of weeks ago my anxiety built until it hit the full-on meltdown stage.  I have spent the last two weeks putting the pieces back together and healing.  A large part of that healing has been stepping away from work related writing and simply spending time writing in my journal.  With each turn of the page, I have been feeling myself getting stronger and my fire for the craft stirring.  I remembered how when things were right I never skipped warming up before diving into my work in progress (WIP).  No less than twenty minutes was spent in my notebook.  If for some reason I only had thirty minutes that day, it went to the notebook.  It was that important.

I developed this habit as I was reading Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.  I can safely stay this book is my writing Bible.  It taught me the importance of writing being more than a job.  It’s a part of my life.  It helps me heal when I’m hurting.  It helps me discover when I need to figure things out.   It’s a conduit for my joy when everything is right in my little world.  Writers must write, and it is important that we give ourselves permission and time to create outside of work mode.

One of my favorite movies is Toy Story 2.  I love the scene where Geri, the Toy Repairman, slowly and painstakingly restores Woody to mint condition.  Just before he begins his work, Al, the greedy toy store owner, hops from foot to foot and asks how long the process will take.  Geri calmly replies, “You can’t rush art.”

In my frenzied rush to get something done this summer I dove right into my WIP’s without taking the time to warm up and was disappointed over and over with my results.  Thin characters and plots.  Lame ideas.  I couldn’t feel my writing.  Just like many basketball players have a little ritual they perform before a free throw, most writers have a ritual they perform when they sit down to write.

My work matters to me, and it matters to others.  I owe it to myself and my readers to do my best work every single time I sit down.  I am recommitting myself to warming up before every work session, and slowing down to make my writing great.  Check out my post on Be More With Less to find out the other steps I will be taking to fit my work into my life both when my daughter is home and at school.  Also, stay tuned for my writing space reveal.  I have been challenged by some people who love me very much to create a home office so I have a real place to retreat to.  Creativity does not about when faced with a stack of dirty dishes.