A Facebook group I'm part recently had a question about what "great" books aspiring writers should read. Basically, how do you implement that advice that good writers need to be good readers? A lot of people rightly said that you should read what you like, which is true but not necessarily what the person was looking for. I offered up a list of my favorite novels and why I liked them, undoubtedly forgetting some, and I also suggested some nonfiction about writing that I find helpful.
I never studied creative writing, but I went to a college with a big arts program and was exposed to a lot of ideas about consuming the "best" art. In the last few years I've noticed how much that "great art," in many mediums, was almost always made by cis men, usually by straight white men, usually centering their own damn experiences. I've been reading Rebecca Solnit's The Mother of All Questions and thinking a lot about what art, especially fiction in all its forms, teaches us about our world. By our stories we survive, right? So what are those stories?
My sister is a visual artist. She went to art school. Recently she read a book called How to Suppress Women's Writing and it's changing her art. Today I took the baby to the art studio she's renting for the summer and looked at her work, so different from what she's been doing for the last ten years. "I'm breaking the rules they taught me in college," she told me. She's making these huge pieces, paintings on top of paper weavings, gardens of paper flowers, an alphabet of animals floating in blank space. It's unlike other things and it seems to be pouring out of her, now that she is breaking the rules.
I'm borrowing that book. It's giving her permission, it seems, to unlearn rules. I needed permission, permission that I gave myself, to stop reading books because they were highly recommended or well reviewed and to instead read what I like. To ignore men's novels almost entirely. To center stories as much like my own as I can find.
I think a lot of people wanting to write are, quite sensibly, looking for rules and guides and classic work to read. That's great. We all need to learn the rules of the medium we're using. But we also need to unlearn them. We need to throw out "classics" that erase or diminish us, to shrug off guides that don't serve us, to question to rules. We need to do all this at the same time we live our lives and support other people's work and create. It's an incredible prospect to make art. It's a joy to be a part of this.
I'm pretty disciplined as a writer. I finished Certain Requirements a little at a time, waking up at 6 every morning for months and months to write for 15-30 minutes before work. Writing is a marathon for me, not a sprint.
That's how I work best, a slow and steady schedule that doesn't vary much. Except I'm rewriting this new book as a stay at home mom, either when my wife is with him or while he naps. I've concluded at this point that I absolutely couldn't get this written without my wife. Because I cannot get into the flow of writing when he could wake up at any minute. Also, a lot of the time when I start to write he wakes up. Like as I started writing this. Luckily he's very cute.
When I was still in college, my friends and I somehow ended up at a lesbian mixer that we clearly didn't belong at, celebrating the brand new, yet unreleased, The L Word. It was so exciting! So exciting that these women in their forties didn't even seem to mind that we, borderline teenagers in silly outfits, had crashed their event. We were all in it together.
That show was so bad. So, so bad. But I still watched it more than once. Didn't we all? It was a reference point for lesbian community.
Now it is coming back as a reboot. Will it be terrible? Probably! Will I be annoyed that I wasted my time on it? At some point, I'm sure I will. But right now I'm excited. So excited that I could almost leave my home and celebrate with other queer women, regardless of our differences.
Almost. My baby is taking a nap so I am not actually going anywhere until he wakes up.
It's almost time for my birthday list again. Since I spent the first half of the year pregnant and the second half with an infant, that's a big theme. Oh, that and getting a publisher for my BOOK! Warning: it's long
1. Sometimes during pregnancy your rib cage spreads. It is painful and weird and there is nothing you can do about it.
2. How to breastfeed. I could not have done it without help, though I'm now having a pretty easy time after some early hurdles. In the beginning I was spending 8 or more hours a day doing this, no exaggeration.
3. That The Business of Being Born is full of nonsense. Nobody knows what the "ideal" C-Section rate is. Intervention-free childbirth works for some people in some situations but for most of human history a lot of women, and even more babies, died because human childbirth is not a simple process. My kid almost certainly wouldn't be alive without medical interventions during his birth. I might not either.
4. How to let go of the myth of natural childbirth as the ideal. Reading Push Back was helpful. Trying a lot of hippie dippy things that didn't work pre-C Section was also helpful for me. My mom saying, in her most no nonsense way, "You aren't missing much" when I fussed about it, helped too. But most helpful was having a wonderful baby and enjoying him and remembering that this joy was much more important than some specific cultural about how birth should go.
5. I have never experienced love like I have for my baby. Knowing I could love someone like this, that my mother loves me like this, is a revelation I can't put into words.
6. How to like camping. The keys: car camping, air mattress, excellent food that someone else makes, a hammock, fun things to read, and that your wife does all the unpleasant tasks in an effort to make you like camping.
7. Clipping baby fingernails is more difficult than some graduate school classes I took.
8. To get your novel published, FINDING the right publisher is probably the most important part of the submission process. You have to find a publisher who has published work like yours in the past. Don't just look at what websites say they accept. Have you read books they've put out? Find the right publisher! Then follow the submission guidelines and send it in.
9. What an EVC is, in the context of breech babies. Ouch.
10. What cluster feeding is. Also ouch. We survived it. Ten hours a night for three nights, only 15 minutes between feedings. My wife says that this is her, "We got through that, we can get through anything" reference point.
11. Nobody really knows the best way to raise kids. There are so many different historical and cultural practices that turn out perfectly functional people. Don't abuse your kids, don't neglect them, love them and do your best, and it will probably be okay. You don't have to worry or feel guilty about not doing things the "right way," even though you will. See: Baby Meets World, All Joy and No Fun, and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm for some perspective.
12. Every baby advice book will tell you that if you don't do things they way they say there will be horrible consequences. They do this because they're selling something and also because they aren't thinking about the impossibly complex ways we are all raised and interact with our environments. Knowing that every one of these books will be a little bit wrong with their claims is very helpful because then you know that nobody, experts included, really knows what they're doing.
13. Reading Far From the Tree changed me. This was also incredibly helpful because, in all the busy days of raising kids and worrying about (culturally constructed) developmental milestones, you can miss some fundamental things. Such as, your child could be radically different from you and in loving this radically different person, you can experience things that you had no idea about. There are many, many ways to have a good, meaningful, joyful life. Meeting your child as she is, not how you imagine she should be, releases you from a lot. Things can be very sad and still worthwhile.
14. Go out and find your people by talking to strangers.
15. Some people will say they're your friends and then absolutely not show up at all when, say, you are hobbling around with a new baby and need a friend. It's probably not about you.
16. Some people you don't think you know that well will show up in big ways when you're in need.
17. Just generally a lot about infant care, pregnancy, and sleep deprivation
18. Sometimes things work out better than you planned
19. A lot about marriage after a baby when you're both very, very tired
20. Hormones are no joke. Whew. Pregnancy and early postpartum life was bananas.
21. Keep writing, keep sending your work out
22. That being said, actually getting something published is hugely helpful in continuing to do this
23. Sometimes the world feels like it's falling apart and seeing other people resist evil is one of the only ways to keep myself going. (Thanks to everyone who keeps protesting)
24. I don't have to fix everything, even as I do my little part in the world
25. I don't have to maintain relationships with people who don't value me or my family
26. Several children's songs and such
27. How to fall asleep at like 8 pm (Hint: Be exhausted!)
28. A lot of really charming activities and places to visit with babies
29. I think I finally figured out a day job that I think I could have for the next couple decades. I think I have a plan to get there in 2-3 years, which is not bad considering I'm on maternity leave for another year
30. I have such a delightful, easy baby
31. You will always, always find more typos
32. Indian-style pizza exists!
33. So many queers look like lesbian Ken . You can't unsee it.
A queer femme, writing romance and smut.