reading


I’ve been following Wil Wheaton’s blog posts for the last… um… long time. I don’t know when I started reading, but I know it was sometime in college, which dates me back at least six years (unless I misremember… anyway, it’s been a while). When I first started reading, I was admittedly a fangirl who had a longstanding crush on Gordy Lachance and, later, Wesley Crusher (the sweaters… I swear it was the sweaters).

At any rate. What’s completely awesome about Wil is that he is a consummate geek, which I’m sure is news to no one. And ALSO he’s a writer. I’ve found myself reading his posts about writing with more attention over the years, and consistently surprised and often moved by what I’ve read and learned.

I’ve been mulling about today, discouraging myself at every turn, generally feeling bad for myself that I don’t have enough time to write the ideas in my head, and disappointed in the quality of writing that I’ve actually been doing. It’s a crap place to be, you know?

And here I am, the DNC playing in front of me on mute (I hate rehearsed speeches, but am mildly curious as to what’s going to go down tonight) I open up Google Reader, and note Wil’s last post: i thought i was the only one. And… wow. That post was so exactly what I needed to read. Not only was he talking about the crap we put ourselves through as writers, but he cited some of the coolest, geekiest, most wonderfullest writers around: John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, and Cherie Priest.

Not to mention this bit that sounds so much like me lately, it borders on eerie (emphasis mine, and current state):

From time to time, I get creatively exhausted and no matter how hard I try, I can’t put two words togeher. Usually, it happens after I get across a particularly important deadline, like my brain just shuts down and refuses to do anything until I take time off and recover HP. Problem is, I always feel guilty, like I’m being a deadbeat while Anne does real work during these times. Other times, I feel like a ferret on meth, struggling to help my fingers keep up with my brain as it unleashes idea after idea at me.

I don’t know Wil, personally. But it just makes me feel kinda fuzzy to know that the dude I crushed on TNG is one of my kind, one of my peeps. And it’s especially awesome to feel like there’s some great geek writer’s wavelength out there that we can hang on to, and remind ourselves that no, we are not alone. We are, in fact, in it together… just very much engrossed in our own universes and galaxies…

So, thanks, Wil. You are so very full of win.

When I started writing novels, I don’t think I was aware of what I was doing. I certainly didn’t do it for fame or fortune, for notoriety or notice. It was a compulsion, something I simply had to do. That’s hard to explain to people who don’t write, I suppose–but perhaps we all have things in our life that work that way, talents or compulsions or what have you that materialize out of nowhere but stick. It’s a strange habit, and a solitary one (although I did write two books with cowriters when I was really young).

Sometimes, when I feel in the doldrums, or–like recently–I have so many novel ideas sloshing around in my head I can’t make sense of it all, I sit back and think like a kid. You know, when I was twelve and writing, it didn’t matter who liked what I read, or how clever I had to be. I wrote from the deepest, most intensely passionate part of me, without a filter, for the pure, unadulterated joy of it. I was prolific. I was dedicated. I, of course, sucked. But I was telling stories, building worlds, and escaping the harsh realities of my own life into a multicolored palette of sheer fantasy.

And reminding myself of that, well… it helps keep me focused. It helps me to remember that this gift, or what have you, has been with me as long as I could string enough paragraphs together to make a chapter. And even a little of that passion, that drive, and that wonder–well, it goes a long way, doesn’t it?

Photo by John Weir

Photo by John Weir

There is a crisis, as I see it, among the younger generation of girls in our society. Younger and younger, they seem to slough off their identities as children and strive to be the wrong kind of women. Mini skirts, huge sunglasses, hair extensions–these Lindsay Lohan Paris Hiltons often haven’t even hit puberty yet, and are wearing high-heels and carrying around metallic purses.

Where are they getting this from? Well, the media is all over the Britney/Lindsay/Parises of the world, and young girls are certainly listening. Even the Hannah Montana craze is like a slightly toned down version of the whole media message, but nice enough for moms and dads not to mind.

When I was younger, I was annoyed that there weren’t enough good books for me to read. I hated all the babysitter crap, the dewy eyed high-school romance books, and the millions of books about horses. (Why does everyone assume little girls love horses? Clearly, unicorns are far superior.) Most of my friends ate this stuff up, blasting through entire series in the blink of an eye and gushing about the love lives of their favorite fictive babysitters.

And it’s gotten much, much worse. The top selling books these days are, as I heard one bookseller explain, “Sex and the City for kids!”

What’s the solution to this? Geekdom.

Growing up, I had an idea I was a geek, but I didn’t know what to make of myself. If I had someone older help me through, I might have managed a little better and gained a little more confidence. I needed a role model that told me learning about the space-time continuum was cool, that memorizing the lineages of Hobbits was a perfectly respectable past-time and that, yes, unicorns are awesome. As it was, I took the long, hard road.

The thing is, girls need to understand that “girl power” has nothing to do with having a Coach bag and a Blackberry. It’s about being confident, about being strong and smart and beautiful from the inside out. Finding the right book, the right author, the right story, can change a girl’s life forever. I’m confident of that–heck, it happened to me.

For me, Madeline L’Engle was that voice. In the third grade I started with A Wrinkle in Time and the rest is history. L’Engle’s Meg Murry (and consequent other heroines) were role models for me–often slightly geeky girls with glasses who just “didn’t fit in” and yet, in the end, are capable of the near-impossible. L’Engle inspired my imagination, bolstered my confidence, and helped me to see that yes, I could do great things, too. Not to mention that her books helped me realize something else: women can write. We can write beautifully, meaningfully, artistically. We, too, can dream the big dreams.

As parents, teachers, friends, cousins, uncles, aunts… well, we really should do what we can to impact young girls’ lives. People are always willing to criticize the youth of today, but how many of us have been proactive in working to change that? So often, growing up, it’s the things we can’t do that define how we see ourselves (I’ll never be pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough, fast enough)–showing someone what they can do, well, that’s magic. Real, pure, magic.

Some suggestions to start?

  • Madeline L’Engle
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Garth Nix
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Susan Cooper
  • Patricia C. Wrede
  • Lloyd Alexander

There are dozens and dozens more (there’s a great Amazon list here with some more contemporary titles, too). And how about some graphic novels while you’re at it, too? And hey, if there’s a writer that impacted you, feel free to comment away.

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