Tag Archives: publishing

What’s the Point?

Credit: Beth-Alison Berggren

First published on Karen Cushman’s blog post “What’s New?” in response to the following question:  “I find it profoundly difficult these days to be a writer.  My inspiration and enthusiasm have been buried so far below an onslaught of awful news headlines and downright hate, trauma, and tragedy that I struggle to reach them.  What’s a girl to do?  In a world so woeful and broken, how can I dig beneath the heartbreak and create?  Do you have the same thoughts?  If so, how do you free yourself to write during these confusing, troubling times?”

 

What ‘s the Point?

 

Mary Oliver:  I also believed and still believe, with more alarm as the years go by, that we are destroying the Earth.

Krista Tippett:  And you don’t write about that.

Mary Oliver:  No.  Simply that I think you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  And there are some poets who pound on that theme until you really can’t take any more.  And I think that my way of doing it, saying this is what we have, let’s keep it, because it’s beautiful and wonderful and wondrous might work better.  Though probably it’s not going to work either.  We’re in deep trouble with the environment I believe.  And nobody’s going to stop this business of … of business, of making money, the amassing of things that will vanish for us as we vanish.  I’ll leave a few poems behind . . . but not much cash.

Unedited interview, On Being, October 15, 2015

So . . . Mary Oliver, from whom so many of us draw hope for our precious, struggling world, for our precious, struggling lives, despairs, too. How painful to hear!

And yet when I listened to that interview I only nodded and thought, Of course.  That’s the way it is, isn’t it?  We despair and, at the same time, we write about wonders.

Because what is the point of writing anything else? The wondrous, after all, still exists.  The wondrous in the natural world that surrounds us, the wondrous in human relationships, the wondrous that flows from the human mind . . . art, science, even technology. All worthy of honor.

I feel a powerful aversion to the message I’ve heard too often handed to young people, “We adults have failed.  The world is yours now.  Fix it!”

If I were young today I can’t imagine much that would fill me with more disdain . . . or more anger.

So I have recently spent intensive months first researching then writing and rewriting and rewriting a picture book text called EarthSong.  I don’t say one word in it about our collapsing climate.  I only celebrate. A hymn, not a sermon. My theory is that if I can fill a young child—and perhaps that young child’s caretaker, too—with wonder at our Earth, they will be more ready to take care than if I preach the fire and brimstone I can too easily see gathering at our feet.

And if, as I suspect, taking care in our individual lives is no longer enough to make a difference, then at least my words will bring my readers to the kind of deep appreciation that can change us today.

Of course, climate chaos isn’t the only threat I, and many others, see gathering around us.  We stand on the brink of war, war we can no longer simply export to other lands and pretend is not ours.  Our own society is collapsing under the burden of inequality, of a neglected infrastructure, of short-sighted and greedy economic policies.  Politics—all of it, not just the too-easy-to-name newcomers—has become a travesty, focused on power rather than the common good.

There are days when my most optimistic thought is that I’m old.  If I’m lucky, I will come in nature’s unerring way to that final exit before the collapse.

But then I have grandchildren.

I have grandchildren.

And young readers.

And the only answer I can find when I speak to them is to combine honesty with a deep honoring of the good, of the beautiful, of the holy.

Because it isn’t just that “you catch more flies with honey.”  That’s true, of course.  But what’s even more true is that we need, all of us, young and old, to live in that good, beautiful, holy place.  Otherwise, what is the point?

And if we need to live in it, then I need to write in it, too.

Believe in yourself …

Credit: Scarletina | morguefile.com

Believe in yourself when no one else does.  No one will believe you can do it until you do, so you have to want your own dreams. Others can want your dreams for you, but you’re the only one who can make them happen, and you’re the only one who can succeed or fail in reaching them.
Becca Martin

I want to be famous…

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

     

Credit: godchild78 | morguefile.com

                                                                                           Naomi Shihab Nye

Only a Picture Book

It’s only a picture book, but years passed between getting the idea and finally knowing how I wanted to tackle it.  Once I’d figured out an approach, it took months to research. Not months of constant work, but on and off months of searching, digesting, searching again.  And though coming in at just over 400 words, the manuscript took weeks to write.

The Stuff of Stars is a creation myth based in science.  And next year it will be published by Candlewick with breath-taking illustrations by Ekua Holmes.

Credit: NASA

During the months of research and writing, my enchantment with my topic grew.  How could I not be awed by the vastness of space, by the power of the forces that brought our planet into being, by the serendipity that allows this piece of rock we call home to sustain life?  So awed that, though the manuscript has long been out of my hands, the topic has never quite left.

Once more I find myself searching, digesting, searching again.

Once more I sat down to write, concentrating this time on Earth, our Earth.  Not to write a sermon about how we aren’t taking care of it.  We have too many sermons masquerading as children’s books, sermons bent on making those who follow us responsible for the world they are inheriting.  Rather I wanted to write a hymn, something that would live in the veins of my young readers.  A hymn to honor a world that is precious beyond all singing of it.

The first step, return to my research.  I am not an astronomer or a geologist, which means I have to read and read and read before I can comprehend science well enough to make a few very basic statements.  When I’m describing the way the first land mass appeared, can I use the word rose?

And then, once more, I sat down to write.  Slowly, haltingly, turning science into poetry while remaining true to the science.

My concept began to take shape, but not quite the shape I wanted.  Something was wrong with the ending, something I couldn’t name. I showed my manuscript to three fellow writers.  They each had thoughtful comments.  Sometimes what one loved another hated, but that was fine.  I drew on their insights while the text remained mine.

I kept drawing closer to what I wanted the piece to be.  But still . . .   But still . . .  Something didn’t work.  Something none of us could name.

Finally, I showed the text to my daughter.  I don’t usually share my writing with her until it is finished.  She is not a writer.  In fact, having grown up watching her mother peck away constantly at a keyboard to little visible result, she long ago decided that being a writer must be the worst career in the world.  She is, however, a reader, and she is direct and honest.

She read my text once and said what the others had said before her.  “I love it!”  Then she said something more. “But it’s two separate books.”

Sometimes criticism that takes time to settle.  You have to carry it in a pocket—a pocket very close to your heart—for a long time before you know whether to make the insight yours.  Sometimes it strikes like a lightning bolt.

Beth-Alison’s comment was of the lightning bolt variety.

So today I’m back at the text again.  And slowly, slowly I am finding my way forward.  I believe I’ll find the shape this time.

It’s only a picture book.  When it’s done it will be around 400 words. But the process of capturing those 400 words . . . ah!  That’s both joy and despair.

If a poem is worthy…

If a poem is worthy at all, it isn’t tough—it is frail and exquisite, a mood, a moment of sudden understanding, a cobweb which falls apart at a clumsy touch.

Credit: takeasnap | morguefile.com

Jennings Thompson, editor of Silver Pennies