Fantastic Beasts and How to Write Them

Some things in the universe are simple. Whether in Paris or Portland, 2 + 2 will always equal 4. Like gravity and the periodic table, some things just ARE. Language, however, is a human construct. There is no equation to help us hapless humans make sense of it all. People greet each other with “bonjour” in Paris but “hello” in Portland – who’s to say which one is correct? IS there a “correct”?

The whole thing is so subjective. What sounds true and artful to one reader will seem like lifeless fluff to another. English is the WORST. A language invented on rule exceptions and vocabulary generously lifted from other cultures, we’ve been left with a mishmash that sends even the most deft writers to their grammar handbooks. Case in point – if our alphabet has a K and an S, why do we need a C?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book release event at Harvard Square, complete with a concert by a Wizard rock band, Draco and the Malfoys. This fantastic hubub is for a BOOK.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book release event at Harvard Square, complete with a concert by a Wizard rock band, Draco and the Malfoys. This fantastic hubub is for a book. A BOOK.

But this is not a language lesson. This is a confession that I have a complicated relationship with writing. I love its ability to convey any thing or thought in our galaxy with beauty and wonder. It can bring people together, like a gabillion readers crammed into a book store at midnight for a Harry Potter release. It can divide just as easily, as the surprisingly gorgeous Declaration of Independence shows us. And it can teach us about every molecule of every person, place, or thing under the sun.

But to write well with clarity, purpose, and a smidge of art is incredibly hard. I’ve taught writing, I have a master’s degree in writing, I’ve taught other teachers how to teach writing, and still I struggle with my own every day. There are infinite choices we have with which to paint a picture, and that’s overwhelming.

If I’m writing a narrative scene, did I do enough showing vs. telling? Does this whole chapter change for the better if I make it from a different character’s point of view? Add flashbacks, or tell the story straight from beginning to end? What’s the difference between a zerbert and blowing a raspberry? I’m already exhausted.

And I know my writer friends would say to put my ass in a chair and write. Write a lot. Do it for a long time. Don’t second guess yourself or you’ll never make it past page two. Stop whining. Write now, revise later. Write, write, write.

I was re-inspired by a friend tonight who just celebrated the release of her third novel. Her enthusiasm for writing is contagious, and I can’t wait to dust off my manuscript and take a fresh stab at it.

Writing is, above all, a fantastic beast worthy of the hunt.

writing meme

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4 Responses to Fantastic Beasts and How to Write Them

  1. KellyZ says:

    Yes! Writing is a fantastic beast!! Having studied other languages and having taught ESL, I have to say, English can be complicated and contradictory, but it’s AWESOME with so many ways you can express an idea… expressions and images taken from all the languages that has touched it over its history.

  2. But to write well with clarity, purpose, and a smidge of art is incredibly hard. And I don’t know which is hardest…the clarity, the purpose or the smidge? I have to agree with KellyZ, English is beautiful, and I think it’s the fact that it is invented on rule exceptions that gives the language its baffling versatility and its versatile baffling.
    Great post!

  3. Melissa Papasavvas says:

    I always love your words! Yes, yes, by all means, keep writing…if not for yourself, for all of your adoring groupies! 😉

  4. Jill says:

    Writing is hard, but it’s even harder when you’re raising little ones. Writing requires space … space to think, feel, compose. That can be a luxury when you are holding down the fort, in charge of schedules and needs other than your own. Of COURSE I think you should write! But cut yourself some slack. Don’t raise your personal bar so high that you are easily discouraged. Enjoy your writing without fretting about where you will end up. (These words are for me as much as they are for you!)
    I’m looking forward to seeing that manuscript! (Which one is it?)

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