Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing Mentors Change

If I want to know whether I’ve grown as a writer, I sit down and read something. The rule of thumb is this: if I feel the same about it, I haven’t grown.

Let me give you some backstory. During my middle school days, FictionPress and FanFiction.Net were two places I liked to explore. I could, on occasion, share my work, as well as delight myself with the works of other brave souls. There was this story—at the time, I think it was my favorite story—called “Embracing the Darkness.”

Deli-ci-ous pomegranate in the sun
Flickr Credit: NYCandre

(Hm, I wonder if you can still find it. Ah! You can. If you have time for 66,000 more words in your life, here ya go.)

The specifics of my love have grown fuzzy. It resonated with me, because my fourteen-year-old self really identified with a young goddess in her twenties. It’s a Hades and Persephone retelling, and that story is always one of my favorites. And it was kind of edgy, if you think drinking wine is edgy, which I guess I did.

Me being me, I printed out the story, hole punched it, and put it in a binder to read as many times as I wanted. I can’t blame myself. Nothing on the Internet lasts, but paper stays. And my copy of “Embracing the Darkness” has. I have vague memories of reading it on my bedroom floor freshman year of high school, back when I was on my Greek Mythology kick (not that it’s ended—take note for Wednesday) and was still at an age where I would have found the writing of most superior quality.

Fast forward to last month. I am decluttering my room, emptying old binders, throwing away unfamiliar papers, and, lo and behold, I find “Embracing the Darkness.” Just like maybe-five years ago, it is locked safely between two plastic covers among other gems such as “For Esme—with Love and Squalor” by J.D. Salinger (which has only gotten better since the last time I read it).

I remember loving the story. I remember wanting to one day write a story as powerful and emotionally satisfying as this one. And what is there to do with a story you love but jump right in?

…Except. Except it wasn’t quite the way I remembered it. The words didn’t flow quite as beautifully as I thought they did. The characters weren’t as developed as I remembered. And my eagerness didn’t burst from my heart quite so violently.

The story didn’t change; I did. What surprised me more than that, though, was that I didn’t mind.

I can appreciate the story for what it was to me before, but I’m also glad I can see these things. I’m older. I’ve read more. I’ve written more. I’ve edited more.  And, from that, I can see more—where the characterization lacks, where the prose feels stilted, where I would have changed things. I recognize these things, and feel confident that I’m better now—and if I can criticize someone else’s work like this, maybe I can do it to my own, too.

I’m glad I found “Embracing the Darkness.” I like knowing that I’ve grown. I like knowing that I have this story saved in the history of myself. And I like knowing that I can fully love and admire the writing mentors I look up to now—with great storytelling skills, craft, and characters—and not be afraid that someday I may end up criticizing them, too. I can change without regret, and that’s something I look forward to as I get older.

But even after all these years, I’m still a sucker for Hades and Persephone stores. I guess in that regard, some things never change.

Who have been some of your writing mentors? How have your opinions of them changed over the years?


17 comments :

  1. Oh oh I totally relate. I grew up reading sooo many books, like Newberry award winners and things? Children classics. Oldish books. ANYWAY. They totally inspired me to write, and I blame them 90% for me being so in love with words. But...when I tried to reread some favourites (because omg I was so wildly passionate about them back when I was a Small Human) I REALLY DIDN'T LIKE THEM. So basically exactly the feelings you described here! I felt sad though? Because they meant so much to me once and now ... I felt like I'd outgrown them.

    But I mean, in a way it's good...because it proves we're getting better at the word-thing, right?!

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    1. Oh yeah. It turns out that some books that were great for eighties kids turn less okay after a few years. And it is sad to outgrow them, because you know you can't grow back in. It's like having favorite jeans and then the next time you put them on your pelvis breaks and you don't want that so.

      But, yeah. Also it's good to get older and grow out of your jeans from when you were eight and so on and so forth...

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  2. For me, going back to read books I love and finding them different, it's a bit heart rending. I know it's a sign I've grown and a reader/writer, but it sort of ruins a story I've always treasured?? I guess thats why I'm not much of a re-reader :)

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    1. Mm, I can see that. It's better to remember the book the way it was rather than to try and hunt down those feelings a second time? I can get that.

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  3. Hmm, that's interesting. I'm always sad when I re-read a book and it isn't how I remember it. I think there are certain books that I want to stay the same for me forever because it reminds me of a certain time in my life when I first read it. (For example, I first read The Penderwicks while at our summer home before we moved, so I always associate that book with a time when my life was normal, summer and childhood. My view of that book changing would kind of change my view of that time in my life.)

    However I do agree that if you think of a certain book the same way every time you read it, then you're probably not growing as a reader or a writer :/ So maybe with everything in life, we need a bit of both. I'm glad you found that story again, though. It's always nice finding a bit of your childhood laying around :)

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    1. Oh, that would be kind of disappointing to lose a book and lose a memory. I actually kind of have a similar experience with The 39 Clues, which helped me make friends, and then I stopped liking the books and the magic of our friendship story sorta went away.

      It is fun to find pieces of my childhood laying around. XD I am also glad I grew because... wow. That story. Wow.

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  4. I really liked this post. I've felt this way before--still fond of a story I enjoyed as a younger person, but also more aware of the faults and weaknesses in the work. It definitely is a mark of growing as a writer. And I'm really excited to read Embracing the Darkness because when I was younger I started writing an edgy (edgier than wine drinking *nods*) retelling of Hades and Persephone, which I might pick back up in November, actually. I've always had a soft spot for their story.

    Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. Oooooooohhhhhhhh that edgy? Well as I said, I am a complete sucker for Hades and Persephone retellings and so if you decide to do that maybe we could... I dunno, exchange WIPs or something. On account of YES.

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    2. I approve of this plan. *nods*

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  5. I think you bring up a good point--if your view of books doesn't change, you probably haven't grown much. It's sort of scary and depressing, but also wonderful and encouraging.

    I've gotten to where I take one of two approaches when reading a childhood favorite--I either read it for sentimentality (just trying to enjoy it and the memories it brings); or, especially if it's a "classic", I try to read it for new meaning. I find that the best books grow with me.

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post.

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    1. Indeed, it's a concept of many mixed feelings!

      *nods* That's good. And I think that there are some books that you would read as a child that would be good for that, especially if they were something like Anne of Green Gables or something. Although, if they were something less classic-y like... I dunno, Captain Underpants, I feel like it might be better to read it as though you were going to give it to a young person you know to help soften that blow...

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  6. I relate to this so much. There are books that I've read that my opinion will never change about. The books of pure genius. But, especially with the books I loved when I was much younger, like Nancy Drew, the works of Enid Blyton, and even the Redwall books to some extent, I look back at them now, and even though I can still enjoy reading them, they're not the be all and end all of bookish delight that I remember them being. But that's ok I think, because I've grown into new mentors. Like Charles Dickens for example. I read Oliver Twist many years ago and hated it (still haven't reread it actually. Too traumatized by that first reading). But now I really enjoy and appreciate his works much more than I did. And I think that's ok, because as we grow as readers and writers, our tastes have to change and become more discerning, otherwise I don't think we'd really be growing that much.

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    1. *nods* I can remember really liking Nancy Drew when I was in first or second grade, too, but since I recently found out that a guy wrote all of them, and since I went back and re-read the first chapter of the first book and it was laughably embarrassing... It isn't as enjoyable for me, either. But, growing into someone like Dickens is a good mentor and pattern! I agree, some sacrifices have to be made to grow. :)

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  7. Sometimes I completely avoid having to re-read a book for this precise reason. :') Although it's always fun when the reverse happens. Like reading Catcher in the Rye again and liking it better the second time (happened some time ago). This really makes you think about which books you want to keep on your shelf, or which ones you pack when you move away. :)

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    1. Oooh, that's awesome! And it's good you liked Catcher in the Rye—not very many people I know like it so I'm glad it was better for you. And, I agree; for me, when I find that a book I own would probably be of more valuable to someone else, I give it away because I know it shall be better.

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  8. Ahhhh this is true. Usually I try to avoid rereading books I know will just disappoint me so I can avoid ruining the magic, but it happens. Recently I had a similar experience with both The Giver (yeah, yeah, I know) and this old historical fiction book I used to adore.

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    1. Yeah... I reread The Giver and it actually kind of disappointed me because all of the stuff was written on the sixth grade level when the movie I think makes it more applicable for an older audience. I still remember loving Son from a few years ago, though... That series did grow up by the end of it...

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