Who are you people and what do you want? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? You’re looking for writing advice. You want to know the secret handshake so you can get an agent. You want to read that one missing thing that will make the big difference so you can get the thing (the job, the publishing deal, the inspiration to get through the day). You need to know how to write an effective query letter. You want to know what the fuck a query letter is. Your writing buddy said that blogger was funny. It’s a gay thing or feminist or lefty liberal crunchy granola. It’s all about the coffee. You’re my cousin. My best friend. A person from my MFA program. What do you want? Ask me something. Tell me something.
I’m writing a book. It’s a story about a girl. It’s about me. It’s about my kids. It’s about my town. It’s not really about me. The writing is tight. The story is loose. It’s about not fitting in. The people in my life who think they’re in my book, aren’t. It’s not really about my kids either. It’s all made up. It’s all very true. Writing dialogue is fun. I used to be a poet. I’m thinking about adding dragons. I’m kind of didactic. (I’m working on it.) Maybe I’ll add recipes. I write in sprints. I write in scenes. I don’t know how to write right. Hello? Are you still here? Are you still reading?
How do you define yourself? Because I’m so very many things. I contain multitudes. You don’t know me. I’m not your fucking mother. I’m not the answer to your dreams. I love you, fellow traveler. Are you totally human? Being invisible is comfortable. Why can’t you see me? I know you wanted publishing advice. Existential angst spoken here today. So much muchness. Writers need to write. Just write. The rest is dross.
Tell me a story. Write me poetry. Make a comment. Is anybody out there? What do you want from me? Who are you, anyway?
So Linda invited me to write a post about Passover. But this is a blog about writing and publishing, and why should this post be different from all other posts?
The central ritual of Passover is the Seder, and the basic point of the Seder is to tell a story. And one of the reasons the Seder has lasted so long and remains so popular is that it does its job really well – so well, in fact, that you don’t have to be Jewish to learn something about storytelling from the way the Seder works.
- Engage the senses. The Seder is a multisensory experience. We see the flames of the candles. We hear stories and songs. We smell the delicious food. We taste – and how – the bitter, the sweet the salty. We feel the brittle matzo breaking, the warm water when we wash our hands, the cool night air when we open the door to welcome Elijah, the soft pillow at our back. Good storytelling engages the reader’s senses to pull her into the action.
- Engage the mind. The Seder starts with questions and moves on to answers that present new questions, and encourages discussion and debate. Good storytelling leaves room for the reader to think for himself. The best stories leave the reader still thinking.
- Encourage empathy. While the Seder tells the Exodus story, it explicitly acknowledges the all-too-numerous stories of oppressed people through the centuries and across the world. Good storytelling helps us see other’s stories as our own.
- Entertain. For all their seriousness, Seders are essentially fun. They include wine, silly songs, and a game of hide and seek – and that’s just what’s in the “official” program. Good storytelling entertains.
I could go on all night, but I can tell you’re getting hungry, so I’ll stop at four. Four children, four questions, four cups of wine – four is a good number for Passover. Happy Passover, and happy storytelling!
Ruth Horowitz writes for both children and adults. She is the author of six children’s books, including ARE WE STILL FRIENDS (Scholastic, 2017) illustrated by Blanca Gomez. Horowitz’s book CRAB MOON (Candlewick, 2000 & 2004), was listed as one of the 10 best children’s books of 2000 by the New York Times and was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children. Find her online at ruthhorowitz.com, givinguptheghost.com, and @RuthHorowitz.
Do you know what it takes to keep writing, even when you don’t get an agent, or your agent can’t sell your book, or you get rejection after rejection from editors, or your teacher gives you a ✓- instead of a ✓+? Do you know what it takes? It takes not stopping. That’s it. It doesn’t take more inspiration. It doesn’t take more time. It doesn’t take different circumstances. It doesn’t even take a room of one’s own, although that is awfully nice. It just takes not stopping.
Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep critiquing. Keep getting critiqued. Keep reading. For god’s sake, keep reading!
I know, I know, it’s hard. But guess what? Nobody said it wasn’t going to be hard. And I know, you’re sad or disappointed or angry or frustrated about it. But guess what? Nobody said it wasn’t going to be hard! So you can stop writing if you want. Go ahead. Stop. Or don’t. Because all it takes to keep writing is not stopping.
Do you know who I wrote this post for? Did you just look over your shoulder, and say to yourself, “Me? Did you write it for me?” You know who you are.
Don’t stop writing.