It’s well established in writing circles that trying to be a writer isn’t a very smart pursuit from a practical standpoint. My husband works in the music industry, another business not for the faint of heart. Maybe we’re stupid, maybe we’re brave, but we have dreams and we follow them and remarkably enough, make progress. We see absolutely no reason we can’t achieve our goals in these fields, and in fact have already achieved a great number of them.
We recently moved to a new neighbourhood, (hence the obscene length of time between blog posts, moving is not for the faint of heart either) and over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring our new place in the city, including the stores that are close. We wandered into one of these yesterday, a pet store, since we have three dogs and a mouse and buy a lot of pet products. It had a good sign, a very convenient location, and a small but high-quality inventory. We ended up talking with the owner for well over an hour.
True dreamers, those that not only dream big, but then follow it through with passionate action are hard to come by, but we stumbled across one in the proprietor of this establishment. A kindred spirit if you will, someone with the outrageous tenacity to throw off the clanking shackles of good sense and reason and follow a dream. Inspired by his late pet dog to open a pet store that offered only the highest quality food and treat products available and alternatives to chemical products for common dog issues, this guy knew his stuff. He has made it his mission to convince pet owners that spending a little more on the products you feed your dog and treat your dog with will not just provide your pet with a longer, healthier life, but save you money on vet costs.
I am already a convert to this philosophy, after losing a lab mix to the ravages of cancer, so I am an easy sell, though many are not. Inspired by the many health issues experienced by his late dog, Jake, this guy personally researches every product he carries and doesn’t carry anything that isn’t safe and good for your pet, which takes out the guess-work. In doing so, he is following a dream, and slowly making a go of it.
We talked for a long time, not just about pets, but what it takes and how hard it is to jump in, to throw everything you have in a deep dark pit and dive of the cliff, naysayers and doomsayers screeching all the while. He has been at it for a few years and he is making a go of it, not easily, but he was recently able to hire part time help for the first time and get a day off once in a while. He has no regrets.
I came out inspired. I don’t meet many people like this, people like us and it’s encouraging to find one once in a while. These people don’t scoff when you tell them your outrageous plans, they smile and ask questions, they offer advice and help. I didn’t think to get his name, and even more foolishly, didn’t offer writing services. It’s close though, so I’ll be back and my dogs loved the treats we bought them there and I’m pretty pumped about a locally made all natural ear wash I got for the beagle whose ears are in a constant state of yuck. If you live in or around London, Ontario, Canada, check out Jake’s Pet Shop. The have a local delivery program, only sell things that don’t contain known carcinogens or anything else horrible very commonly, frighteningly commonly, found in many commercial pet products and carry items for dogs, cats and small animals. They also have a website, jakespetshop.com, and have free shipping over $70 to Canada and the US.
Dare to dream.
Writing that is intended for anyone other than the author is a strange phenomenon. It assumes that fanciful notions in the brain can be adequately expressed in text and absorbed by others, and that others will for some reason be interested in these fanciful notions. That in itself is really weird if you think about it, but it gets weirder. Will you offend? Do you want to? Do you care if you do?
I subscribe to various blogs, newsletters and magazines that deal with writing and I’m also a member of the London Writers Society. Over the years I have observed the ‘writing for your audience’ debate carry on in various forms with a smug sense of removed comfort. I do not write for my audience, I write for myself. If what I write happens to find an audience, bonus for me. If not, aw shucks.
I still think this is largely the truth for me, at least when it comes to fiction. I never start a project thinking about the potential audience, but as I near the completion of my manuscript and prepare to hand it over to my beta readers, I have started to think more about this audience question.
The truth is that this manuscript has never had an audience. For four years, I have been the sole member of the crowd, cheering, booing, clapping and writing scathing reviews alternatively. A long time ago, my critique group saw a few chapters and I think my mom read the first two chapters in their first draft, that’s all. I’m excited for it to have an audience of five people, thrilled, actually, and also nervous.
Part of the work I’m doing before I start sending it to agents and publishers is to read books that are similar to mine, books in the same genre, with the same sort of notions behind them. I’ve been at that very consciously for the last year and a half or so and it’s inspiring, encouraging and a little scary. What were those authors thinking when they wrote their books? What audience were they writing for, or did they care? I’ve really started thinking about this as I’ve edited my ending. No one likes a book to have a crappy ending, on the other hand, I personally don’t like endings that are so neat and tidy they’re ludicrous. This is when I started thinking about the people who will read my book, that vague, odd concept of an audience. How would they want the book to end, what would satisfy them?
I pretty quickly shoved the idea out of my mind, to me it seems like a slippery slope. If I’m writing to satisfy others, vague, non-existent others, I might add, then doesn’t that detract from the whole point of writing in the first place, which is taking weird notions out of my mind and putting them into text so that others can check them out? If I tailor things for these ill-defined people, I seem to be missing a crucial element of what makes writing good in the first place, the intimacy of it. Reading someone else’s honest, passionate words is about as close as you can get to knowing that persons thoughts.
No doubt I will encounter this audience question more and more as my manuscript makes its way to more and more people. All I want to ask other authors now is, who were you writing for? Seems like a very good question that doesn’t have a very satisfying answer.
I have always tried to like poetry. Since I enjoy the company of words so much, it makes sense that I would like poetry too, but I don’t. I never hated poetry exactly, I just never ‘got’ it, no matter how hard I tried. No matter what poem I read, I just couldn’t make that elusive connection with it that I can make with fiction, that sweet beautiful zone where the words flow effortlessly through your eyes and into your brain, taking you away to another world, filling your mind with a different reality. My shallow, narrative brain just read through the words, trying to understand what they were getting at, trying to see the story, the scene, the emotion and just saw the words. I read poems, nodded at them and put them aside. That has pretty much been my relationship with poetry – smile, and nod.
Turns out, I was doing it wrong.
I have always wanted to read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. This is a classic I have been gunning to get through for a very long time. I finally went for it, bought that book and dove right in. Now as you may or may not know, The Divine Comedy is really a bloody long poem. Still, I pride myself on stubborn resourcefulness, so I did a little research to get my bearings and then jumped right in, and failed miserably. I did not put The Divine Comedy aside with a smile and nod, I put it aside with a huh? Abject and total failure.
I was complaining about this sometime last year and someone who is a lot smarter than me informed me that poems are often at their best when read aloud and since I was having trouble getting a handle on the material, that might be something for me to try. I’m sure I have mentioned before that I live in some kind of weird bubble where I can’t access known facts, and this was one that had been kept from me, kept from as in never heard of before. Poems should be read aloud? What’s the difference, are you some kind of weird nut? How could reading it out loud, or listening to it read out loud, make that big of a difference?
I am almost done The Divine Comedy, Paradiso – Canto XI to be exact. I am not going to say it was easy or that I understood it all flawlessly, but I got the gist and it has been an amazing read, out loud. Here is an elegant warning from Paradiso – Canto II
O Ye, who in some pretty little boat,
Eager to listen, have been following
Behind my ship, that singing sails along,
Turn back to look again upon your shores;
Do not put out to sea, lest peradventure,
In losing me, you might yourselves be lost.
This revelation has even inspired me to revisit poems I failed to get in university. This is from The Pride by John Newlove.
But what image, bewildered
son of all men
under the hot sun,
do you worship,
do you hope to have
from these tales,
a half-understood massiveness, mirage,
in men’s minds – what
is your purpose;
with what force
will you proceed
along a line
neither straight nor short,
you cannot know
or result foretell,
whose meaning is still obscured as the incidents
occur and accumulate?
And this short, yet poignant selection from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
I obviously have a long way to go exploring poetry, but if none of these selections move you even a little bit, I humbly suggest reading them out loud, or better yet, get somebody to read them to you. Turns out, poetry makes a lot more sense that way.