“I learned a long time ago that life introduces young people to situations they are in no way prepared for, even good girls, lucky girls who want for nothing. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you become the girl in the woods. You lose your name because another one is forced on you. You think you are alone until you find books about girls like you. Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist: Essays
Salvation is a good reason to read. It’s also a good reason to write. This week, at the Chicago Humanities Festival, I was lucky enough to hear three great writers speak: Jacqueline Woodson, Salman Rushdie, and Roxane Gay.
In response to a question about writing and submitting, Roxane’s advice: “Write stories that are timely and timeless.”
Wow, I just love that. Thank you, Roxane.
It’s funny, but in one way or another, this was a theme. Salman Rushdie asked, “How do ordinary people respond when they are faced with the extraordinary?”
(In the margin of my notebook, I wrote: sometimes, not so well. Sometimes, better than expected.)
Human reactions: TIMELY and TIMELESS.
Jacqueline Woodson talked about her family. About love and yearning and how the book HAD to be written in free verse because it was like music. And life. There needed to be space between the words.
Family. Love. Conflict. TIMELY and TIMELESS.
I went home and looked at my WIP and my revision notes. Did my story seem timely? Timeless? Neither? I began to take notes. About my characters’ very human reactions to conflict and bad news. I thought about why they are behaving in such flawed ways. Of course, I came back to the first question I always ask:
What do they want?
And then I laughed.
What is more timely and timeless than desire????
Are you ready to stretch??????
Are you trying to write something timely? Something that reflects on culture RIGHT NOW? Are you veering too far to TIMELESS, and perhaps falling into (my favorite pitfall), didactic mode?
Find the scene where your character’s true heart is revealed, where what he or she wants cannot be disguised at all. Where they act purposely to get what they want. Look for seeds that can help you think more about this idea: timely and timeless. What are you saying about now? What are you saying about the human condition always?
Have a great writing week!
Like this post? This is what I do every week in my newsletter, Monday Motivation. It’s free. Sometimes it’s really great. Sometimes, not so much. But it always honors the process of writing. Find it on my website under TIPS.