I've been reading a lot of books about writing lately, most notably Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. There is always some Anne Lamott swirling around amidst my list of currently reading. I like her because she is realistic. For example, I just read a whole chapter about how there should be one or two people in your life with whom you share your third or fourth drafts before you send them to a publisher. Essentially, she says, these people should be people that you love very much because once they offer you some feedback, you will hate them. But eventually you will love them again. She says it better than I do, she says it exactly the way that I feel. I didn't intend to share a big chunk but I'm going to--otherwise I might not be able to sleep tonight on account of my inability to make my point.
Imagine that you are getting ready for a party and there is a person at your house who can check you out and assure you that you look wonderful or, conversely, that you actually do look a little tiny tiny tiny bit heavier than usual in this one particular dress or suit or that red makes you look just a bit like you have sarcoptic mange. Of course you are disappointed for a moment, but then you are grateful that you are still in the privacy of your own home and there is time to change. ...My first response if they have a lot of suggestions is never profound relief that I have someone in my life who will be honest with me and help me do the very best work of which I am capable. No, my first thought is, "Well. I'm sorry, but I can't be friends with you anymore, because you have too many problems. And you have a bad personality. And a bad character." ...Criticism is very hard to take. But then whichever friend is savaging my work will suggest that we go through it together page by page, line by line, and in a clipped, high-pitched voice I'll often suggest that this won't be necessary, that everything's just fine. (pp 164-166)
You see, that's why I like Anne--she's just like me. She's a raging lunatic and completely unreasonable and at the total mercy of her unreliable feelings. And oh, to know that you are not alone in the world, the only monster in search of some time off and a lobotomy. The thing is that this--this that she describes of suddenly wanting to swear off those who love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself--it's more spot-on than anything I've ever even considered about myself. It's just true. I sent a copy of a short story to a reading friend recently (there's no point in asking input from people who are not readers of anything else) and he said wonderful things to me about the characters and the story and then tagged on the end that there may be a typo somewhere in there. My initial reaction was, "Oh, you can just go straight to hell!" And then I saw the typo and changed it and we were friends again. Luckily this all happened in my head over the course of about 48 seconds and he was never made aware of my feelings. Until he reads this. And I'm sure that he will because I am egotistical and I believe that everyone has a profound interest in my life. Which is why I write. Life's too short to pretend otherwise, folks.
Anyway, that was a very long and unintentional rant about something that I did not intend to talk about at all. What I came to tell you was that all of these wonderful How-To-Be-A-Good-Writer books all mention the importance of taking notes. Anne carries a pen and an index card (folded legnthwise so as not to appear bulky) in her back pocket and keeps notes of anything that is interesting. So I've been doing that a lot lately.
The thing about taking notes is that you are forced to pay attention. If you take on an observer's tone, you look at situations as stories and people as characters--which is not a bad thing as I believe there are no good guys or bad guys. There are just guys. People. I think that in a great story, you can sympathize with the villain and you can see all the faults of the hero. There is no room for melodrama. I once watched an interview with a prostitute in San Francisco and the interviewer asked her how she did it, how does she go to bed with so many different men?--many of whom may be unsavory. Her response was the same as, I would imagine, mine would have been if you asked me why I love characters so much. She said "I try to find something to love about everyone." She went on to explain that for some it can be harder than others but that she always finds something. I think that's lovely--so very "namaste".
I took this note the other day when I was reading on my lunch break--it's not so much a note that is usable in anything I'm going to write but it might be helpful in reading. "Do boys in real life really think about girls the way that boys in literature think about girls?"
I took this note today during a text-message conversation with my sister who just so happens to be about eleven months pregnant. I love her and I hope to use this in a story one day. Sarah gives me good material and is funnier and more insightful than I could ever hope to be. I said, "Anne Lamott says that having a baby is like suddenly getting the world's worst roommate." She replied, "Awesome. I think it just might be easier than sharing my body with the world's worst roommate."