Monday, May 19, 2008

Ramblings On Writing And Writers

I spent an hour this morning watching this. Why? Because it was absolutely fascinating to me. And funny. And it made me like Donald Miller even more than I already did, which I thought was impossible. I met Donald very briefly at ICRS years ago, in Denver, CO. I was hugely pregnant with my sixth child and went all the way out there because my book, For The Write Reason was coming out and at the time it was a very big deal-- enough of a very big deal for me to go traipsing cross country very, very pregnant. I remember I spent most of that trip enjoying the comfort of the Westin Heavenly Bed and contemplating the panoramic view of the expanse of mountains from the hotel window, trying to ignore the fact of how far from home and family I was. But I did go out long enough to see Donald, who was signing copies of Blue Like Jazz, which still ranks up there in the top favorite books I have ever read.

I may have told this story on the blog before, so if I did and this bores you, I apologize. But when I met Donald, I made a total fool of myself. He was signing books and there was, of course, a line to get his book signed. And the idea at ICRS is that when you meet these folks you don't make a big deal of them and you just generally act like you meet writers and musicians all the time. And for the most part I do that when I am at ICRS. Because they are all just people-- people who are especially gifted and brilliant-- but people who also have insecurities and relationship issues and put their pants on one leg at a time, to borrow a cliche.

But when I met Donald Miller, I threw all that rationale to the wind and just gushed. I told him how much I loved his book and how much it meant to me and spoke to me and how much I identified with what he wrote and how I read it in the car while we were driving back from the beach and how I kept laughing out loud over certain parts and my husband was so intrigued he read it as soon as we got home and I just COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN and how I was going to read everything he has written, past and future, and how honored I was to meet him and how I was now certifiably his biggest fan.

I said all that in one sentence without taking a breath, and I am quite certain I looked like a teeny bop who was meeting Hannah Montana or something. Donald was so gracious as I gushed. He just smiled and nodded and it dawned on me that he is used to this now, the gushing. I could tell it happens a lot and my declared love of all things he writes made me not very unique actually. While Donald was very kind, the guy sitting next to him (who was perhaps his PR person or bodyguard) looked at me with a face that said basically, "Move it along, little missie." He was over me and my declaration. I walked away chastising myself for losing it. Where was my cool? My aloofness? I had had my one shot with Donald Miller and had acted like a total starstruck crazy pregnant lady. Not the image I was going for.

But that did not diminish my love for anything he writes. Because I just think he is brilliant.

As I watched him discuss the genre of memoir in this video, I thought about how much I love memoirists. Especially Christian memoirists who tell the truth. Who reveal their humanity and not just their perfections, their struggle between flesh and spirit. Anne Lamott is one of my favorites of all times in this area. I have had other Christians tell me I should not read her because she can be coarse and her language is not the cleanest. I disagree. Anne Lamott makes me want to be a better writer. And she challenges me to tell the truth. And, like Donald Miller, she makes me laugh.

Want to know what's really cool? She was interviewed for this same event the following year and you can watch it here. (I haven't watched it yet. I'm saving it for later as a treat to myself.)

I have an Anne Lamott story too. Again, if you have already heard this story, forgive me. I read Operating Instructions when my son was just a few months old. I loved it so much I couldn't believe it. When the book was over, I felt empty. Like she had left the building and I missed her presence already. So I used my super sleuthing skills and somehow figured out where she lived, and called information and got her number. (Why her number wasn't unlisted, I could not tell you.) I dialed the phone, not believing that I was doing it, and yet still my fingers kept on dialing the number. I had no idea what I was going to say and half suspected I would just hang up if she answered. Or maybe I would gush about how much I loved her book and how much I identified with her feelings about being a mother and how I had a son too just like her and he was also born in August. What are the odds?

Instead I got her machine. And there was her voice saying that she and Sam weren't there and I could leave a message. Which of course, I didn't. But I felt connected to her in a way and I carried her phone number around with me for awhile because I just liked the idea that I could call her if I wanted. If you know Anne, or if Anne, you google yourself and find this, please don't have me put on some watch list. I no longer carry your number around, nor do I know it. I am quite sure that by this point she would have it unlisted anyway. So, no worries. My writer stalking days are behind me. I think. I also sort of stalked writer Lee Smith, who was a professor at my college. But we don't need to go into that too. You know enough.

I listened to a Jodi Picoult podcast in which she talked about how writers aren't celebrities in America like they are in other countries. Well, they are celebrities to me. There are certain writers I would much rather meet than the best and brightest film stars. I would just like to sit and ask "Why?" and "How?" and soak up their writerly brilliance, hoping that some of it will rub off on me. I guess now would be a good time to admit that I have emailed back and forth with Jodi Picoult a few times. I am planning to email Jennifer Weiner soon to tell her how much I loved her newest book and how much I see her growth as a writer from her first book to this one. Not that she needs to hear that from me by any stretch, but I want to let her know because I think it's good to tell people good things about themselves. They just might need to hear it.

So perhaps my writer stalking days aren't as far behind me as I thought. At least I have now switched to emails, which are easily ignored and not as directly invasive as the phone.

But getting back to Don and Anne and my ongoing fascination with them. I can't explain exactly why I love their work so much or why I am a devoted fan except to say that, contrary to some of the books I read, their words resonate with me as real. They strike me as people who write because, to quote Jodi Picoult, they can't not write. (Donald even says something to this effect in this interview.) They think like writers and are passionate about writing. They tell their stories and encourage others to do the same. They make us all realize the power of story and experience. I may not agree with every single thing they say, but I respect their opinion and their ability to make me think. To require me to take things apart. While their lives look totally different from mine, our hearts are somehow similar. Quite simply, we love words. And we acknowledge that without the Word made flesh, we would be nothing. If I asked them, I think they would say that their backgrounds, while totally different than mine, are similar in that they have loved writing since... always.

I know I have. I always kept a notebook in which I would construct elaborate stories complete with entire casts of characters. I always started the newest story with a handwritten page of all the characters full names and ages (I bought a book of baby names just so I could pick the best names possible.) and a description of them and their relationships to each other. Looking back, this was character development when I didn't even know the terminology! I have written here before that my favorite book as a child was Harriet the Spy. I loved how she spied on people and wrote about what she saw. (The stalking. The spying. I am making myself sound very creepy in this post.) I connected with this concept and took to carrying my own notebook around like she did. Though I never wrote anything unkind because of what happened to Harriet. I can remember sitting in the car, waiting on my mother to run errands inside a store, while scribbling furiously into my notebook. (Who else remembers being left in the car? Those were the days!) My younger brother would complain of boredom, but I never was. As long as I had paper and pen, I was entertained. I am still that way.

In short, I love writing and writers. (I think we have established that.) I would rather watch this YouTube video of Donald Miller than go to a movie or watch the latest episode of Lost. I am so happy when I can read another writer's blog and get a glimpse of their life being lived. I sit in awe when I read really good writing. It makes me want to try harder. It makes me proud of my kind. While I may not ever be of their caliber, they let me wear the jersey and be in the team picture. That in itself is enough.
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Sonya said...

You have such a passion about you! I have enjoyed reading your recent posts, but this one spoke to my soul! You see, God has recently started me on my journey to writing. I have started with a blog and He miraculously got me into the She Speaks conf. in June! So, I am now feeling the passion of writing and I am looking forward to all that God has planned! Thank you for sharing. I'll be sure to check out the authors you mentioned. (I also have 6 children!)

Lisa B @ simply His said...

Good grief Marybeth! Ramblings is right :) I love your ramblings! And now I don't feel so weird stalking you because you do it to other writers -- LOL!

Billie said...

You know what...we all stalk you? Doesn't that make you feel cool?

I know (from your past posts)that you have felt God wants you to not focus on the fiction thing right now. But holy cow! That is incredible that your mind is able to develop all of that! I couldn't write a fiction story if you paid me too...and I'm a creative an imaginative person. It's a gift I tell you. God gave it to you for a reason...maybe now that you are big and famous with a "real deal" you could propose one of your works of fiction...I would buy it...I love to read fiction!

Ok. I will stop gushing.

Marti said...


We definitely have to meet.
My opinion: LaMott and Miller are twins separated at birth (very weird twins, mind you, but still--). There's definitely that touch of the eternal about both their work (yeah, yeah, I know the drill, too) that touches my spirit as it obviously does yours.

And I DO (again and obviously) understand the tendency to ramble.

Thanks again for "introducing" yourself via TWV!


Amy Wyatt said...

Your passion for writing really comes through in this post. I enjoyed reading it.

Chatty Kelly said...

I loved your blog today! And I am currently reading your book in preparation for the She Speaks Conference in June.

Thanks for a contagious passion for writing!