The Point of Writing

Flickr Creative Commons: Jason Eppink
Flickr Creative Commons: Jason Eppink

There’s a lot of talk these days about getting yourself a presence on social media, upping your profile, selling yourself, marketing your work, using every angle and every connection in order to “get out there,” hustle your product, hit the bestseller lists, make a splash.

This post is just to remind you that none of this is what writing is about.

Writing is about finding out who you are, what you have to say that is not the same as what everyone else has to say, and how to express it in the strongest possible terms.

The point of writing is to tell a story with your insight, the perspective that only you have.

The point of writing is to think deeply and to inform, entertain, communicate your insight with your readers.

The point of writing is to seek truth.  And it doesn’t matter how you do that, or whether you’re writing thrillers or detective stories or comedies, or picture books for children.  Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading long after you’ve spent the money that someone may or may not have paid you for your work.

Writers are not marketing experts or salesmen.  Although these qualities are required of nearly all writers these days, it is vitally important not to forget that the job is to write, not to get a high score on Goodreads.

What does this mean? [Read more…]

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About Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Why You Don’t Need to Rush Your Writing

rushThe truth can be told at last: I am the world’s worst dilettante.

In my life I have learned to rock-climb, ski, speak French (all badly). I was deputy press secretary for New York State in Dukakis’ bid for the presidency in 1988, a job I got through volunteering in hopes of meeting a nice single guy.  I worked at The New York Times back when the presses were still in the basement of the building on 43rd Street, was fired from six ad agencies and spent two years at People Magazine. I went to horse camp, worked on advertising shoots so I know what gaffers and sparks do, how difficult casting is to get right, and how boring most of the time on set is.

I went fox hunting once and jumped a five bar fence. Terrified. With my eyes closed.

I didn’t meet my husband till I was 32 so I know lots about wild disastrous relationships (most of which I couldn’t possibly discuss in public).

I spent a decade racing 30-foot sailboats and flying in tiny Cessna planes with my best friend’s rich husband. I was never much of a sailor, but I could take orders fairly well. OK, slightly-below-average well.

I’ve crossed the Canadian Rockies in a helicopter, paddled a kayak next to a giant sea lion in Desolation Bay, picked oysters and mussels and clams out of the sea and eaten them that day (on an advertising shoot). I’ve been to book festivals in China, New Zealand, Germany, France, Italy, Armenia, Scotland, Wales and Texas.

I survived 18 hours of childbirth and conversations about drugs and sex and body image with my teenager.

I had breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiation, lost all my hair and didn’t know if I was going to die. I wrote most of a book that year.  I inherited the family depression gene.

I’ve ridden a horse through the Black Mountains in Wales, seen a moose a few feet away, nearly passed out drunk at a Harvard “final club”, sang Monteverdi in Chartres Cathedral and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy with the Boston Symphony.

I saw Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and the Clash in tiny clubs in NY and London. I played bass guitar at CBGBs in NY and miniature golf with David Letterman in his office.

I met with a Hungarian policeman at 10pm in his tiny bleak office while two teenagers explained in Hungarian that I couldn’t afford the bribe he required.

I watched a black foal born to a pure white horse at the Lipizzaner stud in Szilvásvárad, Hungary. I took up riding again at age 50. Since then, I’ve had five concussions and no longer jump.

I studied steel sculpture with Anthony Caro, but didn’t understand a word he said for the entire time I was on the course. It discouraged me from ever taking art seriously as a profession, which was no bad thing.

I learned to play the piano, badly.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’m not very good at most of the things I’ve done in my life.  Except for writing. I’m a fairly good writer. I wrote my first book when I was 46.

[Read more…]

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About Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

What Sort of Books Do You Write?

Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Go
Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Go

There are precious few satisfying answers to the question above. I have gone to the trouble to list them for you here.

“Oh, I dabble in literary fiction, you may have heard my address at the Nobel Prize ceremony?”

“Joanne Rowling. Lovely to meet you.”

“Mainly plays.  Probably nothing you know.  Ah, you’ve read King Lear, have you?”

Or even: “Very few, actually. I’ve barely put pen to paper since dashing off Catcher in the Rye back in the 50s.”

What you don’t want to say is this:

“Well, I’m technically speaking a children’s writer, but not entirely, I mean, older children, some not children at all, many perfectly sentient adults, in fact, seem to like my books, which do, of course, feature adolescents, but often incorporate quite difficult themes, say, on the subject of life and death, so that about half of my UK readers are over thirty and many of my Finnish readers are over fifty…oh, and by the way, I’ve also written three or four picture books, and am kind of mulling over a middle grade series, just for a change of pace.”

And if you think it gets simpler, think again.  I’m just finishing up my new book, with a protagonist who has graduated from art school which makes him at least 22 — a good two or three years older than many of my past protagonists.

Imagine that for a radical departure.

The new book is called Duck Zoo, and my hero has the wrong job and the wrong girlfriend, and two dogs who are trying to sort his life out for him.  It’s pure Meg Rosoff territory, if you’ll allow me to refer to myself in the third person for a minute here (ala Gwyneth Paltrow).  It’s a comedy, kind of surreal, all about love and work with lots of dogs.

But it’s a whole new genre because technically speaking, Jonathan is not a young adult.

And all I can think is, oh dear god, won’t someone save me from marketing departments.

I wonder if anyone said, “Hey, Harper Lee, whaddaya mean you’re writing a book for grown-ups featuring a six-year-old protagonist?  What are you, nuts?  Who’s going to be interested in a six-year-old other than another six-year-old?”  Did anyone say, “Hey, Henry James, you know this What Maisie Knew book you’ve written, could you make Maisie thirty-six so your adult readers can identify with her more?” [Read more…]

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About Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Letter to A Lost Boy

Flickr Creative Commons: spodzone
Flickr Creative Commons: spodzone

Dear Jake

For the past five years I’ve joked about “my stalker” – the passionate fan who began following me when he was fourteen, telling me that Just In Case changed his life.

You, in other words.

Your early emails talked about a girlfriend (who never really existed) and were breezy and cheerful, but the truth soon began to emerge.

You were a self-harmer.  You attempted suicide on numerous occasions.  You were bullied at school.  You lived with domestic violence.  You were so ugly you could barely leave the house (a lie – you were rather beautiful).  You despised himself.  And had a secret so terrible, you could never tell anyone.

We talked a little about your secret.  We talked a little about everything.  I tend not to get too involved with people who email me; there aren’t enough hours in the day, for one thing, and for another, they usually disappear after a brief exchange.

But you didn’t disappear.  And there was something about you. [Read more…]

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About Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Pram in the Hall

peter barwick
Flickr Creative Commons: Peter Barwick

You know that question everyone always asks writers? The one about what we do all day? In my experience most writers spend their days doing a lot of nothing — interspersed with trying in vain to organize vast teetering piles of books and papers, totally forgetting the thing we swore blind we’d be doing this afternoon, along with wasting endless hours on the internet. If you add, say, half an hour of writing to that grueling schedule, plus getting your child to school and back, some dog-patting, searching the mail for checks, answering frivolous e-mails, paying bills, napping and snacking, the day passes in a flurry of relentless activity.

On top of all those aforementioned vital time eaters, there are school visits, book tours, and correspondence to factor in. And if I haven’t mentioned it in the past, much as I love a good book tour, it’s impossible to arrive home from one without being a.) exhausted, b.) ill, c.) guilty from having abandoned the family for so long and d.) weeks behind in everything. By the time I’ve unpacked, it’s usually time for another one, which doesn’t go to show how often I go on book tours, only how infrequently I manage to unpack.

Then there are the Just Say No time-eaters, particularly bad for me because I’ve always had trouble with ‘no’, and am usually so flattered that people want me to do things that it takes a supreme effort of will to refuse. That’s how I end up writing book reviews, or the very scariest things of all, The Charity Short Story. Before you accuse me of not being a charitable person, what I’m not is a great short-story writer. I’ve so far managed about four for various good causes and I swear that’s it.

Of course if you subtract social media from that schedule, which (let’s be brutally honest here, guys) is far more self-indulgence than self-promotion (and when was the last time you bought a book because some author was relentlessly flogging it on Twitter?) there would be plenty of time to write. Other suggestions are to divorce the partner and have the child(ren) taken into care. [Read more…]

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About Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and worked in NYC for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She wrote her first novel, How I Live Now, (released late 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan), at age 46. Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Michael J Printz award. Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Award . She lives in London with her husband and daughter.