One of my jobs is "author" and another of my jobs is "Mom." And as a mom, one of my holy responsibilities (besides cooking, cleaning, washing, folding, driving, balancing checkbooks and calendars and making sure everyone's wearing enough layers and clean underwear) is to hound my children mercilessly to do their homework. My daughter is very bright and has become used to finishing her work in ten seconds and, should it take longer than that, she gets easily frustrated and insists it's "too hard" and she "can't do it." To avoid this, she can try to be sneaky and do the bare minimum of an assignment so it'll be done sooner. This illusion works wonders even if it doesn't actually *do* the assignment.
(I know this is a blog about writing. Bear with me.)
The other day, my bright little girl had an essay that was supposed to be 100-300 words. She dutifully sat down with her pencil and paper and wrote steadily while munching on her afternoon snack. Suddenly, she put down the pencil and announced, "One hundred and five words! I'm done!"
This sounded a lot like my daily Word Count goal setting, but I knew that this wasn't achieving some small part of larger picture, to her, this was the whole deal: over and done. My husband checked over the essay topic. "You didn't answer the question," he said and pointed to a bit of her writing. "Why don't you talk about this more?" She rolled her eyes. "But I wrote over 100 words!" she whined. This is when I said a few words of wisdom that came from somewhere in the deep Hivemind of Motherhood (honestly, I blame the Muse for flashes of inspiration like these, which makes me suspect Maggie is a grandmother at the very least):
"Homework isn't a test, it's a conversation on paper. It's asking you for your opinion. We want to know your thoughts and this is a way to tell us what you think by using your words."
And in this silly, Sunday moment, I got a lot of what I feel about education and test-taking as well as a lot about what I feel makes Good Writing. A book is a conversation between the author and the reader as the narrator and the characters, or the narrative character and the reader. The element of "voice" resonates because we, the readers, can hear it, feel it, speaking to us in a way that is believable and breathes the characters and the world into life. We are invested in the main character and her or his journey because we care about what happens and, most importantly, what they have to say about what happens. Through the guise of these conversations, I (the author) get to talk to you (the reader) by having a conversation on paper. I want to hear your voice, too. I want to answer the questions you may have or tell you more about the people or places or ideas you find most interesting. I want us to co-create an experience together: this story coming true for just we two until you can turn and talk about it with your neighbor in a way that makes it true for them, too. It's a shared experience. A larger conversation. And it's one that keeps growing off the page and into the wider world.
Take, for instance, Harry Potter. I love how Jackson Pearce once (quite rightly) pointed out that just about any place in the world, you can have a conversation with anyone about Harry Potter. It has transcended the page and brought such a richness of character and detail that there's an infinite number of conversations to be had. A world of opinions that keeps growing the more voices are added and the more perspectives are shared. It's awesome in its power and, most importantly in my opinion, the inclusiveness--welcoming everyone to come and join the party!
Pick up a pen, turn on the computer, pick up a book, and join the conversation.