Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

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Ray Bradbury: a reflection 

Yesterday was the birthday of renouned American author, Ray Bradbury. Three more years and we can celebrate his 100th birthday. But even in 2017, Bradbury’s birthday is special to me because his stories provided the kick-in-the-pants I needed to take my writing seriously. 

Before entering high school, my family and I made a trip to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble was having a sale on its classics (when is it not?) and I picked out two with ease. But when searching for a third (buy two get one), I was at a loss. 

“How about this one?” my mom asked, holding up the book I found least attractive. It was red with planets orbiting on it. Ew, Sci-fi.

“Um…” 

“It’s good!” she persisted. “When I was teaching English, I would read aloud a short story from this book every Friday!” 

Oh great, I was thinking. Science fiction and short stories. 

Poor little me. I was so fixated on reading thick Austen or Bronte novels in an effort to seem impressive that I felt I was above fanciful scribblings about space. 

The irony…now I cannot help writing such scribblings myself.

Not wanting to argue any longer and urged on my my brother, who was worried we would miss our movie, I surrendered. I purchased my selections and let the Ray Bradbury collection thud like a rocket into the bag, forcing its way between the indignant British classics. 

That night, after the movie, I lay awake. Perhaps the movie had not satisfied my desire for a good story. Perhaps I had just eaten too many candies during it. For whatever reason, though, I found myself flipping open the red tome. 

“Let’s see if you live up to your reviews,” I might have whispered into its crisp pages, which fell open with all the grace and crunch of snowflakes. 

Minutes later, I was buried in an avalanche of words that fell so beautifully from Bradbury’s mind to pen to page that I could not dig my way back out had Jane Austen herself called for me.

Hours later, I was several stories in and near tears with that delight that only true bookworms know- the inexplicable thrill of having found writing that transcends mere ink and paper, writing that is instead made of the same substance as dreams. 

I devoured The Illustrated Man and made dessert of The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was with great self-control that I rationed out The Martian Chronicles for a later year when I was in need of escape. 

And, as this diet of “words, words, words” digested, it fueled ideas. 

And soon, these ideas begged for a form. Or did they beget a form? (Alas, Plato…your philosophy is not wanted just now.) 

As my ideas grew on those of Bradbury, I sought advice on how to bring them from the abstract brainstorm into croncrete being. 

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” 

Bradbury’s words came to me (possibly via Pinterest) and away I flew.

I definitely did not write 52 stories. 

I definitely did not write more than a couple semi-decent ones.

But I was writing and that was enough.

(Not that I hadn’t been writing before. My memory boxes are stuffed full of the “newspapers” written in crayon and “manuscripts” typed on the family computer with my mom as my editor.)

But now something clicked within me and I could not seem to stop writing. This blog testifies to that; not every post gets likes, some poems are feeble in hindsight, and only a few stories turn out to be keepers. But just like Bradbury’s short stories, it is impossible to have a year’s worth of bad posts, right? 

Don’t answer that. 😉 

Back to Bradbury. He inspired me to write (especially speculative fiction) and continues to make me fall more and more in love with literature every time I read his writing. 

For instance, just a few days ago I finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and then watched the 1956 movie for which Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It was quite possibly the most flawless book-to-screen transition yet. Bradbury perfectly portrayed the central themes of MD in under two hours. (Whereas the book took…well, a long time, to read.) 

He also wrote Leviathan 99, which is dedicated to Melville and is essentially Moby Dick in space. This stunning novella portrays the same themes of MD in a completely different setting, yet does so with such mastery that I believe Melville would be proud. (Also, pro-tip: if you don’t have time to read MB, just read Leviathan 99.

Reading Leviathan 99, I was filled with the same joy and wonder that I felt when first reading “The Veldt,” the first story in The Illustrated Man. Reader, do your mind a favor and listen when your English teacher mother encourages you to purchase a Ray Bradbury collection.

Although Ray Bradbury is sadly no longer with us in body, we are still able to celebrate his legacy on his birthday. He has left his readers deeper in love with literature and filled with awe at the power of writing. 

He has, also, left us a little bit lost on Mars. 

Unexpected Hero: Winnie-the-Pooh

The world is a mess. Whatever your political views, we can all agree that it’s a rough world out there. However, while the news is increasingly depressing, I found an unlikely hero to cheer me for a few hours: Winnie-the-Pooh. 

Somehow I grew up reading everything in reach yet missed this classic! So I decided, “What’s more comforting than cuddling my Eeyore pillow pet and reading Winnie for the first time?” 

It was a marvelous decision; not only are the stories delightful and humorous, but the characters can teach even us “knowledgeable” grown-ups a thing or two. 

My personally favorite is Eeyore. He lets himself wallow, but knows well the worth of “a little kindness and consideration for others.” 

And then sweet, nervous little Piglet reminds us that it’s okay to ask for help and that we should always look out for the “Very Small Animals.”

Of course, we must mention Pooh. Continually called “brainless,” he still manages to come up with ideas to help those he loves. Perhaps caring for others is better than cleverness in the end. 


As simple as these stories and characters may seem, they are all the more important in today’s overwhelming, grown-up world. As I’ve said before, good children’s books are for adults too, and this is certainly true of Winnie-the-Pooh. After all, adults need to be reminded of consideration, service, and friendship perhaps even more than children do.

Dystopian Reality

Dystopian novels have been “in” for several years now. The Hunger Games and Divergent were the most popular reads of my high school days. Brave New World, 1984, and Anthem were on the AP reading lists. I continue to devour Ray Bradbury’s work.

However, we forget the purpose of dystopian fiction, which is to warn and protect us from creating such futures in reality. Dystopian fiction remains fiction only so long as we read and heed these books as warnings, not merely as disturbingly entertaining tales.

While we continue to be shocked by the dystopian stories we read, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to fall into them. By labelling them as “fiction” we are separating them from our reality and from our future. We feel terror and disgust as we read them, but can easily brush them aside as “mere stories” once we close the covers.

Ray Bradbury once said,

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

As much as I’d like to say Bradbury is inerrant, I would like to alter this statement ever so slightly for the sake of clarity:

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop believing them.”

As soon as we assure ourselves that dystopian societies are just monsters created by authors, they lose their power to prevent us from growing into such societies. The moment we begin to read these books as fiction, when we stop believing that such horrors and degeneration might be possible, is the moment we begin to descend into dystopia ourselves.

images-1.jpgIf children were to read the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel as merely a story that could not possibly have any truth to it, the preserving concept of “stranger danger” loses its impact. We cannot read this story to children without explaining its moral and begging them to heed its lesson.

In the same way, adults cannot read dystopian novels simply as futuristic fairy tales; we cannot consume them only for their shock and entertainment value. Rather, just as we would hope that children learn caution from Hansel and Gretel, it is our duty as responsible readers to learn an even greater caution from stories such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games. 

It is of even greater importance now in 2017 than when these stories were originally penned, even if that was not long ago. We already have turned deaf ears to the warnings of these stories and are already reaping the consequences as we slip into dystopia.

Consider the following: 

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 Remember the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? We were bothered by them for their selfishness, their vanity, their degenerate morality, and their obsession with entertainment. But are we equally concerned by such lifestyles in reality? Or do we shudder at them between pages and then act as they do in our own lives without even realizing?

download-2In The Giver by Lois Lowery, another YA dystopian novel, babies who are not up to standards are “released.” I remember my friends and I crying over this chapter in elementary school. Yet now so many former young readers champion the killing of the pre-born because of detected health problems, special needs, or simply because the child is unwanted. How can we justly promote in reality the things of which we once read with sorrow?

download-3Fahrenheit 451 is fairly explicit in its message (Bradbury makes no attempt at subtlety -bless him). Yet while we read of the death of literature, we retreat without a thought into cheap entertainment as soon as we finish the book. Worse, we ignore his clear warnings and are happy to glean our information through soundbites and social media blurbs rather than through thorough reading, considerate conversations, and serious thought. Are we, too, mindlessly “watching our stories” without discernment or contemplation?

fullsizeoutput_161Perhaps the most shocking dystopian novel I’ve read is Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). At least, it was shocking when I read it four years ago. Now, it feels rather ordinary. (Has the world really fallen so far in four years? Perhaps I am simply older and sorrowfully wiser.) As I read this book, I was horrified at the unrestrained sexuality of it; most characters sought only their own pleasure, cared nothing for relationships, and procreation was a thing of the distant past. But is this so far different from today? We find ourselves living in a generation that boldly protects promiscuity and demands consequence-free pleasure while conservative approaches to relationships are scorned as old-fashioned.

download-4.jpgAyn Rand’s Anthem centers on a character called “Equality 7-2521.” Everyone is equal, but, ironically, no one is free; every member of the society is equal to the extreme that none of them may differ from others. Today, are we perhaps striving for a dangerous equality like that of Anthem? We must certainly protect and value all people equally; however, Anthem warns against forcing equality of thought. Although we read this warning, do we follow it? The minute someone expresses an idea that we consider offensive, are we quick to aggressively silence him or her rather than admit that we all have the right to think freely?

I am not saying that everything in these dystopian novels will come true, but they are not nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed. Certainly I do not expect America to be divided into factions or our teenagers to be sent into battle against each other or for us to mate according to selection by governors. However, there are undeniable dangers to reading dystopian novels as fiction, just as there are dangers to ignoring the morals of fables and fairy tales.

We ought to read dystopian books as seriously as we read history books. It is said that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and so we diligently are set to studying history from the minute we enter school. We also are encouraged throughout our school days to read dystopian stories, but we must not be satisfied with reading them as mere fiction. Rather, we must read them with the discernment and diligence with which we study history. It is imperative that when we read dystopian books, we read with great awareness of their relation to reality so that we are not, like poor history students, doomed to live them.

 

Misshelved: Winnie the Poe

Went to the children’s classics section in search of some light reading…now I am just wondering how many poor young Winnie-the-Pooh fans have been traumatized by Poe instead… 


Perhaps Eeyore likes Poe’s stories. “Nevermore” seems like his type of vocabulary. 

Still, “Welcome to your nightmares” is a daunting phrase to put on a book beside a beloved nursery classic. 

Oh, how I love when shelving decisions go awry. Endless amusement!

Just My Type and Fontly Yours

The title of this post is made of two puns, so I’d say it’s off to a good start.

Today I want to talk about fonts. I know, I sound like Brick Heck from The Middle, but I strongly believe that fonts and type style are crucial to the success of a piece of writing.

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The other day, a friend of mine and I found ourselves in a heated debate over which font is better: Georgia or Helvetica. I argued that Georgia is whimsical yet still professional. He countered that Helvetica is simple and easy on the eye.

We did, however, find common ground in our preference for 12 point font and 1.5 line spacing, as well as our hatred of boring, old Times New Roman.

But why do we as writers feel so strongly toward one font and type setting over another?

To answer that, I am afraid I will have to get a bit philosophical. Writing is both an abstract and concrete art form; it is abstract in the ideas it presents to the reader’s imagination, but concrete in that it does so using visual cues- that is, written words. A book, then, is a concrete collection of the abstract thoughts. Good books are works of visual art that seek to give the reader an impression of something invisible; visible words communicate invisible ideas.

Most importantly, a book (or any piece of writing) must be well-written. The concrete words absorbed by the reader’s eyes must flow naturally, make sense, and be beautiful in their individual phrases in order to construct an abstract thought in his or her mind. Just as no poorly-made sculpture leaves a lasting mental impression, no poorly-written book will inspire great thoughts.

However, there is an element to this process of concrete-abstract in writing that goes beyond the skill of the author; if words are beads, no matter how eloquently the author strings them together, the chain upon which they are strung must also be a thing of artistic merit. This “chain” must complement the beads without overshadowing them.

Just so, fonts and type settings must complement and support the writing itself. You’ve doubtless been told to “never judge a book by its cover” and I’d agree. But perhaps there is some truth to judging a book by its font.

Consider the Harry Potter books. Being a giant nerd, I own both the American and British editions. And, while I prefer the British colloquial to the American “translations,” I always opt for reading the American prints because of- you guessed it- the font. Take a look for yourself!

IMG_4921First of all, notice the adorable illustration! I hold to the belief that one never outgrows books with pictures. Second, I challenge anyone to glance at the font of the chapter title and not immediately associate it with the whimsy and adventure of Harry Potter. The font of the text itself is legible, yet not as stiff as, say, the font you might choose for a thesis.

Now consider the spacing; the margins are wide enough for a child to hold the book by its edges and the space between lines is enough to prevent the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

However, the spacing is not as wide as in some children’s books, making it feel less condescending and as if it is also intended for older audiences. Similarly, had the font been Comic Sans or some other outlandish style, the book would have been less desirable to anyone aside from early readers.

Overall, I’d say the American editions of Harry Potter are an ideal example of font and spacing being used to not only attract the reader, but make the story more accessible. It is easy to “fall behind” the printed words into the story itself because the spaces leave enough of a hole to fall through and the font is easy on the eyes without being distracting. Beautiful.

IMG_4922Now, consider the British editions.  They’re more compact, first of all, so naturally “superfluous” illustrations must be forgotten to save space. The title is lovely and, of course, consists of the same words as its American counterpart, but it lacks the quirkiness the so perfectly parallels the story. No fancy letter “M” for the first word in this edition. No wide margins or extra space between lines, thank you very much. If the American edition wonderfully represents and facilitates the magic of Harry, the British edition is more characteristic of businesslike muggles.

The words (aside from a few candy names and the Philosopher-Sorcerer switch) are the same and the story is thus the same. However, with more crowded words and a more mechanical font/spacing, this edition is not as open to being read by all. I can hardly imagine a child being drawn to this edition, despite the story not being changed, because the words are so packed together and the margins are not friendly to a child’s clumsy grasp. Sure, maybe an adult would read these, but said grownup might not be drawn into the childlike wonder of the HP books as he might be by the visible whimsy of the American editions.

Font matters.

Spacing matters.

Writing is a visual art.

The best writing transcends visuals because it inspires imagining and ideas beyond the printed word; however, this transcendence can be bolstered by a wise choice of type style. Choose a font that reflects your writing’s ideas and, from the first page, the reader will fall more easily into the abstract world you create.

In painting, the better the work, the more it says. Another painter might be inspired to create something with the same message, but if he does not do it with excellent presentation, the viewer will not understand the idea behind the work as well as he might when looking at the first, better painting. The idea is the same, but the presentation makes all the difference.

It is the same with writing.

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Which one, to you, communicates the idea of a “beautiful day”? To me, the first is too stoic to truly represent the beauty of a sunshiny day. The second is more welcoming and expressive.

I’ll say it again: Font matters and spacing matters. Abstract themes are reflected in and enhanced by the visible art of words.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this hypothesis. Do you  have a favorite font? Why Wing Dings? Why not Papyrus?

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

Perhaps you’ll be more open to commenting, thought, if I write it this way:

I look forward to hearing from you, readers!