A story is not a life condensed, but a moment expanded.
That is my theory, having written a novel for children. I have learned so many things writing this book with my husband that I feel like no matter what happens, if no one else reads it, or if I’m the next J.K. Rowling, I am forever changed. And just that, by the way, is something I’ve learned. Art is about process, not the result. It’s so strange to take a round-about route and end up at all the cliches. But here’s what I’ve leaned about cliches, you’ve got to get there your own way, to feel it, and that’s the only way they’re true for you.
I’ve written a fantasy/ adventure starring two female protagonists, with male and female supporting characters, but probably more females than males. My book is a book about girls for all kids.
I wrote this book because I’m sick of seeing so many stories for kids where girls are on the sidelines, sexualized, and stuck in supporting roles; where if you read a story where a girl is the main character, she is often surrounded by males; because while “buddy” narratives starring males abound, there are few stories where two girls come together to save the world. I wrote it because I wanted my children to see more girls taking risks, having adventures, changing, and growing. I wrote this story because four years ago, my husband suggested I stop complaining about what’s not out there and write. I wrote it because I wanted to walk my talk. I wrote it because I’m a writer. I wrote it because I’m madly in love with my husband, and this is a story he started to tell our daughters. I wrote it because I wanted to create something with him.
Here are just some of the things I’ve learned from the writing of it: Contrary to popular belief, to be a writer, at least for me, at least for me to write fiction, I’ve got to be an optimist. I’ve run into so many plot problems, I wanted to throw up my hands and say: there’s no way out of this! But there is always a way. I’ve learned how to find creative solutions in my work, and from this repetitive experience, I’ve learned how to find creative solutions in my real life. I’ve had to learn to be resilient. I need grit. The reason I started Reel Girl is because fantasy creates reality in an endless loop. If we can’t imagine equality, we can’t create it. Creating your own story not only creates your own reality in the book, but also teaches you the possibility of creating your own realities in life. This is liberating on so many levels. So many of us have grown up with family narratives with the good guys and the bad guys, the heroes and the villains, repeated and repeated and repeated. Now, I think part of really growing up is telling your own story, being the narrator of your own life.
I didn’t understand the purpose drama in stories. Bad things have to happen to your protagonist. Does that mean we want bad things to happen in life? We need excitement, trauma blah blah blah (and this goes back to “writers/ artists are depressed, unhappy, sick” etc) Now I believe that the adventure is an emotional metaphor. For me, cleaning out my closet is a huge Sisyphean task, but I can’t write a story about that, it would be boring. So I pick a metaphor everyone can relate to. In real life, just for a moment, I feel like my world is falling apart from something small, like I lose my keys. I feel like I’ve been abandoned. It’s a mini-panic attack, a second. If I were to write a story about the feeling, it would involve losing something major and important, a magical golden locket. I’ve come to believe that health is experiencing your emotions, fully and openly, and then releasing them. I don’t mean openly as in catharsis, telling everyone how you feel. That’s often inappropriate. I mean being open to your own emotions, how they feel for you. Getting out of a shower or getting out of bed can feel like a huge transition. A story is all about transition, that moment, something we experience countless times, every day but we block it out, because it’s too scary to be present, to be in our bodies, to be alive. Writing this story has taught be how to be alive in every moment or at least aspire to be.
Finally, I’ve learned, contrary to popular belief, that happiness is insightful.
Thank you so much for your writing! As a burgeoning writer (I have been writing for a long time actually, but only recently decided it was okay to accept the title and pursue my ambition), I related to EVERYTHING. Introspection is hard, but your insights have helped me so much. Keep sharing!
The previous comments on this post really resonated with me as well. My failure to post/publish more is directly related to my overly critical self-censorship. Thanks for helping me see that, that is what I have been doing. I can’t UNsee it now.
I am from Brazil, dear Margot! I love your blog and even I didn’t have kids yet I am so sure about to buy your book! Thank you so much for this so sweet post and I am cheering here for you in every way possible!
I don’t know if I asked this before, but do you think think the word “sissy” is derogatory to females in that it implies that males are superior to females. A boy would not want to be called a sissy because he in some way would not be as good as other boys.
Yes, I do. I wrote this about “pussy” for Salon initially. http://reelgirl.com/2011/01/are-you-a-pussy/
This is wonderful! Congratulations on finishing your book – I can’t wait to read it, and to read it with my kids!
Thank you for that comment. I am not quite done but I see the end and hearing a comment like this one inspires me to keep going. It’ scary to finish something you’ve been working on for so long.
<3 You are a celebrity in our house. My 8-y-o daughter loves to write (she's working on both a script for a movie and a chapter book about a different subject than the script), and one of her long-term goals (she told me the other day) is to "publish a book and have it on Reel Girl." 🙂 You have opened my eyes to the inherent sexism in the media around me (some of which I miss b/c we don't own a television), and have inspired me to seek out girl-empowering media – for both my daughters AND my son – to an even greater extent than I probably would have done. As you frequently say, once you see it, you can't UNsee it. I am always anxious to read your book and movie reviews, and my dd is always thrilled when I tell her "Reel Girl likes this!" All this to say, I am so grateful to you for your work on this blog, and your good work in the world, and I am so excited that you're writing this novel!
I just read your email to MY daughter, trying to get her to appreciate me! Thank you so much for this comment. It makes it all worth it. Your daughter sounds amazing. Maybe she can write a blog/ review for Reel Girl sometime?
This was beautiful. Thank you.
Thank you. I didn’t proofread it because I was so nervous to write out my thoughts. I knew if I started editing, I would never stop. I decided to just post how I feel because I know it’s true for me, even if I’m scared to say it out loud, to make it even more true and real.
I think that’s probably part of why I found it so moving, because you spoke from the heart and without self-censorship.