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The Genious of a Well Crafted Book

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Some famous writer said (I honestly can't remember who, and I couldn't find it anywhere) that she (I'm pretty sure it was a she) hates it when people call her a natural writer. Because she works so hard on every word, every sentence, every paragraph in every book. That's not natural talent; that's hard work.

I've been thinking about that because I've come to a certain point, I suspect, in my writing, in which I need to make a decision. Am I writing for fun, or am I taking this seriously? It's not a fork in the road so much as a rolling sea, a debate I've been having for two years now, but you get my drift.

Here's what got me disheartened this time: I've gone back to the fantastic book The Bell Jar. When I read last month, my first reaction was something along the lines of What's the point? Sylvia Plath already wrote about depression better and more beautifully than I ever could. Her book is so well crafted that even a seemingly insignificant event (a meal with her fellow interns) captures the essence of the whole book. Esther, the main character, is attending the dinner, and she's not sure about which spoon she should use. She writes:

"... if you do something incorrect at table with a certain arrogance, as if you knew perfectly well you were doing it properly, you can get away with it and nobody will think you are bad-mannered or poorly brought up. They will think you are original and very witty.” (p. 24).

Of course, she's not talking about mere table etiquette. She's talking about all of our "norms". And this sets the tone for her clash with society's norms for women more generally.

Now, I'm assuming Plath worked hard to get to a point where she can put this incident into the story. Make it an amusing anecdote if you're reading for fun, but a poignant statement if you're reading carefully. To find the amusing anecdote that is precisely right for this specific book and what she wants to say in it.

I'm not sure I can do it. It's like watching the Wimbledon Championships. When you don't know anything, you think, come on, how hard can it be? Then you learn a bit of the game (or the craft), and you realise that there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. You begin to appreciate the skill, the thought, the bat-quick reactions.

I wrote the first draft of The Mommy Manual as a complete novice writer but a seasoned reader. It's a bit like thinking that if you've watched enough tennis matches, you can play the game just as well. And the realisation that I'm a complete novice dawned pretty early (about four years ago). Still, I like writing. I enjoy creating characters and telling stories. What I don't particularly enjoy is the detailed work, the polishing. Both because I already know how the story ends and because I feel it's sucking the fun out of it.

Does that mean I want to keep writing as a hobby? Not even go into publishing or anything like that? I don't know. Some days I truly think the only thing publishing this book will get me is online criticism (best case scenario). And some days I think that if even one young mum reads it and feels seen, it would be all worth it. Maybe.


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