Even Navel Gazing Requires Perspective

November 24th, 2004 · 1 Comment
by Booksquare

We admit it: we wanted to be a child prodigy. When that didn’t work out (due to a minor disconnect between fantasizing and doing), we entered what some like to call the Real World. Now, anyone who’s spent any time in the Real World knows it is quite different from other worlds (College World, Family World, First Job With Lots of Partying World). Real World comes with things like taxes and messy decisions and disillusionment. It also, helpfully, comes with optimism and perspective.

We often wonder how someone who is in their mere twenties (a child!) can write with any authority about life as we know it. You are barely alive at 25, though it seems to be quite the opposite. Though it sounds (and feels) patronizing, you are still growing up in your twenties. Especially if you’re a writer living in the Dream World of Writers. It’s a lovely, romantic place filled with garrets and berets and all manner of incestuous behavior (actually, it’s a lot like Partying World, but you take more notes).

Writing about being in your twenties while your in your twenties cannot provide sufficient perspective to form conclusions and offer wisdom. Jackie Corley, looking at the work of her generation, comes to a similar conclusion:

The kid novel, if worthless otherwise, is a practice field. Yes, I’ll trip and stumble on an awkward paragraph. I’ll probably reveal my own greenness with an unrealistic scene between two characters. [Booksquare note: yes, this will definitely happen; it has nothing to do with age] But learning how to be a writer isn’t so different from learning how to be an adult: you need to fail and fail often for the chance to fail better one day.

Does that mean every kid novel should be published or, at least, published at the rate that they have been these past years? I still don’t believe so. Youthful “career” success — at an age when nobody in their right mind should refer to themselves as having a “career” — denies you the pretty essential feelings of failure, frustration and helplessness that come with first being ordained into the adult world. That type of success can be dangerous in the future, whatever “career path” you choose.

That’s not to say that the kid novel shouldn’t be written or even published; it just needs to be recognized for what it is: necessary preparation.

There are, there will always be, those writers who are truly prodigies. We will keep our feelings about them and their talent quiet. What Corley calls “kid novels” are what the publishing industry is convinced will grab younger readers. We disagree. When one looks back at the success of Bridget Jones, one thing leaps out: Helen Fielding wrote from a Real World perspective. When people, readers and writers, complain about the sameness, smallness of chicklit, they are more likely looking at the lack of the perspective the author has.

We wrote, or rather sort of wrote, many things, some of which resembled novels, in our twenties. Looking back, there was soaring ambition and beyond belief tunnel vision. Naivity. Pseudo-Real World pretensions. We thought our World was the end-all and be-all of all Worlds. We now understand that to know your World, you have to know about other Worlds.

File Under: Tools and Craft

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