Monthly Archives: August 2016

Toads and Diamonds: Why Fairy Tales are Essential to Childhood

 
More and more I’m finding that traditional fairy tales aren’t being read to children. In fact, almost half of parents won’t read Rumpelstiltskin to their children. They consider the kidnapping and execution themes in the story too gruesome for kids.

5220792492_faaf941f9b_oAs for Cinderella, fifty-two percent of parents believe that the fairy tale’s protagonist doesn’t present a good message to children, since the protagonist is a young woman, who does housework all day long.

I grew up on fairy tales, from the happily ever after Disney versions to the traditional Grimm Brothers’ Tales and stories by Hans Christian Andersen. One of my favorites of Andersen’s stories is The Little Mermaid. This version diverges greatly from the Disney version, and brings with it a much deeper meaning.

Realizing how many parents refuse to read traditional fairy tales to their children is surprising and saddening. Fairy tales present hard truths. In many traditional fairy tales, there is no happily ever after. Horrible things happen to good people. People make mistakes and aren’t always forgiven. The princess doesn’t always get the prince. I believe that by either not reading fairy tales to kids at all or by only sharing the Disney versions, kids may be developing a lopsided view of the world. They start to think that their lives will turn out perfectly. Everything will work out in the end. While this is a wonderful belief, it can help prevent kids from learning how to prepare for and negotiate the real world. C.S. Lewis stated, “Sometimes fairy stories may say the best what’s to be said.”

Fairy tales distill complex worldly truths down to their most raw form. They give kids insight and help them better prepare for reality. They open the door for kids to ask their parents and other adults questions. A fourth of parents won’t read fairy tales to their children because the tales encourage uncomfortable questions. While two-thirds of parents won’t read fairy tales that could give their kids nightmares, half of parents believe that traditional fairy tales present a stronger moral message than modern fairy tales.

Fairy tales not only present hard truths; they also show children how to handle problems. Kids read fairy tales and learn from what the protagonist did. They take what they read and implement it into their lives. Fairy tales are vital to helping kids learn how to navigate life. G.K. Chesterton stated, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

So much in today’s society is focused on sheltering children, protecting them from every little perceived harm, no matter how far-fetched that harm may be, such as the instances where parents are seen as endangering their kids “in a manner that is totally disconnected from any statistical realities about the actual dangers faced.” It’s to the point where some parents are shielding their kids from the hardships on Sesame Street. In Jennifer Senior’s TED Talk, “Why Is Parenthood Filled with So Much Anxiety,” she states that while purchasing a DVD of the first few Sesame Street episodes, the DVD came with the warning “that the content is not suitable for children.”

If we don’t give children a chance to ask the hard questions, if we keep them from the uglier parts of reality, how are they going to end up healthy, intelligent, independent individuals?

As Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

What do you think about reading fairy tales to children?

(Photo courtesy of chiaralily.)

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Terrible Writing Advice From Bestselling Authors

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I have a tendency to research on to the Internet. From investigating how to write to dissecting other authors’ works, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the vast, conflicting amount of writing advice that exists. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had moments where you glared at your computer screen, because you’d read so much clashing advice that you developed writer’s block.

From Elmore Leonard’s belief that adverbs are a “mortal sin,” Mark Twain’s statement: “When you catch an adjective, kill it,” to Anne Rice’s idea that there aren’t “any universal rules,” it’s easy to get lost in the massive pile that is writing advice.

I could choose to not go onto writing blogs. I could ignore the Internet, but I keep searching for that piece of advice that will be that perfect kernel of wisdom. After all, bestselling authors should know how to delve out writing advice. They are successful authors.

However, like so much else in life, writing advice is subjective. Take Kurt Vonnegut. He states that the first rule for creative writing is “Do not use semicolons.” Numerous authors use semicolons. It’s challenging to find a novel that doesn’t at least use one semicolon.

If you use a semicolon, does that mean you’re not a good writer?

Claire Messud, Virginia Woolf, and William James would disagree.

Another one of Elmore Leonard’s beliefs is that writers shouldn’t “go into great detail describing places and things.” Many of my professors demanded more detail in my work and that of my cohorts. They wanted to have a pristine image of what was going on.

While the rest of this particular Leonard quote explains why writers should avoid too much detail—it may bring the action to a standstill—nit-picky advice can cause substantial harm.

Too often writers get bogged down with the rules of writing. We’re supposed to study and learn from the greats, but at some point we have to distinguish ourselves. Find our voice. Writing is mysterious. It’s a process unique to each writer. What works for one person, may not work for another.

Advice that shuts a writer down isn’t beneficial. You want advice that inspires you. That motivates you to write. More than that, you want to have something that resonates with you.

If you pay too close attention to what others say is good writing, you may lose your distinct voice. The most successful writing, is writing that doesn’t sound identical to anything else. And while some writing advice is reassuring, it’s important to realize that you can step off the well-worn path of writing and chart a new course.

What’s some of the worst writing advice you’re received?

(Photo courtesy of Byron Barrett.)

3 Writing Podcasts You Need Right Now

 

2743534799_86bcea8475_oRecently, I’ve started listening to podcasts. Like many other adults, I experience the joy of rush hour traffic. For years, I’d listen to music or radio shows, but the drives felt incredibly long. So, I began listening to podcasts during my commute.

The drives feel a lot shorter.

The first podcast I listened to was TED Radio Hour. This is a podcast everyone should listen to. It’s not writing orientated, but covers an array of research-backed topics that will get you thinking. This podcast will inspire you.

In terms of writing oriented podcasts, I’ve found three that stand out among the rest:

Writing Excuses

This podcast’s episodes are short, fast-paced, and to the point. Hosted by authors, the goal of Writing Excuses is to encourage writers to bring their writing to a whole new level.

The best part of this podcast is that the hosts are relatable. They not only talk about what writers should do, but delve into their personal struggles with writing and how they overcame them.

The Journeyman Writer

In this podcast, the hosts are well organized and to the point. Each lesson deposits a valuable lesson to writers about the ins and outs of story construction. The hosts do this in easy-to-manage portions, while showcasing their passion for writing and their desire to help other writers succeed.

Prepare to remember what’s essential to storytelling and to know how to wriggle your way out of any story dead-end.

I Should Be Writing

This award-winning podcast is all about helping writers become better, and transition into the professional world of writing. The host started out as an unpublished writer and become a pro. One of the best aspects of this show is how the host focuses on the emotional roller coasters and roadblocks every writer faces, while trying to make it to the big leagues.

Take a listen to the host’s own fears and failures with writing in the episode Crippling Fear. You may find yourself nodding along.

(Photo courtesy of Patrick Breitenbach.)

 

Why Did You Become a Writer?

4549909730_a513381ed7_oRecently, someone asked me why I became a writer. When I went to answer, I found myself stumped. It wasn’t because I didn’t know why I was a writer. Writing is part of my identity. It’s part of who I am. But, trying to find a way to articulate this to a non-writer caught me off guard.

I’ve had more than one experience where I told someone I was a writer, and they’d respond by asking me what I’d published. Today, I can point to research papers, online articles for various companies, and a literary journal. However, even with those publications, many non-writers aren’t all that impressed with my writing record. This is even more apparent when they find out that though I’m a fiction writer, I don’t yet have a published novel.

I’ve even had family members—these members are in the minority—who tell me that they still have dreams too, but they say that as if dreams never do come true. It can make me feel like I’m a little kid, who’s getting a pat on the head by a chuckling parent.

I think of all those authors out there, who many would have never believed would become famous writers.

Stephen King has published over fifty novels, including Carrie, The Shining, and Doctor Sleep. King is world famous. But before he got published, he was a high school janitor. Who would have imagined that a janitor would get to where King is now?

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and more, was working on becoming a minister. It was during his time serving as a children’s hospital chaplain that he was inspired to write The Fault in Our Stars.

Nicholas Sparks, author of the renowned bestseller, The Notebook, as well as numerous other novels, worked various small jobs before he became a famous author. One of those jobs was cold-calling people to sell them dental products.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, went from being depressed and on welfare to one of the richest people in the world in five years.

There are so many more examples out there. When I think of these authors, the question of why I became a writer is all the more clear. I was always a writer. I wrote skits and plays in elementary school, attempted my first book in middle school, and wrote my first novel in high school. Were these early attempts good? No. But I’ve kept at it, taking courses, reading, and getting a master’s in writing.

I can’t imagine my life without writing. Story ideas and characters bombard me; I have to write about these fictional people and worlds. I hope to one day be published, and I’m not going to give up…I will get published.

But regardless of being published or not, I’m a writer because I can’t live without it. I can’t image living without telling about the worlds and characters that won’t let me sleep at night, that make me not realize the red light has changed to green, or that have me space out mid-conversation.

When someone asks me why I became a writer, I say that I didn’t become a writer. I’ve always been one.

Why are you a writer?

(photo courtesy of Dave Morrison Photography.)

 

3 Ways to Become a More Successful Writer

 

9025740361_f15c82d2f1_oA common misconception is that to be a successful writer you only need to learn how to write well. While improving your writing skills is important to becoming a better writer, only learning to write well does not guarantee that you’ll be a successful writer.

When I was in graduate school, several of my professors believed that you had to write everyday, even when you didn’t feel like it. If you weren’t writing everyday, then you weren’t successful.

However, I was at a party a few weeks ago, and a young writer expressed how her teachers had told her the same thing, and how she was worried because she hadn’t been able to write anything for several weeks. I told her that, that was fine. Some people are able to write everyday. Others aren’t.

I’m someone who needs breaks from writing. I’ve tried to force myself to write, when I’m not in the mood. Often, I ended up frustrated and feeling like I was a really crappy writer. For me, I need to take time to refill my creative reserves. If that means not writing for a week or two, then I’m going to do it. I know that my creativity will come back, and then I’ll be in a writing frenzy.

Those times that I’m not writing, I’m working on ways to replenish my creativity. Here are three of those ways; I hope they help you as they’ve helped me:

  1. Continue Educating Yourself

The most successful people are those who never stop learning.

People usually assume that I majored in English as an undergraduate. I didn’t. I minored in it, but my major was in Clinical Psychology. At the same time, people who only know that I work in pediatric research are shocked to learn that I have a MA in writing. They assumed that I was working toward getting my MD or PhD in biology, immunology, or some other medical-science field.

But I’m interested in a wide range of topics. Being knowledgeable in various fields builds my confidence, helps me discover and fine-tune other skills, stimulates my creativity, and helps generate creative solutions.

I’m continuously taking courses, listening to seminars, and attending conferences. Most of my courses are online. Some I pay for, while others are free. Take a look at Linda.com or edx.org , or see what types of training may be offered through your work.

  1. Read, Read, Read

Successful people study how other people became successful.

I’m constantly reading. I challenge myself to read a certain number of books each year. I keep track of the books I read, and when others look at my book lists, they’re often surprised at the diversity. I read both non-fiction and fiction, from And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II to Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1) to The Old Man and the Sea .

When someone tells me that they absolutely refuse to read any fiction books, I internally cringe. I’m a writer, and though I don’t write non-fiction, I still read it. Though I don’t write contemporary, I read it. Each successful book, whether literary or not, can teach us about how to become successful writers.

Look at Fifty Shades of Grey . It is not a literary book, and most people would agree that the writing is amateur and formulaic. However, the series has sold over 65 million copies, and the first book has been made into a movie, which makes the series a success. Many factors contributed to its success, including hitting the market at the right time, the main characters being modeled after Twilight’s main characters, and the age-old concept that sex sells.

I read the book because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I saw the movie for the same reason. Regardless of my personal opinions, I contributed to the success of both the book series and the movie, just like millions of others did.

Mixing genres, teaches us about different aspects of writing, and by studying successfully creative people, we can be inspired.

Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Books have the power to change our lives. Read, and discover how they’ll change yours.

  1. Hang Out with Inspiring People

People produce their best work when they are inspired by or working with others. You may be writing a novel by yourself, but it’s usually harder to be creative, when you’re not interacting with anyone else.

According to Goins, Writer, the “solitary genius” concept of writing, where creative people are isolated from the general population because they spontaneously produce creative concepts, is a myth. Goins, along with Keith Sawyer, a leading scientific expert on creativity, discussed why it takes a group to be creative. A group allows people to connect, and creates a safe place to exhibit the pressures involved with producing innovate work, as well as a way to vent our frustrations.

Hanging out with intelligent people, who challenge you, stimulates your creativity, and helps you build connections. Who knows, maybe one of those people will be your key to success.

How do you generate creativity?

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Hirsch.)