Write It So You Can Read It

Here’s a little exercise I like to give my writing students: think of your favorite book or movie. Describe it with three adjectives. Then list three adjectives to describe your own writing. The point is to see how much the art you create matches up with the art you like to consume.

In 2009, I did the exercise along with my students. Three adjectives that describe one of my favorite movies of all time, Before Sunrise: affecting, insightful, and romantic. My writing—a blog and book about raising babies in an eco-friendly manner—would best be described as practical, informative, and useful.

As much as I loved blogging on the The Green Baby Guide (a lot), and as much as I had to say on the subject of cloth diapers (more than you can imagine), I simply wasn’t writing what I wanted to read.

.

Amazon describes Before Sunrise like this:

A French grad student named Celine (Julie Delpy) meets an American boy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) on the Budapest-Vienna train. They get off the train in Vienna and hang out for a while.

So basically, boy meets girl and they hang out.

Now, whenever I start wondering what I should write about next, I think about all the stories that have affected me. What do I like to read?

I like stories about suburban couples who risk everything for an unattainable dream and then end up miserable in the end.

I like stories about nuns who realize they aren’t cut out for the abbey and run around the Alps with seven children dressed in curtains.

I like stories about best friends who get married, get divorced, and try to stay friends.

I like stories about pioneers who battle plagues of locusts and long, cold winters.

I like stories about writers who date models and snort cocaine.

Years after my revelation, I finished Broken Homes & Gardens, a novel best described as a startling cross between The Sound of Music and Bright Lights, Big City.

Just joking. Broken Homes & Gardens is a boy meets girl and they hang out for a while story. My characters don’t snort cocaine or run around the Alps in play clothes made out of curtains. I have to save something for my next book.

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