This kid really didn’t like the story I turned in for class, and he really hated how I repeated words and used dialogue tags other than “said” and tried to change my wording around to give it a more “writerly” feel (I guess.)
It’s fine. I shat all over his story too.
But there’s a reason I’m a better writer than you.
king of the “write a sentence, refresh tumblr” strategy for homework
So today, I reread “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” just as a reader and hot damn if it isn’t one of the most brilliant stories ever written.
I came up with my first concept for an essay for the first time in what feels like forever today and it makes me feel really good.
FREE MILK (First Draft - Easter 2012)
I’m posting the first draft because it’s likely that I will never write subsequent drafts and I can’t bear the thought of having another decent piece rot to death in a folder somewhere.
This is kind of a sexy poem, so I hope you enjoy it.
For the past two years, I have called Sarah my best friend (ever since the night we met in the halls of our dorm building wearing our pjs). I’ve written with her, shared some of my darkest secrets with her, drank with her mom and helped her move into her very first apartment.
Though I love every second of our friendship, I admire Sarah’s writing more than I admire anyone else’s (and you know that’s a big statement if you’ve been paying attention). I have seen her grow into a writer of great strength and wisdom. She’s the kind of writer I envy because it feels like anything she writes falls out of her perfected, profound, moving. She has that way of crafting a sentence in just the right way. If I were her teacher, I would crave her words, crave seeing her grow, take those risks. I would encourage her to take any instinct and run with it because it will probably be successful.
Basically, I want to give some mad props to my best friend for yet another incredible piece that made me whisper “good goddamn” and made the hair on my arms raise in the best possible way.
Yesterday on twitter, I expressed annoyance with the hundreds of people who send me emails or tumblr messages or whatever to let me know that they illegally downloaded one of my books, as if they expect me to reply with my hearty congratulations that they are technologically sophisticated enough to use google or whatever. (I dislike it when people pirate my books. I know that not all authors feel this way, but I do. As I’ve discussed before, I think copyright law is disastrously stupid in the US, but I don’t think piracy is an appropriate response to that stupidity.*)
I then pointed out that my books are already available for free at thousands of public libraries not just in the US, but also in Europe, South America, Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the UK, etc., to which many people replied, What’s the difference between pirating a book and checking it out from the library?
1. Libraries are broadly collecting institutions curated by experts. The curation facet of a library is hugely important: We train these librarians to organize information based not solely on what is popular (which is what piracy does), but also on what is good. The truth is you can’t get “anything” via piracy; there are hundreds of thousands of books you can’t get, because they aren’t yet popular. American public and school libraries play a huge role in preserving the breadth of American literature by collecting and sharing books that are excellent but may not be written by YouTubers with large bulit-in audiences.
Libraries improve the quality of discourse in their communities in ways that piracy simply does not. And if it weren’t for the broad but carefully curated collection practices of libraries, the world of American literature would look a lot like the world of American film: Instead of hundreds of books being published every week, there would be four or five.
2. Libraries buy books. Lots of them. And there are tens of thousands of libraries around the country. That is good for me and good for my book. (Like, the average library copy of The Fault in Our Stars might get checked out 100 times, or even a thousand, butsingle files of Looking for Alaska have been illegally downloaded more than 50,000 times.)
3. For the more than 100 million Americans without Internet access at home, libraries are the only free places to use the web to search for jobs or connect with family or buy t-shirts at dftba.com. I am very happy if my books can help add value to institutions that facilitate such important services. I do not feel the same way about BitTorrent.
4. And this is the most important: I believe that creators of books should have control over how their work is distributed. If, for instance, a musician doesn’t want her songs played during Rick Santorum rallies, then Rick Santorum should not be allowed to use them. I don’t want my books to be available for free download (unless you borrow an e-copy from a library, that is). I just don’t. It’s not because I’m a greedy bastard or want to keep my books from people who might otherwise read them. It’s because I believe books are valuable. Right now, on Amazon, my brand new hardcover book costs about $10, which represents 1.2 hours of work at the federal minimum wage. I believe books are worth 1.2 hours of work.
One last thing: A lot of people compare the world of books with the world of music. I think this comparison is unfair. For one thing, CDs were overpriced before Napster. I really don’t believe that books—at least my books—are currently overpriced**. More importantly, most musicians have a secondary source of income: They can charge for live performances. Writers—or at least the vast majority of writers—can’t do this. The book is The Thing. The book is all we have to offer.
And in my opinion, libraries preserve the integrity and the value of the book in ways that piracy simply does not.
Based on how many of you have already seen Season 2 of Sherlock, I realize that most of you disagree with me. And I’m happy to acknowledge that I might be wrong. I welcome your thoughts and responses on these complicated questions.
* The whole argument that piracy is some kind of civil disobedience in response to unfair copyright laws is ridiculous and indicates to me that not enough people are reading Civil Disobedience, or even the wikipedia article about it.
** As pointed out by no less an authority than John Darnielle, CDs weren’t overpriced by many independent record labels. Also, I should add that many books—particularly literary fiction hardcovers published for adults—are overpriced, sometimes dramatically. I think this is a bad and discouraging trend, which is one of the (many) reasons why I like publishing my books the way I do: It’s still possible for a hardcover to cost less than $20, and if you adjust for inflation, it always should be.
Spot on. This is why I love John Green.
there was a moment tonight where i was not in a room with a hundred other people, but just one, and he was telling me a story and i realized that words are magic in so many ways, that words are more than just squiggles on a page, that they are the reason that i am where i am.
somehow, through all the muck and disasters and triumphs and quiet moments of the past year and a half, i’ve forgotten that writing is not about process, it’s not about what something means, but it is about expression, it’s about getting whatever you have boiling inside of you out out out. it’s about using words as a weapon. it’s about forgiveness, it’s about forgiving yourself.
i’ve been working on so much, been so busy, so caught up in what does this all mean that i forgot why i love all of this. and tonight, i remembered. tonight, i remembered that i love words because they make me feel alive.
and nothing should take that away from me.
My Advanced Fiction class feels a little like a ragtag bunch of people forced together, but I think it’ll be good. We bonded over our love of mashed potates and journals. And my teacher has the cutest voice.
I’m consistently surprised by my enduring love for the people who inhabit the Fiction department.