“Drive my dead thoughts over the universe”

“O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

-Percy Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”

It is a gorgeous day in the Midwest, Gentle Reader, and it brings me to think of the Romantic Poets, as I often do, on beautiful days.  The Romantics loved Nature (both nature, little “n,” and Nature, big “N”), and loved writing about Nature.  It’s in the high 70s today; the sun is shining; the flowers are blooming; spring fever is in the air, and nowhere can you see that better than on a college campus.

I am not a Poet.  For a long, long time, I wrote poetry (badly) and put it Out There (without hesitation).  It was only until I was well into my graduate program that I realized what constituted Good Poetry, and it was decidedly Not Mine.  Further, I married a Poet, hung out with Poets, broke bread with Poets, and realized that this poetry thing was not something I was talented at.

But novels?  Gentle Reader, I have room to breathe in novels.  I do not have the confinement of symbolism and metaphor, the need to make the abstract concrete or the concrete abstract.  The new project that I started a few weeks ago is almost at 38K words, and I’m only just almost halfway through the first draft.

The question that comes to my mind, though, is the question that should come to every writer’s mind, regardless of genre: who is the audience?  Further, for whom am I writing, specifically?  Not the Wheel of Morality (turn, turn, turn), not the lesson we should learn, but rather, who would have the most to gain from this text?

As the New Project is a YA novel, I am writing, in part, for a young female audience.  But YA is not read solely by adolescents and young adults, not anymore.  I am also writing for older readers, for moms, older sisters, teachers, people who like stories.  And as I write, I think constantly of these two things:

1) How is my protagonist comparable to contemporary YA readers?

2) How likeable are my characters?

The New Project (I keep calling it the New Project because I am so not in love with its current title, and have asked a Dear Friend who is Quite Knowledgeable about YA fiction to think of a new name when she reads the draft) is very pop-culture centric.  My protagonist is a pop culture junkie, and she’s savvy when it comes to pop culture phenomenon.  This helps her enormously in her trials and tribulations.  I think of my students when I taught high school in this way; what does a young character need to be comparable?

But also, her voice, which was tricksy for me for several pages, has now found its rhythm.  She’s not overwhelmingly dramatic, or too sassy, or too flippant, but rather, a portion of all of those things, all at once.

It’s hard to find a rhythm in first-person narration, especially as I’m a writer who often settles happily into third-person narration.  I’ve never been completely comfortable with first-person, the exception being the March series.  But Becoming is in third-person, as is its sequels, and I find myself having to use something that is not like my speaking voice and not like my writing voice, yet reminiscent of both at the same time.

Complicated, no?

But to return to the title and inspiration of this entry, Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” there is a change coming, and I can feel it.  Something is pushing against me, urging me to write, and whether it’s the beautiful weather, the bright sunlight, the birth of spring, or even the remembrance of the Romantics themselves, I am fully aware of thinking through my work, both creative and academic.

“Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,” indeed.


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