Of Blessings, Writing, and Birthdays

About one year ago next week, I began to write Blessings. I figured it might be nice to celebrate its birthday with a little trip down memory lane and some commentary on writing itself.

I feel a particular attachment to Blessings as opposed to my other manuscripts because it is entirely mine. The Fountain’s Edge, Webbed, and Popinjay are all either retellings or inspired-by sort of stories, and I love them dearly, too. But Blessings has been my first story that lives and breathes in my head, fully mine.

Part of this has to do with the experience I gained writing three other manuscripts. The lessons I learned, and the lessons I am continuing to learn during Blessings, mean that I am just a better storyteller. I could not have written Blessings as my first novel. I needed my other three to grow me. Someday I hope I can return the favor by giving them the brushing up they need.

I read something by Laurie Halse Anderson recently that really got me thinking. I really recommend reading her full letter to schools banning Twisted. I have not read the book in question, but I found her letter both beautiful and challenging. The last thing she says is, “Honor your students by giving them books that will help them grow strong in mind and spirit.”

I began to wonder. Are the stories I write challenging? Will my stories help people grow, or will they just pass the time?

I don’t pretend to write about the topics Anderson addresses in some of her books. And it’s true that I used to want my stories to be safe, to be a place where just for a moment the reader would experience a world where stuff’s going to be okay. I still want that, to an extent. But I don’t want my stories to be paperbacks read and forgotten. I don’t want them buried in the mess of girlie teen books.

I really don’t think a lot of my writing, which might be why I love criticism and handle rejection pretty well. But I don’t take myself very seriously, when it comes down to it. I work hard—harder than a lot of unpublished writers, certainly. I love my work. But I don’t go into it expecting the world change. I’m so young, and still quite innocent for my age (as friends are very willing to point out). I don’t have answers for young adults. I don’t know how to even begin to write about the topics Anderson addresses in some of her books.

But I don’t want my stories to be easy. I don’t want Blessings to just be a quirky fairytale. For me, it’s always been a lot more.

Blessings has a place in my heart not just because I feel it’s original, but also because of its particular history in my life. One night in early January 2012, I had just finished reading a book and was lying in bed trying to sleep. A vivid image came to my head: A throne room full of fair folk, all gathered to bless a baby. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I sat up and started writing. There was a boy with hundreds of blessings—blessings wonderful and terrible.

But that wasn’t all. There was a girl, and I could see her. A girl in a world full of blessings who had none at all. She was just herself.

I wrote this short chapter and tucked it away, not sure if I liked it, not sure where it would go. I was also in the depths of reworking Popinjay and didn’t want a distraction.

I remember mentioning the piece of writing to my sister, maybe the next day. “Wrote something the other night. Might read it to you. Not sure if it’s any good.” My sister was like, “Sure, whatever.”

The day after that was the day my right middle finger collapsed. The day when I thought my arthritis had stolen away my chance of studying abroad. Even a year later, that day is still unspeakably terrible in my memory.

The following morning, I was sitting at our breakfast table, still numb in my grief and shock and fear. My sister sat across from me and said, “Why don’t you read me that story?” So I pulled out my laptop, read the piece. Afterward my sister nodded and said something like, “I think it’s good. I think you should write more.”

So I started writing Blessings.

Sometimes I feel like the story came to me before that dark day as a sort of gift. It started writing itself before I knew I needed it. Over the past year as I’ve wrestled with characters, plot, and descriptions, I’ve been wrestling with my own blessings. This year has been so very far from easy. But I don’t think blessings are meant to be easy.

For my writer’s tutorial, I wrote this about Blessings:

A big theme in Blessings is the question of identity. An aspect of identity is taking the blessings in our lives along with the ordinary trials of being human and molding that into something—someone—we can be, and be happy with. Blessings—the deep blessings that mold and change lives—aren’t normally joyful, happy or easy things, and often come with plenty of heartbreak. Finding ways to continue being someone content and kind despite what happens to us is an important part of identity.

When I was first plotting the story, I wrote: Who we are is fragile and terrifying and beautiful. Who we are is a blessing.

Sometimes I feel like the prince with too many responsibilities—alienated by all I have to hold together, and alone with my private fears that one day I’ll be asked to give everything. Sometimes I feel like the girl who has nothing, who has nothing to give or lose and no one to protect her. I think a lot of young adults feel that way. A lot of adults, too, probably.

I hope that comes through in this story. I hope it’s not just a pretty fairytale about a girl and a prince. I hope somehow living through this year has bled my own questions of identity, pain, grief, and growing up into the words, so that maybe some reader who has been hurt like I was will open the pages and find both challenge and comfort, even in a land as far off as the fair realm.

Maybe if I just keep putting my heart into it, one day the manuscript will have a heartbeat of its own.

Happy first birthday, and here’s to many more.


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