Steal Like an Artist

That was the title of Austin Kleon’s first book. It’s a reference to Pablo Picasso’s famous advice,

“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.”


During the summer reading course, when we studied memoirs by Black authors, we chucked the idea of stealing, however. Didn’t seem right in that context or any other, for that matter.


You learn from the writers who’ve come before you and you emulate them.

You honor them by acknowledging their hard work by working hard yourself.



In that spirit, I want to share a snippet of what my writing intensive learned in our close reading of Poster Child, a memoir by Emily Rapp about living with a birth defect and trying to plot out a “normal” life.  

I hope it adds to your toolbox and inspires you to do some close reading of your own.


Near the end of Poster Child, after returning from a semester abroad in Korea, where the author has been forced to face her myths about herself, Rapp compares the letters she wrote to a friend — upbeat, doing great, what a wonderful time it all was — with her journals, in which her self-hatred was front and center. 

It’s a dance she’s carried on the better part of her life, the conflict between her commitment to being special, from the time she was a young child and was selected the poster child for the March of Dimes, and the interior wreckage of continuing that effort into young adulthood.

 

Here’s the takeaway for your own work:


We all have some version of Rapp’s conflict. We show the world the most idealized version of ourselves and hide our shame.

Now ,think of a character you are writing about– your young self in a memoir, the protagonist of your novel — and consider the ways he or she presents herself versus what she is feeling inside.

The old metaphor is the duck that glides across the surface of a pond while paddling like hell underneath.

How can you show this in your writing? How will your readers recognize the conflict?


Drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to know what you’re working on.

Wishing you a productive week of reading, writing, and other literary pleasures.

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