Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Love, Perfection & Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

“We love the things we love for what they are.”

That’s from Robert Frost‘s Hyla Brook.

Variations on the line had been bouncing around in my head for a while before my husband and fellow writer, Larry Hammer, reminded me where it came from.

I’d been thinking about Frost (without knowing it was Frost I was thinking about) because I’d been thinking about how once we reach a certain basic level of craft, writing is no longer about avoiding mistakes or carefully not doing anything wrong.

It’s about the things we do right.

No one ever loved a book, after all, simply for not making any mistakes, for all that there are (varied, individual) things that can throw each of us out of a story. But we don’t love a story just because we aren’t thrown out of it, either.

We love books for what they do, not for what they manage not to do. We love them for the thing or things that hit each of our particular story buttons, that reach out to bridge the gap between story and reader, that pull on us and make us want to or need to read on. A flawed book that does the things it does right, very right is far more powerful than an unflawed book that doesn’t.

None of my favorite books–the books I imprinted on as a child and teen, the books that have remained touchstones for me throughout my life–is perfect. I can see that clearly enough when I look at those books as a writer focused on craft–and that has never once stopped me from returning to those books, from treasuring them.

We don’t love books for the things they aren’t, but for the things they are.

But there’s more to it than that. The other day, in a stray moment when I thought I was thinking about my manuscript-in-progress, I found myself thinking instead: And the same thing is true for people.

On one level, I’d always known this. On another I hadn’t, or had forgotten, or needed to relearn it on that particular day in that particular way. People no more need to be perfect than stories do.

As writers who spend much of our time looking inward and so can become as critical of ourselves as our stories, this is worth remembering, too. I doubt many people hold their friends and loved ones dear simply because they never make mistakes. Lack of mistakes is not the place love comes from.

We love one another for the same reason we love stories: not for what we aren’t, but for what we are.

As I dig deep to put words on the page, I find that a comforting thought.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Love, Perfection & Books

  1. Thanks for this post, Janni. I do find I'm my own toughest critic. My critique group always steers me back when I over-think things. It's important to have cheerleaders in our lives (both writing and personal) who point out the good stuff. – Laura W.

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