I want to do something splendid...something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead...I think I shall write books. ~Louisa May Alcott (Little Women).
Two days ago, I watched a PBS documentary on Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. Fascinating. I enjoyed how real a portrait the filmmakers painted - her dark periods, the financial woes, the doubts and insecurities, even the health problems later on. She was a real person, flesh and blood, and this documentary captured that extremely well.
Admittedly, Ms. Alcott "was" Jo March. She was fiesty, had an insatiable passion and hunger for writing, and didn't mind living along the edges of societal expectations (by not having her primary goal in life be marriage, children). She had a mind of her own and was unafraid to show it.
I enjoy watching the film of Little Women (Winona Ryder version) each Christmas. And each time, I find myself nodding. I'm a "Jo," too. Growing up, I felt like a bit of an oddball, preferring reading/writing to attending parties or buying the latest fashions, like my friends, like my sister. Like Jo, I hold a passion for writing that I can't quench - except by writing. That image of Jo, sitting at her writing desk, pen poised, hat perched on her head, is an image I identify with (well, replacing the pen with a keyboard and removing the hat altogether).
But, probably the most important way I relate to Jo, and therefore, Ms. Alcott, is that it took me awhile to find my voice as a writer, to be comfortable in my own "writer's skin," to be brave enough to write what was "true." Jo began by writing wild, melodramatic stories of murder and "gore." Fantastical plots and thin characters. But then, when she looked inside herself, she grew as a writer. She learned that, no matter what the subject matter, as long as you're being true, writing from a place you can genuinely feel, the writing will resonate.
I started out in 6th grade writing (terrible) little mysteries. Then, at age 20, I attempted my first novel. I call it my "experiment." It's some period piece I'm embarrassed to recall, with cardboard characters and ridiculous plots. But sometime shortly after that, I began to write from experience. I got an idea for a second novel, a modern-day story about a complex, platonic friendship between the opposite sexes - the nuances, the dangers, the heartaches of such a relationship. I was writing partly from what I knew, what I had experienced, myself. And the writing came alive. A small part of me was put on that page, and I knew I was "writing true." That's been my goal ever since. Not so much to write autobiographies, to borrow from my own life so directly. But to find at least a tiny part of myself within each plot, within the main characters. It's my way of connecting to what's being put on the page.
So, in this post, I wanted to pay tribute to Jo March and her creator. And to all the other Jo March's out there who aren't afraid to be exactly who they are.