Embracing the cute

In high school, the identifier often used to describe me was cute. I say this not to brag, because I didn’t find this something to brag about. Cute means smiles, silliness and brainlessness. Puppies, cheerleaders, and baby rolls are cute. Not a 5’10” highschooler trying to take herself SERIOUSLY already. I wanted to be an actress, an athlete, I wanted to change the world and better mankind. I didn’t get pretty, I never had brilliant, and I sure as heck wasn’t labeled as mysterious. I wanted to be all these things that I wasn’t. Cute. Bah.
I’ve learned, however, that cute has a longer shelf life than beautiful. Cute isn’t an insult. Grandma’s are cute. Some of my favorite movies are also. And in my present day, I write CUTE.
I just checked goodreads to see how early reader reviews are looking for GOING VINTAGE (yes, I check goodreads, but only in spurts. I will try not to check again for a few months now. Or weeks). These are some complimentary phrases:
(exclamation points are my own)
Other reviews are less positive. Some find my writing to be meaningless, fluffy, trite, predictable, vague, stupid, boring, and one kind reader once wrote to tell me she wanted to cut me. Keep those positive opinions coming, kids!
If I let it, these words become as much a part of my writing process as my writing pants or character charts. I start to ask the most toxic questions, like, Who cares? What does this matter? Why try? Is seven diet cokes too many?
Writing isn’t only something I do, it’s something that I am. Take it or leave it, I write and live in an optimistic, rose-colored world or splendor and delight. For this, I will probably never win a major award or write a book that speaks to the core of my generation. I don’t do gritty or profound or twisted or raw. I still love to read these kinds of stories, still love to understand other world views and backgrounds. But when I spend a year with a book, I prefer it to be something that makes me giddy and satisfied, an escape for me and for you. There are days where I question this, days that I wish I was more of something else, but that’s like wishing I was shorter or had thicker hair.
After I started to write this blog entry, I found that I wrote almost exactly the same post 5 years ago. Isn’t it funny how the same themes come up in our lives, just like in our stories? I vaguely remember writing this as I revised Princess For Hire for my newly-signed agent (and went on to sell it at auction two months later). Although I want to edit this mother, I leave it here for you in all my pre-published glory.
Written on April 3, 2008

The other night, I asked hubby if he’d get the girls down so I could get a few more writing things done. Hubby obediently grabbed the kiddos and smiled. “Come on. Mommy has to write The Next Great American Novel.” 
For some reason, the comment made me twitch. I sat, paralyzed, staring at my computer screen for the next fifteen minutes. 
Let’s just get this out in the open now: 
I have not written, nor shall I ever write, the Next Great American Novel. 
I’m rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for the bazillionth time. Blows me away how at different times in my life, I pick up on different themes in this book. How the emotions are still raw and fresh, how I put it down and want to be better. To do better. And, whoa, I wish I could write like that! 
And then there’s my magical tweeny romp (Yeah, I said romp. Big fan of romps). I’m sure it’s destined for a pink cover–which would be poetic since the sweats I wear whilst writing say PINK on the bum. 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of it’s glittery princess pinkiness. I hope readers love reading it half as much as I loved writing it. But I’ll tell you a secret–I started this book two years ago and I quit for awhile because I thought I wasn’t, I don’t know, delving into the human experience. When I idealized writers in high school, I pictured them hacking at a type writer with a stern expression and a black beret. That, or barrels of hard liquor and drowning in their own angst (Maybe that was all the punk music I listened to?)
I believed POWERFUL writing equaled SERIOUS writing. Which is a very limited view, and I could give you a million reasons and a million books why, but I’m in the middle of an epiphany here.
This silly struggle reminds me of a small identity crisis I suffered when moving from the West to PA. I decided when we moved, I would use my maiden name, Taylor, as my first name. Ditch Lindsey and the negative connotations that went with it. Start fresh. Because the thing that bugged me about being ME was everyone viewed me one way, and I wanted to be something–someONE– else. I was, on occasion, described as funny by my fans, snarky by my critics. And this was all well and fine, but what I really wanted to be was 
No one EVER labeled me as sweet. If you looked up sweet in the dictionary, you’d have to scroll down to the antonym section, and THEN there’d be my face. So I figured I’d change my name and become the sweet girl that bakes her neighbors cookies and intuitively knows how to fix everyone’s emotional breakdowns and talks in a sing song voice uh… other sweet things (see, it’s not natural for me). 
Well, Taylor didn’t last long. Because I was not, AM not, Taylor. I’m Lindsey-eye-rolling-one-liner-but-still-can-occasionally-bust-out-heavier-stuff-Leavitt. And I finally came to terms with this: 
That’s Just as Great. Just as Necessary. Just as Important. 
(except for moments of extreme emotional distress. You don’t want the funny girl around joking about Grandpa Frank’s gambling habit during his funeral. You want sweetness. So I try to fake it then. Or just avoid talking.) 
In the same way, it’s ok–nay, better than ok!– to write something that makes people smile and laugh and take a break from the so-called human experience. My writer friend, Lisa, wrote this to me when I was having one of my Who-am-I-as-a-writer? moments. (Lisa, I hope you don’t mind me quoting your excellence) 
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that it takes awhile 
to find our strengths. But once we figure it out, we need to go with 
it. The market is too competitive to try and be good where others are 
great. So, my strength seems to be novels in verse. Yours is 
definitely humor. And so, you are going to have to find stories where 
you can really make it shine, and it may be that you aren’t going to 
be a literary writer, but more of a commercial one. I think sometimes 
we look at other books and long to do THAT (I know I do) instead of 
embracing the kind of book we do well.” 
This really hit home for me. Because Harper Lee really rocked my world in high school, but you know what? So did Meg Cabot (ok, read her right AFTER high school. Was going to let you assume I was that young, but I’m going with the honesty theme for this post). Or PG Wodehouse, who said about his own writing…
“I go in for what is known in the trade as ‘light writing’ and those who do that – humorists they are sometimes called – are looked down upon by the intelligentsia and sneered at.” 
What a relief to hear P.G. recognize my fear for me–that my lightness would be considered lesser. Even though I never thought this about Sir Wodehouse. Bow down to you, Jeeves!
I think it’s key for writers go through these moments of self-assessment in order to become comfortable in their craft. Who am I? Where do I fit? Do I fit? Do I care if I fit? Do these sweats still fit?(Of course they fit. Even though the PINK looks a little bigger nowadays).
So, not the NGAN. But I’m happy with where my writing is going. I’m happy in my PINK sweatpants.

11 Responses to “Embracing the cute”

  1. Caroline Carlson

    This post makes me feel so much better about my life. And my writing. And how I tried to change my name in college and then changed it back. (It also makes me feel really good about P.G. Wodehouse, but I already loved him.) Thanks, Lindsey! I'm so glad you write sweet and quirky and funny books, because I don't think I could bear to live in a world without stories like that.

  2. Kelly Polark

    Dare I say this is a CUTE post!
    I like to be entertained and so do many readers. It's wonderful to read "The Great American Novel" every once in a while, but I'd rather smile and enjoy a lighthearted story most of the time.

  3. Alex (A Girl, Books, OtherThings)

    I find comfort in your books.
    I don't say that lightly.
    Maybe I'm a year away from the big 3 0 but I just love reading your books, they make me happy.
    I live in a big city, I'm currently working as a high school teacher and sometimes I just need something to make me happy. Your books are perfect and perfectly lovely brain candy. I love it.

  4. Rose Green

    Serious books have their place, but you know, some kids need happy books to restore their faith in the world, you know? To balance out the hardships of real life with hope that cute still exists.

    Also, my girls love your princess books.

    Also, I love Sean Griswold's head because it's one of the rare YA contemporary books I can find that is neither dumbed-down nor edgy.

    We need all kinds of books! Looking forward to reading Going Vintage!

  5. Julia :)

    I love this post. All of my life I've always been labeled the "cute" one and I never really liked it. I'm slowly learning to embrace it and this post has really helped bring a smile to my face. Also, I love your "cute" and "quirky" books and writing! 🙂

  6. Caryn Caldwell

    I just had to stop by and comment. I loved this post. Absolutely. I feel the same way so often, wondering why I can't just write the Great American Novel, but I come to the same conclusion you do every single time: The world needs fun books, too, and I wouldn't want to spend a year immersing myself in a depressing book. I want to enjoy writing. I want to be okay with the rough patches my characters go through because in the end I know that everything will be okay, and they will grow, and it will all be worth it. Also, I think sometimes we can say so much more with accessible books because we reach people who might not otherwise be reading. This is our chance to share with the hard-to-reach readers. They need books, too.

  7. C. Issy

    This was a fantastic post.

    Every time I hear about any YA awards, I cringe a little inside, knowing that if I ever do publish I'll never be a part of that "illustrious awarded" group with silver stickers on their books and school librarian recommendations. My voice is silly and light and… (dare I say it?) commercial, which seems to be a death knell in the literary field. No one will be talking about my books one hundred years from now.

    But! The books I love most fit that profile. When I need comfort, I don't pull out ultra serious issue books (which are wonderful, but not quite comforting) or literary gems. I reach immediately for the books that make me smile or are filled with magic that you can't find in everyday life.

    Keep writing cute books, because in this world filled with shadows of dark things, they're the ones we sometimes need most of all.

  8. Michelle Schusterman

    I'm so late here, but I love this post. Some books are heavy, some are light, funny, somber, literary, commercial…and that's all well and good, but I have never and will never believe that one type is more important or legitimate than the other. If a book is important to one single reader, then it is an important book, period. Thanks for being so honest and sharing this, Lindsey!

  9. Caroline Starr Rose

    I hated being cute, too. It felt like something no one takes seriously. And yet here I am as an adult using that word all the time to describe others — and I mean it as a compliment. Cute does have a longer shelf life than beautiful, you're right.

    I will always bow to the wisdom that is Lisa Schroeder. Thanks for this!

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