Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing Lessons from "The Help" (Part 1)

The Help

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is a book filled with lessons about race, tolerance, and class. However, weaved throughout the story of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are nuggets of wisdom about the writing process. It is, after all, a celebration of previously unheard voices sounding out on the written page in a time when most were trying to keep such words silent. Isn't that what all writers are trying to do? Get our message heard? So,in my next few posts, in honor of the release of "The Help" movie, I wanted to share some of the inspiration I found in this story of a book that struggled to make it into the world.

Lesson One: Dedication

Sure, we all know of the obstacles put in our way when we want to write. I don't have the time. Or, what would my family think if I shared our secrets?

In order to even begin building the book, Skeeter had to convince Aibileen to help her. That was the first of many hurdles that race and class position would create. Once Skeeter conviced Aibileen to help, both of them discovered the boundaries they believed in when it came to how they should communicate with each other. Despite all of that, they decided their common purpose was important enough to find a way to work together, and even become unlikely friends.

For the characters in The Help, telling their stories put them in jeopardy. Not just the silent treatment from friends and family--actual fear for their lives. In the world they lived in, if your skin color was different, then you were too different to socialize in any way outside the confines of the employer/employee relationship. While we may worry about causing embarrassment with our memoirs, it's nothing like this. Throughout The Help, stories of people being beaten or killed for "stepping out of line" were common. The threat was there. It was there not only to be overcome, the threat itself was a reason to tell the stories. To fight injustice, you have to show what it looks like. That's what the women in this book were trying to do.

Although Skeeter had the ambition to be a writer, Aibileen already was, just not in the traditional way. She would write out her prayers, in pencil, so she could make sure to get them just right. When Aibileen told Skeeter she wanted to write out her own story, rather than be interviewed, Skeeter thought it was a bad idea. Aibileen had a full-time job. And writing wasn't as easy as you think, Skeeter said. But Aibileen already had a writing flow down, because of the prayers. This wasn't a hobby, a way to pass a few weekend hours. Aibileen's prayers--her writing--was important to do for an hour or two every day. It didn't matter that she had a full-time job and had to take care of her own home as well. She was dedicated to writing, and spent even more time at it than Skeeter (the wanna-be writer) did at first.

Have you dedicated yourself to your writing? Are you willing to make sacrifices in order to get your stories told? Take a look at the worries you have about sharing-- what's the worst thing that could happen? What's the best? When you say there isn't enough time, are you allowing yourself to make time?

Happy--(And Inspired!)--Writing!



  1. Enjoying your take on this book, and look forward to more insights for the writer from it! After a busy summer, I'm rededicating myself to better use of my writing time :-)

  2. Good idea doing a series of posts like this. I haven't read the book but what you used from the book I think I am drawing a bit of inspiration from. Look forward to the rest of the series.

  3. Great idea for a post! I recently read The Help and it was terrific. I hope the movie is true to the characters.

    You're right that making time is super important. Everybody has the same amount of hours in the day, but it's up to you how to spend those hours!

  4. Very well written, as usual, Tina. Very inspiring, too

  5. Love this book... loved this post! Thanks for inspiring me (again)!


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