Wisdom about writing from Harriet the Spy

Have you read Harriet the Spy?  Have you ever heard of it?  I can remember reading that book over and over again, obsessed with everything about it.  Harriet was smart, fearless, and determined- my 6th grade hero.  My sisters would groan anytime I talked about it or watched the 90's Nickelodeon film production because... I was a broken record.  My poor sisters....

For those who have no idea what Harriet the Spy is, it's a middle grade novel about an 11 year old girl in New York city who is a spy and writes down almost everything in her private notebook.  Her sixth grade class eventually grab hold of her notebook one day and read all her dirty secrets aloud to the class- most of which are personal thoughts about said classmates.  It get's rough for Harriet, but truth prevails.

Harriet the Spy has a lot to say about growing up, life's lessons, and more, but it shines an incredible light on the most important things you need to know about writing.  Perhaps this is why I loved the book so much- it is ridiculously inspiring.  Listen to these nuggets of wisdom:


Write like no one is listening.

We tend to edit our words.  When we converse we use tact, tell white lies, and make excuses.  When you write, you MUST be truthful.  Don't worry about what other people think- at least not at first. The editing can come later.

“Little lies that make people feel better are not bad, like thanking someone for a meal they made even if you hated it, or telling a sick person they look better when they don't, or someone with a hideous new hat that it's lovely. But to yourself you must tell the truth” -Louise Fitzhugh

Write everyday and about everything.

Writing is a practice and Harriet practiced everyday.  You HAVE to write in order to improve.  Some people sell their first novel and it's a hit, but I assure you there's a lot of practice behind it.  School helps us exercise our writing skills, but once you leave the classroom you're on your own.  

Write everyday and try to write about more than the "comfortable" subjects.  Try writing about your neighbors?  Perhaps the history of your city has some secrets?

Pay attention.

Insert my absolute favorite quote of all time: 

"To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." -Mary Oliver

So...Harriet climbed into people's houses and watched them like a creeper.  I don't suggest you do that, though I did as a kid (yikes!).  Next time you're in a cafe, take written or mental notes of what people are doing and saying around you.  The world is a fascinating place, and all the material you need is around you (and on the internet).

Stop worrying about what other people think.

So people don't like what you've written.  Either it's a little "too honest" such as in Harriet's case, or it's not quite....there.  Who cares?  You can fix it.  Good friends will be honest with you, and good friends will encourage you.  Share your work with people, but always do it for yourself.

"Life is Strange."

-Harriet (Louise Fitzhugh)

It sure is!  So enjoy it, discover it, be a part of it!  Laugh at it sometimes, share it, yell at it, and demand that it be exactly as it is.

Here's the classic book cover.  It's a quick read and has a lot to offer.  I was a Harriet wannabe with my raincoat, binoculars and back & white composition notebook.  I still have a "notebook" and I always will.