Thinking Critically, Thinking Positively by Corinne Duyvis
As a kid, I wrote princess tales. As a preteen, short stories. As a teen, hundreds of thousands of words in fandom. Now, as an adult, I’ve written enough novels to lose track.
It’s one of the upsides of being autistic—when I go for something, I go for it. Even if I don’t always succeed, I push myself to do better, and to take full advantage of the versatility and freedom within the sci-fi and fantasy genres.
One key element of that is to think critically.
When I wrote for fun, it was just that: fun. Nothing’s wrong with that. But I would write certain sentences and think, Is this the right way? I’d write certain scenes and think, Something is missing. Sometimes I would slog through the writing, but never questioned what, precisely, made it so difficult at that time.
Eventually, I glanced at how others handled similar sentences. I considered scenes I did feel good about. I looked at when the writing did go easily. The solution was often embarrassingly straightforward. Yet, only when I started taking a critical look at what worked and what didn’t did things click into place.
Critical thought is essential: of my own work, of others’ work, of wider trends and stereotypes in literature. Of the world around me. If I don’t question complex ideas, if I don’t bounce them around in my head and approach them from all angles, I can’t grow as a person or an author. How could I ever delve into meaty topics in my work? How could I ever write with nuance, thread in shades of gray, or speak convincingly about my passions in the first place?
One of these passions is disability: I feel strongly about the role of disability within social justice, the need for respectful representation in literature, and wider disability politics. I wouldn’t have these convictions if I hadn’t spent years challenging, expanding, and developing my thoughts on the subject. Without that background, I also wouldn’t be able to write about disabled characters the way I do. Every novel I’ve written since 2011—published and unpublished—has featured disabled protagonists.
And I wouldn’t have been able to found a website like Disability in Kidlit, where I talk about all of the above—and invite dozens of other disabled contributors to do the same. We review novels, discuss troublesome tropes, and share element of our own lives. We do this both to help readers think more critically about the depictions of disability they encounter in literature, and to help authors craft more convincing and respectful disabled characters.
The same way critical thought makes me improve as a writer, I firmly believe that critical thought can improve on the depictions of disability in children’s books—and we all know positive representation is essential, as disabled children need to see themselves reflected within the books they read. It’s why Disability in Kidlit exists, why I talk about the subject on my own online platforms, and why I talk about it in real life during panel discussions like the upcoming Autistic Heroes in Kidlit.
But criticism alone isn’t enough.
I always hope for the good. I value criticism because I want to see myself and others do better, watch the conversation grow. What’s the point of spending hours on taking apart stereotypes if I don’t believe it’ll lead to better things? If I don’t believe that at least one reader or audience member might have a light-bulb moment of, A-ha! That’s how it works!
For me, personally, criticism without optimism takes its toll. Analysis has become second nature, but I can’t survive on the negative alone. I need positivity to see it through, whether it’s writing, Disability in Kidlit, or anything else: I must love what I’m doing, and believe it’ll make a difference.
And I do. I really do.
Corinne Duyvis is the author of the YA fantasy novel Otherbound, out now from Amulet Books. Her next book, On the Edge of Gone, will be out in spring 2016. Read it if you dig the idea of a biracial Surinamese-Dutch Black girl having to deal with an apocalyptic comet impact. Corinne is also a co-editor of Disability in Kidlit, which discusses disabled characters in MG and YA novels, and a team member of We Need Diverse Books. You can also find her at Twitter, Goodreads and at corinneduyvis.com.