Study Guide

Hard Love Literature and Writing

By Ellen Wittlinger

Literature and Writing

That's what I love about writing. Once you get the words down on paper, in print, they start to make sense. It's like you don't know what you think until it dribbles from your brain down your arm and into your hand and out through your fingers and shows up on the computer screen, and you read it and realize: That's really true; I believe that. (1.42)

Notice how John loves the reality that comes with writing something—it's almost as though the act of writing something corroborates it, regardless of if it's actually true. He realizes it's more about what people believe than what actually happens; that's why people write.

Every time I read that over, I feel like I'm looking down through layer after layer of her, until I'm looking more deeply inside this person I don't even know than I've ever looked inside myself. I want to write like that too. Maybe I even want to be like that. And I sure as hell want to meet her. (1.53)

Marisol's writing reveals pieces of her identity that she usually keeps hidden, so John feels like he knows her before he even meets her. It's curious that he claims he wants to write like that, too, because when he does pen a story, he shies away from getting too personal with it.

"So why bother then, if it's just some half-assed way to waste your time? If you're not committed to having people read what you've written? What have we been talking about all morning?" (2.39)

When he claims his writing isn't going to change the world, Marisol asks him what's the point. She thinks writing is valuable and meaningful. Sure, not everything will change the world, but why try if that's not what you're aiming for?

Somehow writing this was getting me down. I couldn't wait until it was time to go see Marisol, but there was a good half hour before she'd be there, so I picked up the Berryman book and turned to the poems Marisol had quoted from last week. Most of the poems went right past me; I felt like I couldn't get a starting point with them, though the language was so strange I kind of liked being inside their world. (4.21)

Writing and literature transports John to a different world, one where he can be someone other than the guy whose parents divorced and ditched him. John doesn't have to live through the depressing nature of his parents' problems; instead he can float away to a fictional world.

I'd never read anything written like that before, all piled together, and it was sort of fun to figure it out. But this Diana was a tad odd. Maybe she'd been on earth before? What was that, Buddhist or something? New Age or just old hippie? (4.26)

Question: You know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Well, should you judge a writer by their writing?

"Write it down, Gio. After dinner go to your room and write down what happened and how you feel about it. Your writing is good—it really is. Just don't run away from the feelings." (5.64)

As John attempts to process his feelings about his parents, Marisol encourages him to write it down. He won't be able to run away from his feelings when he puts pen to paper. It's too bad, because some of his feelings are dark, but he still has to confront them.

"When I read something, I like to feel I've gotten to know the writer a little bit," she continued. "For me, page after page of this kind of sarcasm gets annoying." She put her hand up. "Don't get me wrong. You write very well. Very well. It's funny and it's strong, and actually, I'm pretty impressed. If I wasn't, I'd just shut up about it." (6.48)

Look at Marisol's advice to John: It's about his writing, sure, but it's also about how he should use his writing to connect to others. More importantly, he needs to learn to connect with his own feelings, which he normally runs away from.

My mom's a therapist, so, you know, she believes in them. She got me started with Claire around the time I came out, although what we usually end up talking about is being adopted. Anyway, writing the letters has helped me figure out who my mother is. Or, at least, who she isn't. (9.30)

Even Marisol uses writing as a tool. She might not ever meet her birth mother, but that doesn't stop her from working out issues with her on the page. The letters she writes to her mom are heartfelt and brutally honest—she does not sugar coat her true feelings.

"You asked me why I don't let things get me down. I think it's because I've always tried to find my own magic words ever since I was young. That's really what writing is, isn't it? Searching for the magic words. So I guess I'd have to say, this is what keeps me going, figuring out what I have to say and putting it down on paper, word by word." (10.24)

Diana's outlook on life is so refreshingly positive after John's down in the dumps nature. One thing they share? A love for writing, and a desire for the right words to express themselves—or, as they put it, magic words. These are special to them because they have the ability to convey meaning in a way they can't in speaking to one another.

"Hey, don't knock letters. Sometimes people say more to each other in letters than they'd ever get around to saying in person." (15.61)

We can't help but notice just how important letters are to John. Somehow, he's able to express himself so much clearer through writing than in person. Maybe it's because there is less pressure to say something in the moment.