Sunday, February 08, 2009


To start with, this little quote from Lemony Snicket's book, Horseradish:

"If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[pasdlgkhasdfasdf."

Stephanie Ruble went to the SCBWI conference in NYC not long ago, and when she came back, she compressed their verbal nuggets of coal into this shiny diamond, which I've quoteskimmed in full so you can admire all the lovely facets:

Sometimes you need to write a story or paint a picture that's just for you. It's the kind of project that keeps you up at night, or the brilliant idea that nobody but you will understand. It could be inspired by a story on the news, your kids, or a trip to a museum. You're passionate about it. You lose track of time while you're working on it.

Your evil inner voice says, "No, don't do that! Nobody will want that project! It Sucks!"

Tell your evil inner voice to be quiet. Create that story or artwork, even if you think that nobody will ever want to read it or look at it. You'll never know what it could be unless you let down your guard and lose yourself in that crazy idea you have.

The funny thing about "just for you" projects is that they have the potential to be your best work. Art directors and editors love to see art and read stories that the creator is passionate about. When you take emotional and creative risks, it can bring out universal truths that resonate with everyone, not just you.

Write that weird story you think will be boring! Draw that odd image that you think will be ugly! You might be surprised what happens when you stop thinking and just create.

Do a project just for you!

With the movie Coraline out this weekend and The Graveyard Book having just won the Newbery prize, Neil Gaiman has been doing a lot of press recently. Usually, he's very laid-back, funny, and tactful, but evidently he kind of lost it the other day when a journalist questioned him about his reasons for writing fantasy. Here's how Neil Gaiman described what occurred:

Journalist today, "Do you write books with fantasies because you are not happy in the real world?" Me, "Why would you ask such a question? I mean, do you actually think that people write fantasies because they're miserable, while realistic novelists are all incredibly happy? Is that what you really think? I mean, it seems an astonishingly silly question even to ask. Do you have a point or a reason for asking it?"

Anyone who has ever written a fantasy, science fiction or horror story probably just punched the air, or at least chortled with glee.

Colleen Cook put up a lovely post at Kidlit Central the other day, in which she quoted from and linked to an article by Tim Kreider entitled "When books could change your life". Here is some of what Kreider said in his article:

A girl I once caught reading Fahrenheit 451 over my shoulder on the subway confessed: "You know, I'm an English lit major, but I've never loved any books like the ones I loved when I was 12 years old." I fell slightly in love with her when she said that. It was so frank and uncool, and undeniably true.
. . .
part of the reason art loses its power over us, of course, is, simply and sadly, that we get old; our personalities, as soft, impressionable, and tempting as freshly poured sidewalk cement when young, gradually set and harden over the years with whatever graffiti passers-by scrawled there still indelibly inscribed in it.

It's not that children's books are pure entertainment, innocent of any didactic goal — what grown-ups enviously call "Reading for Fun." On the contrary, the reading we do as children may be more serious than any reading we'll ever do again. . . . Of course, it's also in childhood that we're first exposed to some of life's big shocks and secrets — love and mortality. And the most terrible secret of all is the inevitable syllogism of these two: that the things we love will die.

As Colleen astutely added:

"But even as these books leave us emotionally wiped out, we feel a certain contentment. The world is scary or unfair or downright evil sometimes, but the books tell us that human compassion and decency will help us weather the bad times. It's cathartic and reassuring even in grief."

From Lyle Lovett (during a concert), but I think that you can swap "story" or "poem" or "piece of art" for "song" and it still applies:

"Did you ever notice that sometimes a song means something different to a given listener than they do to us when we write them? . . . Sometimes, it's better."

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Kelly Fineman said...

Hope all's well with you!