Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Humble Hears, Yes, You!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss for the less-than-stellar title of this post.) Soon, soon, I promise, I'll get back the in saddle with some reviews and other meaty bits. (That pesky holiday on Kaua'i broke my stride this last time. Sigh. It's presently snowing as payback.) For now, though, here's a great article from the archives of the Children's Book Insider. The Mindset of a Successful Author by Laura Backes is spot on. You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of this site to see the article, but here's the gist of it:

So how do you earn the trust of editors and readers to the point where you'll be free to experiment with a book's form? It all boils down to another common denominator of successful writers: humility.

Humble writers hear editors say, "It's extremely difficult to create a protagonist from an inanimate object that children will care about," and don't think, "Well, she's not talking to me. My story about Erin the Eraser is different." Instead, these writers scrutinize their work in the light of advice they get from experts, and try to judge their writing as objectively as possible. They're constantly putting their work to the test, asking if their characters are interesting and believable enough, if their plot is truly original, if their voice has yet to emerge. If you only follow one piece of advice toward your dream of some day creating a book that sports a gold medal on the cover, it's this:

Be humble. Every time you hear a writing "do" or "don't" from an editor, published author or respected teacher, assume they're talking about you.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't have confidence in your work. But it does mean that your work has to pass a strict test before it's ready to send to an editor. And the only way you'll get objective parameters for that test is to listen to what other qualified people say about writing a children's book. Use those lessons to judge your work, bring it up to par with what's being published, and then exceed it. Don't assume your work is already good enough—prove it.

This is the sort of advice I tell new writers -- listen to what publishers, editors and other writers are telling you. Most are, very likely, trying to be as nice as possible without breaking your heart. Maybe, sometimes, we need to be harsher. There are times we need to be told that something is crap. We all write crap and, yes, some crap even gets published. The writers who "make it" as a writer keep persevering, writing, re-writing, reading, reading, reading some more, and doing their own homework. There are dozens, nay gazillions, of ways to learn about the craft: books, magazine articles, websites galore, conferences, etc. If you want to be a writer, you need to put in the grunt work. There is no silver bullet, it's just hard work. Take yourself (and, I might add, the others around you who've been at this for awhile) seriously. As I've said before, a peruse through Editorial Anonymous's site is an education in itself. (Plus it's often good for a laugh.)

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