Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just in case you think children's writers make the big bucks...

From time-to-time I peek in on Jane Yolen's journal, Telling the True, to see what she's up to. It's always an interesting read. She puts far more personal info. on-line than I'd ever be brave enough to do, but what I find most interesting is how damn hard this woman works. She is probably the most successful children's writer in North America; she's inevitably juggling several projects at a time, as well as speaking engagements, etc., (and she still gets turned down all the time BTW; that didn't surprise me, but it may surprise others), yet she still is watching her pennies. So...just in case you think writing a few children's books is going to make you rich, take a peruse through her journal for a reality check at just how hard one has to work. She recently posted a few tips on writing:

1. Eschew the exclamation point! If your prose is not exciting all on its own, a screamer (as it has been called in some circles, though not mine) is hardly going to help.

3. Don't let your characters float on the page. Unless, of course, they are birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots. By that I mean anchor them with some action. Don't let them just talk and talk and talk. In theater, actors always have some bit of "business" that keeps their characters rooted in the real world. Even the birds, fairies, superheroes, or jet pilots.

8. Make your reader fall through the words into the story. As a wordophile, I love words like “furbelow” and “Taradiddles.” My favorite is the Scottish “Traghairm” which means to prophecy while wrapped in a bullock’s skin behind a waterfall.” But using a word that is unparsable at best and a bloody big STOP sign at worst is simply bad writing.

14. What about an editor? What do we want? What do we need? They are not necessarily the same thing. Well, this is what I want: truth, attention to detail AND the big picture, getting back to me on time, hard questions, and a love letter each bloody time we correspond. I want the editor to love the manuscript as it is, even though we both know it needs to be better. I want the editor to make the revision journey with me, sometimes leading me, sometimes a hand on my butt pushing me up the steep hill. I want the editor to be my voice in the publishing company, my cheerleading section, my advocate, and my sherpa. She (or he) does NOT have to be my best friend. In fact, sometimes having an editor as a best friend gets in the way of a good publishing relationship.

18. Dealing with the dreaded BLOCK. Here’s what I do if a project or piece of writing is being balky, threatening to stop up, or otherwise shut itself down. I stand up, walk about, eat a chocolate chip cookie (check this waistline if you want to know how I have been faring!). I have a cup of tea; watch a rerun of TOP CHEF or AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL; check email; read blogs like Fuse # 8 or BlueJo or Making Light; peruse magazines like Newsweek or Style 1900 or Smithsonian. (You now know more about me than is good for you!) What one is trying to do is to sucker in the hind brain, the lizard brain, getting it to work while it thinks no one is paying attention. If none of these distractions help, I turn to a different writing project. Since there are always plenty of them around, I never have to worry. Notice, I never settle into reading someone else’s finely-wrought novel during work on my own. If I do, it will be many hours or days before I resurface, my own projects forgot, and the beat of the novelist’s language in my head instead of my own novel’s voice.
by Jane Yolen

Good advice all. Ms Yolen's site is a wealth of information and I recommend checking it out. Her book, Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft is also a gem. (Here's a review.) Her classic picture book, Owl Moon, remains a favourite in our family and it's one book we'll never give away. It's a book very dear to her heart and family, too. One other thing I admire about Yolen is that she writes in almost all genres, from adult fiction to non-fiction to poetry. I find this encouraging and heartening, not being one who wants to be pegged...

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