intro and other stuff

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Tue Aug 31 05:03:01 EDT 1999

In a message dated 8/29/99 5:22:31 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
mwarner at writes:
>I didn't think somebody would actually care enough to give me all that
>extremely precious advice!

        Well, different people gave *me* that advice (bless them!), and I 
remember what a help I found it, and I also remember wishing I'd known a lot 
of it sooner, so...I'm just passing it on.  I think it's wonderful that you 
have such a clear idea of what you want.  At fifteen I was totally clueless, 
and listened far too much to what everyone else wanted, and not enough to me. 
 It would have been nice back then to have someone saying "go for it, take 
the risk, try."  But then again, there are a lot of experiences I would have 
missed out on if they had--experiences which taught me a lot about the world 
and about myself.  So, you never know where life will take you, and for me at 
any rate things worked out for the best though I couldn't know it at the time.

>think my main problem is that I don't push myself enough to go and write
>things (in other other words I'm lazy).

        Tsk, tsk.  None of that!  Don't be too down on yourself or you'll 
start developing a guilt complex about writing.  School takes up a lot of 
time, especially at your age.  Plus it's important that you spend a lot of 
your life actually living it, or you'll have nothing to write about!  It 
sounds to me like you are doing a healthy amount of writing, and making 
sensible plans / taking sensible steps towards realizing your goals.

>I guess I'm at the point in my life
>where I have to start thinking on what I want to do for the rest of it

        Like I said earlier, it's great to have a clear idea of where you're 
going.  But I also have this urge to add (from "Fire and Hemlock" I think, 
though I can't find the page reference) "don't wish your life away".  That's 
to say, plan on being a writer, but don't feel that you have to decide the 
whole course of your life at fifteen.  There is plenty of time, and life has 
a way of throwing surprises your way anyway.  There is no rush, and no one 
will hold you to any decisions you make right now either!  Life's open and 
full of possibilty, and that's what makes it fun.  At eighteen you may 
discover many things you want to do in addition to writing, or first.  At 
twenty-six there may be things you want to discover that you haven't imagined 
yet.  You never know, so don't lock yourself into anything (or I guess, more 
importantly, feel trapped into anything because you told everyone it's what 
you wanted to do.  It's your life and your mind to make up or change as you 

>Some ideas I have for books/stories/whatever-you-want-to-call-it are doing
>one of those books where it's just two people writing to each other, except
>the letters would be e-mails between me and my sister (who lives in Chile
>and is ten years older than me) over this past three years. The nice thing
>about that idea is that I already have all the information I need right

        This sounds like a wonderful idea with a lot of possibilities!  It 
also follows wise advice you'll probably hear over and over in your writing 
career:  write what you know.  (Luckily what you know also includes things 
like how you feel, your dreams, your observations of the people around you 
etc; otherwise we would never have the good fortune to meet characters like 
Chrestomanci or the Goon.)

>The other idea would be to write a children's book and illustrate it
>(that's where the other part of my talent is)

        This is wonderful!  There are relatively few picture book writers who 
can also illustrate their own work.  To have that dual talent is such a 
blessing!  If you think you might do this, then I think the same advice of 
reading the good stuff applies here.  You're probably already familiar with 
such writers, but in case not, you might want to look at work by Kevin 
Henkes, Anita Lobel, David McPhail, Chris Van Allsburg, Daniel Pinkwater, Dr. 
Seuss, Quentin Blake, Arnold Lobel, etc, and see what you think.  There're 
also wonderful picture books that come out of collaborations: Nancy Willard 
and the Dillons, Jane Yolen and Jane (spelling?) Dyer, Lane Smith and Jon 
Scieszka (who knows whether my spelling is correct there?  sorry if it's 
not.), Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard, Jean Van Leeuwen and Arnold Lobel, 
Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak, Phyllis Root and...rats, the 
artist's name has gone, sorry.  And about a million more.  Try typing up the 
text from some of these on a sheet of paper and see what you notice about the 
language, the sentence length, the plot, where the page breaks occur, the 
subject matter (abstract, concrete, simple, complex?)  Look at the 
illustrations and see how they lead you from page to page, note whether the 
story really starts on 'page 1' or whether it starts earlier through 
illustrations on the title page for instance.  See how text and illustration 
complement or complete each other.  There's a *lot* goes into crafting a 
picture book, it is deceptively simple looking, and very hard to do well.  
This is a case where a workshop with someone who really knows picture books 
would be invaluable.  Or track down illustrators in your area and ask if you 
can interview them.  That may not be as hard as it sounds, because I imagine 
most people would be flattered.  Ask how / where they trained and learned the 
craft etc.  Good luck with that; it sounds like fun!

>although the idea of sharing my writing with other
>people makes me pretty nervous.

        Tell me about it!  I *never* get used to this.  My heart goes into 
overdrive, and I have to force myself to do it.  The first time is the 
hardest, (I wondered if it was possible to actually die from reading aloud) 
but it does get a tiny bit easier after that.  There's really nothing for you 
to hide behind, because what's on the page is you.  However, in a workshop, 
fortunately, everyone else is in the same boat and equally terrified, so with 
any luck they'll take care to be gentle so that they get the same treatment 
back!  Besides, the benefits of feedback far outweigh the fear of sharing 
your work; and it's good practise I suppose for the day you send your work 
out into the world.  (at least that's what I tell myself.  I hope it's not a 
forlorn hope...)  I did like Elise's comment! :)
    >>Hee hee, we had this woman in a workshop that would start off the
    >>review of someone's work by saying "I thought this was terrible!"  
Asked to
    >>elaborate, she would say that everything about the poor story was bad, 
    >>every way. Isn't that just the worst fear realized? She actually united
    >>everyone else though.  Thus it was proven to us all that the worst *can*
    >>happen and be survived.  ;)

Mary Ann's too are right on the money:
    >>Revision is as important as creation.

        (Imagine my horror when I learned that most people write maybe five 
or more drafts of a novel. At first I thought "yikes", but then I thought 
"hmm, it's possible that I need *never actually send anything out* because I 
can just revise them forever!  Yippee!"  (Talk about running away.  Now, why 
is it that I relate to Old Sophie so strongly?  Beats me). ;)  But seriously, 
stories seldom come out perfectly first time, learning how to revise is 

Mary Ann also said about workshops:

    >>One's intentions in writing are less 
    >>important than other people's reading, and they're the folks to help 
with that!  >>Sending things 
    >>out for publication can fulfill much the same function, with interested 
readers     >>or editors. They 
    >>can help one to revise.
    >>And in fact, I think it's useful to remember that what one's written is 
    >>something one's made, 
    >>like a cake or a chair. Perhaps the craft can be improved or at least 
refined--   >>the reactions of 
    >>one's consumers help with that.


    >>And Absolutely Certainly one's output will not be to the taste 
    >>of some people. Just as some people dislike cocoanut cake, and a chair 
can't   >>be at the right 
    >>height for everyone, one's prose or poetry may simply not suit some 
readers.    >>What's wrong with 
    >>that, after all? It's silly to get into a snit when people tell you 
that the legs of a  >>chair 
    >>you've made are uneven, so the chair rocks. It's silly to insist that a 
cake    >>one's made is level 
    >>when it has a crater in the centre, even if a blind man going by on a 
fast horse  >>would notice 
    >>nothing. :) One can alter one's output. One can make more.

        You'll find this kind of professional attitude will really come in 

>The thing I'm trying to do now is keep a
>journal, and I think that helps.


>It's like when I start writing in there I
>find out things that I didn't even know I was thinking, it's pretty cool.

        Yes, you'll find this happens in your creative writing too I expect.  
One of the faculty at school refers to it as 'writing behind your back' which 
I thought was a good way of putting it too.  It *is* cool!

>PS: Has anybody here read Maniac by John Peel? The book was not great but
>it was still good, and what I found funny was that the main character
>wanted to be a writer, and her favorite author was (you guessed it) DWJ.

        I haven't read this, but I'll look out for it.  About time DWJ was 
appreciated more widely for her talent.  If she's being referred to in novels 
then things are looking promising!  Hooray!
        I'm assuming this is not the same John Peel from BBC Radio 1 (I 
expect I'm dating myself here, but it's a long time since I've been back to 
London, and he's probably been shunted off to Radio 2 or something)  He's 
great, but I can't imagine him writing a book like this.  (though I could see 
him writing one called 'Maniac' which would be his alternative rock 
reminiscences, I suppose...) <---well, yada, yada, yada; clearly time to sign 
off now, or a sign that I should clear off now


Oh, PS Just wanted to add this snippet, a great comment from Melissa:
    >>(The reason this bugs me so much is that so many people--not the ones
    >>on this list, but my mother-in-law is one of them--read a book, don't 
    >>it, and say "This is a bad book" as though their opinion of it was 
    >>what every other reader would think.  Grrr.)  Yeah, a lot of us on this 
    >>are at least chronologically grownups, and we all have strong 
    >>this doesn't make us right.  Except me, because I am always right.  :)

        LOL!  Is it possible that your mother-in-law has a twin sister?  Mine 
does this with movies and it drives me up the wall.

        Oh, yes, 

    >>Yeah, a lot of us on this list are at least chronologically grownups

        I might even go so far as to add 'allegedly.'  I still wonder why my 
eight year old daughter so trustingly believes that I actually have any 
answers.  Touching really.  Or frightening.  Boy, is she in for a shock when 
she 'grows up'

PPS Antonia, Melissa *is* always right!  ;)
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