Writing / Craft Resources
Get Your write on
Below are some of my thoughts about writing as a lifestyle and how to learn more about craft, as well as some helpful industry links.
Architects of the Imagination (or, This Writer's mission statement)
I came up with this idea when I started thinking about what it is a writer does when they’re writing fiction. The film Inception might have influenced me as well. I think all artists are Architects of the Imagination, but writers in particular. We create little universes, weaving worlds with our words. Then we invite our readers to meander around them, to make themselves comfortable on the sands of our beaches, the beds in our houses, the trenches in our wars. And then the readers themselves become Architects, taking our drafts and creating three dimensional models in their minds, modifying each space, each face, each gesture to fit their own vision.
Being an Architect of the Imagination means a commitment to not only your imagination, but also other people’s. Here is where I climb onto my soapbox…There is a lot of evidence in the world of a powerful creative spirit at work. One of my favorite things about traveling all over the world is seeing the amazing street art people are producing. Most of them are not Banksy or Shepard Fairey. They’re normal people who just have to create, and share that creation, with as many people as they can. It takes risks, it takes time, it takes passion. In our reality TV world, it can be hard to cultivate our imaginations. Reading books requires time and quiet and solitude. All things that our world isn’t really into right now. Writing takes time and quiet and solitude. It will settle for nothing less than your heart and soul.
To that end, I want my website to be a place where Architects of the Imagination—writers and readers and any kind of artist—can get together and share. I’ll be posting about writing/craft and YA news, but I’ll also be putting things up from the art world or things that I think might be beneficial for my fellow Architects. Hopefully this concept of being an Architect of the Imagination will inspire you to create beautiful work with the utmost precision and care, knowing that you’ll be building castles in someone’s mind that they may remember for all of their life.
Being a writer is hard work. If you really want to be published, it’ll involve lots of patience and not a little bit of sacrifice. Ispent years working part time so that I couldwrite. This meantI couldn’t do other things I love to do, like travel or buy new clothes. Now I write full time, which comes with its own joys and fears.I don’t have a whole lot of time to exercise and I rarely use my phone, the Internet, or my TV. It is, of course, about balance. You have to fill your creative well, which means you need to relax, spend time with your loved ones and friends, and take care of your body. It’s a juggling act and sometimes you’ll fail at keeping all the balls in the air. But if you really want to do this, then you must write every day.Every. Day.Even if it’s only for half an hour because your kid has pneumonia and oh my god you just want to sleep. I can't even begin to say how much I admire writers who manage to produce great work while raising a family and/or holding down full-time jobs. I suspect these individuals have secret superpowers. It's beautiful to see their commitment to all these different spheres of their lives.
However you manage it, writinghas to be like breathing. Or coffee. I also think you should read every day—I truly believe a good writer is a voracious, passionate reader. Prayer and tasty snacks are also immensely helpful.
Where You Write
Not everyone has a room of their own, but you should have aspaceof my own. For a while, mine wasa tiny desk in the corner of the living room, but Iworked hard to make it an inspiring place.When I committed to my writing space, it made me feel like I could really call myself a writer. It was my way of saying ‘I’m gonna do thisfor real.’ If possible, I recommend that this space is not cluttered with bills, to do lists, or other distracting paraphernalia. It should inspire you to sit down and write every day and remind you why you're pursuing the art of story.
I finally have my own little office, painted bright green with walls covered by corkboards full of plot notes, magazine pictures of my characters, collages I made for my booksand chickenscratch ideas.I still have the same desk with the inspiration board above it full of quotes, images, and encouraging notes from others. Astatue I got in Indiaof Ganesha, the Hindu god of scribes, sits on a nearby shelf. There's a bookshelf filled with craft books and poetry, an art cart for my mess of papers, and a yoga mat for when I need to chill out. Jinni bottles line the windowsill and if I look past them I can see my neighbor's garden. I didn't always have my own little office, butI am deeply grateful for it. Even if you don't have a spare room, though, you can still have your own writer's nook.
Taking writing classes or getting an MFA are great, so long as it doesn’t keep you from actually doing the work. It won’t get you published, but it could improve your writing (depending, of course, on your instructors and classmates…and you). It’s also a way to become part of your local writing community. For me, school is important. It makes me feel more legitimate as someone working in the field of children’s literature, even though I know that’s partly psychological. You don’t need an MFA or expensive writing classes/conferences to be a writer. But these things can be helpful, both in making connections and educating yourself about the craft and the industry. If you live in a city that has a publishing house, I can’t say enough how life changing it is to have an editorial internship. My experience in Boston as an editorial intern at Candlewick Press gave me so much insight into the process of turning a manuscript into a book. It has made me a better reader and a better writer. And it has taught me a lot about how editors think. I also recommend traveling and reading as much as you can. Those two things will give you loads of ideas and teach you more than anything else ever will.
Currently, I'm pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts(graduating in July 2014). I will be blogging about my experiences in this amazing low-residency program and these posts will be tagged VCFA. I'm taking something Ursula Le Guin wrote in her bookSteering the Craft to heart: "Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art. There's luck in art. There's the gift. You can't earn that. You can't deserve it. But you can learn skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift...To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It's worth it."
A Note About Writer's Groups
You need one. You want one. Trust me. Since I've recently moved, I'm on the hunt for a new one and, rest assured, I am bereft without my group of gals (although they're never more than an email away, it's just not the same).I loved my group. Panera probably didn’t love us—we got together there twice a month and never bought anything. But I like to think that we fascinated the people around us with conversations like the following:
“So she’s not going to have a romance with the devil?”
“Well, I’m not sure. Maybe we’ll never know.”
“Oh. I really liked him. I sort of want to see them together.”
“Me too. But did you guys feel like he’s kind of goofy for Lucifer?”
“Yes. I think if he’s Satan, he should be sexy.”
“Well, he’s more like Spike in Buffy. That’s what I was going for, anyway.”
“Oh! I love Spike!”
I found my group through my local SCBWI. Somebody put up a posting saying they were starting one in my neighborhood. Other people do them online, although I can’t imagine that would be nearly as satisfying. Getting to riff off of each other is how we help who we’re critiquing the most, I think. For some people, it might be scary to put yourself out there and be open to criticism, but let me tell you; editors and agents are not going to pull any punches. So if you don’t have a thick skin, get one quick!
Side note: when my group started, only one of us had ever published a book (two picture books) and only two of us had an agent. After working together, I got my agent and sold five books, another gal now has several books with Bloomsbury, another sold a YA to Amazon, one of our original members sold his middle-grade that he worked on with us, and two were accepted into a prestigious MFA program. Oh, yeah, and I got my PEN award. Everything we sold, we ran by our group before the deal was made.If that isn't proof of the power of a critique group, I don't know what is. By the way, this all happened in less than three years.
Need I say more?
Every writer needs a reader—someone who gets your work and will give you honest feedback. It’s really not a good idea to submit things to editors or agents without getting someone to take a look at the manuscript. I’m lucky because my reader is my husband, but you might have to search far and wide for yours. Before you put your ms into someone’s hands, let me caution you about sharing your work. First: don’t give anyone a first draft. That draft is for you to just play and make mistakes and explore. If you give it to someone too early, it can put a gun to your muse’s head. Second: choose your reader wisely. It’s pretty painful when you give someone your book to read and it gathers dust in their house and a year later theystillhaven’t read it. Third: be specific about what kind of feedback you’re looking for. It helps your reader if you can direct their reading so that it can be as helpful to you as possible. Fourth: be humble. They’re not going to love everything about it and if they do, you should be suspicious. The whole point is to getbetter.
Some Helpful Links
SCBWI: The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Extremely respected in the industry, SCBWI is a great way to begin getting serious about your career.
KidLit: Agent Mary Kole’s blog (from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency). She has excellent articles on craft and the submissions process and her insight as an agent into the industry is invaluable.
Query Shark: Agent Janet Reid’s very helpful site on how to write the perfect query.
Writer’s Digest Agents Blog: Check out the Children’s tab for updates on new agents open to queries.
Cheryl Klein: Editor Cheryl Kline’s posts about craft are great. She’s also compiled them in book form, as well.
Forever Young Adult: These ladies are too much fun. Check them out when you need Hunger Games drinking games and such.
Literary Rambles: This is a random blog that I stumbled upon, but it's been really helpful in my agent search.
Note: Author blogs can be very helpful with craft and process and give you a little peek into what the every day life of a writer is like. I really enjoy reading Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor, and Kristin Cashore’s blogs, among others.