Monday, September 13, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Tidbits from the Publisher/Editorial Director Panel:

Justin Chanda (S&S) told us what his boss says: "If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks."

Stephanie Owens Lurie (Hyperion) said: "The best authors for us are new authors with lots of ideas."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

From prolific author Paul Fleischman:

"Don't have scenes because you like them or to show off your research (which, like a slip, shouldn't show)."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) said:

"If you are stuck in the nostalgia of your childhood, dig deeper."

"What you experience when you write, we experience when we read."

"Harness the energy of your dreams and the "between" state. Don't get mad at yourself if you took a risk and it didn't work out. Risk again."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

More from Rachel Vail:

"Astonish yourself. The thing you knew was coming was your first draft."

"Keep learning - not JUST craft, but about your character."

"Be ruthless. Fall in love with your story, not your words, metaphors or characters. Cut what doesn't work...then have chocolate."

And finally:

"Be kind. You're writing for kids. It must ring true, but there's humanity in all of us. We should have hope."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Writer Rachel Vail, who comes from an acting background, reminded us to think like actors, to:

"Enter wanting and know where you were before. It's not going to come out in the first draft." She also said "Story begins when the main character's life becomes off balance. The character then tries to re-find balance."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Author Carolyn Mackler (The Earth, My Butt & Other Big Round Things) said:

"I stepped away and let the character become herself."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Here are a few juicy tidbits from the non-fiction panel, that transfer so well into fiction:

From Susan Campbell Bartoletti re research:

"If research stays in the middle, that's where stereotypes live. Research to the edges." She added, "Visit places you write about, feed your senses and emotions. Study the language." She also wonders "what emotion is driving this scene?" and goes to primary sources, since they "breathe history to life".

From Deborah Heligman:

"Let the content dictate the form. Keep yourself open."

Tanya Lee Stone agreed:

"Keep asking what the story is you want to tell. Forget about what you think it's supposed to be. The content will find the format."

And from Betsy Partridge:

"Have multiple layers or you'll have a boring book."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

The wonderful and prolific Gordon Korman said:

"What you think is cool is probably nbot that different from what kids think is cool."

"Sometimes it's luck, but I think sometimes it's being a little mule-headed about it. All our careers are really not that different from each other - we all try a lot of difrferent things. Like pasta, throw enough of it at the wall - something's got to stick."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Author Coleen Paratore (The Wedding Planner's Daughter) told us to catch inspiration when it comes to us, like we caught fireflies in jars when we were kids.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

Some fun tidbits from the editor panel:

Claudia Gabel (Katherine Tegen Books, HC) and Nick Eliopulos (Scholastic Press) both said, when asked their pet peeves, that it's cover letters and synopses without personality. Jen Rees (Scholastic) mentioned unprofessional covers/synopses.

Claudia Gabel also said, when speaking of the slush pile: "keep plugging away until you find that editor who gets you."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tidbit from the Summer Conference

MT Anderson gave a luscious speech, touching on the mood of place, the romance of geography. Here are a couple of quotes:

"Books take us away from home so we can see home again, see what we know in a new way."

"Twist the known; take something familiar and make it unfamiliar." He said that makes it even scarier.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Favorites from the Summer Conference

John Scieszka said "Your mission is to be a storyteller. Write what thrills you."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

From Julie Strauss-Gabel

Presenting master teacher, editor and Assoc. Publisher at Dutton Children's books, Julie Strauss-Gabel:

There is no such thing as "mine". A book is a collaborative experience. It's usually understood that publishing is collborative...but so is reading. If your goal is to be published -- to be read -- readers are always going to bring their own interpretive lens to your words; it now belongs to them. Some may disagree with you. Some may not want to keep reading. The only control you have over what they take away from your book is to build an irresistible and convincing world on the page.

Not all readers (including those in the business, from agents and editors to reviewers) are great readers. We're not always right, or the right fit. Learn to interpret and blance the feedback and direction you receive, but always listen. If someone sees something different, or misses something you consider important, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you have failed to translate onto the page. Don't immediately dismiss it. Don't see it as a threat or as someone taking away what's yours.

Especially for new writers, few things dismay me as much as the anonymous message board/blog chorus that reinforces the idea that there's some singular, holy ownership of a story -- an absolute, correct Mine. Just as a critique gorup that does nothing but pile on praise might feel great for five minutes but do nothing to advance your work or your career, shutting out criticism and shutting down new ideas never helped anyone to grow.

Embrace the possibility of change and find your own solutions -- solutions true to your voice and your talent -- when people challenge you to take your work to the next level. It's the difference between published and not published, between one sale and a career.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

From Rachel Cohn

Writer Rachel Cohn (Nick & Nora, Gingerbread, and so many more fun reads!) says:

My favorite adage I often offer fellow writers is the very thing I most have to remind myself: Tell your inner critic to STFU. (Put more nicely, tell that devil on your shoulder to bugger off.) Get out of your own way and trust your characters. While you're writing a draft, don't agonize over what others may think of it. More importantly, don't second guess your ability to bring your characters to life. Of course you can do it -- that's why you had the idea in the first place! Take a breath -- and give that breathing space to your story.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

From Stephanie Hemphill

Award winning poet Stephanie Hemphill sends this message:

If the blank page or blinking cursor is giving you bitter blues and blurry trepidation, try to step back, smell the ink cartridge and remember what luck it is to be creating children's books or on your pathway there. Fear not, there is ample space on the road to children's literature for everyone, with a virtual book shelf for as many great books as can be dreamed, then penned, into existence. Stories are familiar; there are only so many plots when you strip off the wallpaper and paint and sledge hammer the drywall away. But volices are fingerprints, unique expressions of heart, mind and soul. Happy sentences and metaphors! Happy summer! Keep writing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

From Patricia Lee Gauch

Extraordinarily talented editor and writer Patricia Lee Gauch shares this:

I am always trying to get writers to get out of middle ground, this year, playing around with the word "transcend!": as a verb for writers. Understand your own capability to take a scene, like the last chapter of Wringer by Jerry Spinelli. There is a rhythm to it, but getting there takes what might be an ordinary scene, and brings it into the light. Middle ground is too close to mediocrity. Transcending in character or idea or moment gets the reader's heart beating.

Friday, July 16, 2010

From Emma Dryden

Editor, children's book industry consultant, blogger ( ), and founder of drydenbks ( ) gives this luscious tidbit:

I'll begin with a quotation from Boris Pasternak that I have hanging over my desk: "When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it." My hope for writers, for illustrators, and for artists of any kind -- indeed, my hope for all of us who are trying to maneuver with sensitivity through this world -- is that we can stay flexible enough to listen, feel, remember, and not be afraid to reach for the possibilitites that the world offers us at the most unexpected of times.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

From Alexis O'Neill

Witty writer Alexis O'Neill sends this:

My Purely Practical Tip: Stretch your creative writing muscles by penning your own bio in various world counts -- increments of 10 words, 25 words, 50 words, and 100 words (also 250 words, but only if you have a particularly exciting and book-filled life). This will not only help when querying agtents and editors, but you won't be in a panic when you hav to craft your website's "About" page, your jacket cover and your introduction to hand to your host at a fancy-schmantzy literary banquet.

Friday, July 9, 2010

From Melanie Cecka

Bloomsbury's Extraordinary Publishing Director (EPD) Melanie Cecka writes:

I was recently chatting with an author who was having difficulty trying to distinguish the voices of his three main characterrs (two guys and one girl). I told him they all sounded like the same person to me, so I gave him my "be the stew" advice.

Me: Be the stew.
Author: Huh?
Me: You know, think of htis novel like a lamb stew.
Author: (silence, perceived by me as deep contemplation)
Me: Now think of the way a spoonful of the stew would taste.
Author: (more silence)
Me: Now describe each of the different flavors and ingredients to me.
Author: I don't think I can.
Me: Why not?
Author: I'm a vegetarian.

Okay, I made that last part up, the the (arguably, bad!) analogy I was trying to make is that a novel is a sum of its parts, just like the flavor of a stew is the sum of its ingredients. There's the voice of the author (or the tone of the book), and then there's the impression each of the characters makes, and the big or little ways they sound or express themselves. The author's voice keeps them all bound together, but each character's voice should still be identifiable as unique to them. This author's stew was "meat, meat, meat" rather than "meat, vegetables, broth"... Or, for the vegetarians of the world, "potatoes, broccoli, carrots..."

Friday, July 2, 2010

From Susan Patron

Stunning Newbery author Susan Patron writes:

Remember the paradox of the muse: she's not available to you until you've put in so much work that you no longer need her; then she'll fall in love with you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Bruce Coville

The mega-talented Bruce Coville writes:

Never throw away a story just because you don't think it's working. I have sold stories 10, 15, and even 30 years after I wrote the first draft because I finally figured out how to solve them. (Or, in some cases, because my skills finally cuaght up to my ideas.) A large file of stories that don't quite work isn't a trash's a potential treasure trove!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

From Nathan Bransford

Super West Coast Curtis Brown Agent/Extreme Blogger/Fab Writer Nathan writes:

Writers Write!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

From Tina Wexler

Dynamo ICM agent Tina Wexler writes:

Having a daily word count can be great, but remember that sometimes when you're doing nothing -- sitting in traffic, staring out a window -- you're doing more work on your manuscript than if you were pounding on the keys. Allow yourself that time to ponder, to let your mind wander. The words will get written, but first you must find them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

From Jen Rofe

Andrea Brown super agent and delightful human being Jen Rofe writes:

In the last month, I've sold two projects that have taken me years -- literally -- to sell. I started subbing the first project in 2007. The other project -- 2005! Both authors revised multiple times. Both projects have gone to great houses.

So: Remain steadfast. And flexible.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

From Yolanda LeRoy Scott

Yolanda LeRoy Scott, Editorial Director of Charlesbridge (and fabulous singer!), writes:

We editors take what has been written and improve it (one hopes). What writers do is infinitely more challenging and amazing to me: they create something from nothing. The blank page doesn't scare them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

From Richard Peck

I heard from eloquent writer and teacher Richard Peck, who wanted to share part of his most recent journey. He speaks about introducing his new (fall 2010) book, THREE-QUARTERS DEAD:

A bit of a departure. It's very contemporary, about a girl with a cellphone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. And so a horror story. Real life is too extreme for fiction, so I've told it has supernatural horror. How strange to be writing a contemporary story for the first time this century. How strange to write about people who communicate chiefly by texting -- from the back of the classroom and from behind the wheel of the speeding car. How eerie to be writing in the depths of a recession that hasn't thinned the herds of top-of-the-line cars in suburban high-school parking lots.

Friday, June 11, 2010

From Rachel Abrams

Lovely HarperCollins Editor Rachel Abrams writes:

Never doubt your story. Your words hold the greatest potential of all: they may inspire future generations of readers and writers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

From Alvina Ling

Insightful Senior Editor at Little Brown, Alving Ling writes:

This is what I tell everyone, whether they're writers or on the publishing side or elsewhere. This is the little bit of advice that I have tacked up on my wall:

"Follow your compass, not your clock" - from Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon, as told to her by Ann Moore of Time Inc. (and who knows where it originated!)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

From Kate Schafer Testerman

Wonderful agent and head of KT Literary, Kate Schafer Testerman writes:

Never Stop Reading.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

From Laurie Halse Anderson

From the prolific and gifted writer Laurie Halse Anderson:

Revision means throwing out the boring crap and making what's left sound natural.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From Sonya Sones

The oh-so-talented verse novelist Sonya Sones writes:

Get something, anything down on paper. Don't worry about how good it is. You can make it wonderful later on - when you revise it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From Julie Williams

Lucious poet Julie writes:

Since getting a story from first ideas to a published book is such a long-haul process, it helps me when I remember to CELEBRATE EVERYTHING along the way!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

From Edward Necarsulmer

Heading up McIntosh & Otis' children's division, amazing agent Edward Necarsulmer writes:

When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it -- don't back down and don't give up -- then you're going to mystify a lot of folks. - Bob Dylan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

From Michael Bourret

Dystel & Goderich's Super Agent Michael Bourret writes:

Find joy and fulfillment in the act of writing itself -- being published is the icing on the cake.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From Judy Enderle

Judy, prolific writer, mentor, SCBWI board member and mentor to many, writes:

Being a writer is like an elevator ride. It has a lot of ups and downs, but when you step out of that little box that's your office, with a book in hand, you know all the highs and lows have been worth it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

From Steven Malk

Super agent from Writer's House, Steven Malk, writes:

Slow down and be patient. Remember that you're building a career.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Krista Marino

Delacorte Senior Editor and wonderful mentor to SCBWI members Krista Marino writes:

Your first sentence doesn't have to be the first sentence you actually write.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

From Chris Demarest

From fabulously talented artist and illustrator Chris Demarest:

Learning to take criticism is as much a part of success as one's writing or art. Unless of course they're wrong.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Rosemary Brosnan

HarperCollins' fun Executive Editor writes:

Keep writing! Some of the best writers have five novels put away "in the drawer" -- and it's the sixth one that works.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

From Lisa Yee

Amazing writer and chocoholic Lisa Yee writes:

Always keep chocolate within reach while you are writing. You never know when you'll need it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

From Jill Corcoran

Wonderful agent & friend Jill Corcoran (Herman Agency) gives us another nugget today:

Don't look towards the mediocre and say it worked for them; aspire to the stars and look towards the neighboring galaxy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

from Jen Weiss Handler

Prolific inspiration giver and wonderful manuscript guru Jen writes:

Writing to get published will almost always set you up for failure, whereas writing because you're INSPIRED to write -- because you have a story to tell and need, or want, to tell it -- and spending more time thinking about the story and less about what happens when it's finished will make for a much stronger manuscript in the end.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

From Martha Mihalik

Greenwillow's super Assoc. Editor Editor Martha writes:

Every writer's voice is unique. You have something to say to the world, and a story that can't be told by anyone else -- never forget that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From Lin Oliver

SCBWI's wonderful Executive Director, funny writer, and fabulous friend to many, writes:

There are three unheralded joys of being a writer. 1. You get to work in your pajamas. 2. You get to amuse yourself and regard it as work. 3. You get the opportunity to hang out with other writers, undeniably the most interesting of peer groups.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

From Joan Bauer

The oh-so-talented Joan Bauer writes:

When the recycling truck rumbles down my street, I like to think of all the messes I've recycled in my writing -- the pains, the hurts, the misunderstandings, all washed out and reused in my stories. I hate hard times, but the soul satisfaction I get from recycling them makes the bad stuff bearable -- and getting paid for it is oh so sweet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From Michael Mallory

Just in time for tax day, mystery writer and general funny guy Mike writes:

Writing is like sex; you should first find out if you're good at it before charging for it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From Holly Cupala

Bursting-on-the-scenes this spring, debut author Holly Cupala writes:

My best bite of inspiration is to write as honestly as you can the first time - you can always refine it, but it's hard to recapture that raw truthfulness in revisions.

To get to that tender layer and defy my cranky internal critic, I harness a simple kitchen tool - the egg-timer, to be precise! In 15 minute increments, I write as much as I can to outrun the voice (and it's a handy tool on the all-too-short preschool writing days). After spending four years writing TELL ME A SECRET, I discovered I could write the second YA in just four months.

Is it too much to hope the next will take four weeks...?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

From Jill Corcoran

Jill, agent extraordinaire with the Herman Agency, writes:

Your book title is your whistle, your magnet, your bullhorn.

Monday, April 5, 2010

From Jen Weiss Handler

Jen, a fabulous manuscript doctor and former children's book editor, writes:

The best writers I know write a little bit every day -- in email, in a blog, in a manuscript that might never see the light of day. It's like exercise for their writing voice; the more they write, the more their voice gets defined.

Friday, April 2, 2010

From Jen Rees

Jen Rees, amazing Sr. Editor at Scholastic Press, writes:

Write the story that only you can write.

Monday, March 29, 2010

From Brenda Bowen

Brenda, an agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc., Inc. and wonderful human being, writes:

My motto, stolen from E.M. Forster: only connect!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Keep Creating!

Remember to keep going - you never know where your characters will take you. If you need a nudge, be sure to check back here every few days for a new burst of inspiration!


Sid Fleischman

To inaugurate my bursts of inspiration, I'd like to pay my homage to one of the most gentle, funny, prolific and talented writers I was honored to know, Sid Fleischman. He often said things that helped me enormously, but here's just one:

If there's a hole in your story, point to it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

One more juicy morsel from NY

Jacqueline Woodson told us to write our emotional autobiography.

My two cents: Simple. Profound. Easy. Excruciatingly difficult. Necessary. I don't remember who said when we write we open our veins and bleed onto the page, but for really great writing, it's true.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Last tidbits from NY

This is the last bite from the tasty NY conference, appropriately from Jane Yolen, who closed the weekend:

Even if the business of publishing is struggling, the business of story is not.

I love what she said about the first step, the un-covery: first you scratch at an idea, airing the linens of the mind.

She reminded everyone to enJOY the process!

BTW, I'm determined to be a better blogger this year, but don't get too used to daily blogs (I'm getting there!). Now stop reading, and write!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

NY Tidbits, again!

On crafting a career, Sheldon Fogelman had this to say:

Never stop writing with book #1 or never know which book will be published (he had a client who was about to give up after their first book didn't sell, then went on to be a smashing success with #4 or 5). You are a writer - your job is to keep writing.

Have a plan - where you want to go, what kinds of books you want to do. Be open to advice, to try things outside the box of what you already do.

Hmmm...some good things to think on, eh?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

NY Tidbits, Part Next (math is not my strength)

Susan Raab spoke about what's selling:

middle reader; early chapter books & emergent readers all the way to tween/teen. Mysteries/ghost stories are growing, some fantasy is softening. Classic picture books and those that have a nostalgic feel (classics-to-be) are the ones with staying power.

Everyone reminded us, without exception, not to write to trends, but rather to what's in your heart.

Friday, February 5, 2010

NY Conference, Bite 3 - yummy

This from Ben Schrank (Razorbill):

We don't care about the market - we make the market. Write to make a difference to a kid.

Alvina Ling (Little Brown) on literary fiction:

It's great're pulled along so you don't realize that nothing is going on (love that!). She said literary writing is laced with beautiful descriptions, where you savor each word. The plot unfolds beneath the surface, and there are small turning points, based on what the reader knows about the character. As an exercize, she suggested rewriting the first paragraph of a commercial book in a literary style.

Have fun!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tidbits from NY part 2

Libba Bray, launching us into the main part of the conference, had loads of goodies for all. Here are some highlights from NY:

All the things you try to hide from other people, those are the things you craft into your work. Risk taking is writing.

Don't go where your mind first wants to go. Trust not to force the story on the conventional track.

Find the cracks that let the light in. Allow your characters to be fully human, with flaws.

Take the fear in, welcome it. If it's not scary, there are no stakes. If there are no stakes, it's not worth writing. Lace your wings with your vulnerability. (I especially love that one!)

Libba is coming out to LA for our Writer's Day April 10th. She's so much fun, you won't want to miss!

Let's find our wings and fly!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bits of Wisdom & other tiddlywinks from SCBWI NY

I was going through my notes from the recent, chilly & energizing winter conference, and here are some goodies, picked up here and there like you'd pick things up at a farmer's market. These are much juicier, though, and can sustain you much longer. I'll post a few each day. Happy munching!

Aaron Hartzler, who MC'd the Writer's Intensive, passed on a metaphor he'd heard from Alvina Ling (Little Brown) about critiques. Pointing out the flaws in a manuscript is like telling a friend with great teeth that they have a bit of spinach stuck between them. The person telling you knows how great your teeth are, and they don't want anything there that will take away from them.

Some post-critique suggestions from the panel:
Arianne Lewin (Hyperion): wait & think before revising
Wendy Loggia (Delacorte): watch American Idol: work at your craft & be true to yourself
Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane): don't take yourself too seriously & get exercize to clear your head

Digest well, and look for more your next time back!

Friday, January 22, 2010

News from SCBWI-LA

Hi, soggy Angelinos!

Just a reminder to check in with In March, the one, the only Greg Pincus will challenge our brains with the world of cyberocity and how we can use it well.

In April (the official month of showers - oh, no!) we have an amazing line-up at Writer's Day, including new Printz winner Libba Bray and sooo much more!

I'll be at the NY conference next week, so will bring back a few juicy nuggets for always-hungry creative minds.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fun Congrats

Congratulations Katherine Paterson, now leading the worldwild helm of children's literature! We couldn't be sailing on a better vessel.

A belated thank you to Arthur Levine, for reminding us all at SCBWI's Working Writers Retreat that the catch phrase "as you know, Bob" is insider lingo when your character or narrator tells us much more backstory than we need to know, all in a tidy blob of dialogue - ick!

Since I finally "graduated" from physical therapy, I'm hoping to blog more - be on the lookout for juicy tidbits from writers, illustrators, agents & editors!

Happy New Year!!