My computer is littered with false starts. Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 words, I run out of steam, run out of ideas, fall into a plot hole, and don’t know how to continue. So my stories sit, unfinished and abandoned in a folder on my laptop. Last Friday I made it all the way to 16,000 words before I realized I had no idea where I was going. I closed my laptop in disappointment and that night I went to bed a failure.
But the next day, children’s writer Kevin Emerson told me that for every project he’s completed (more than ten published middle grade and YA novels) there are probably a dozen more fragments, false starts, and rough ideas sitting on his hard drive.
Debut novelist Jennifer Longo reminded me that in a kids’ book, it’s not just character and world building, things have to happen. “What happens next?” she said, “That’s always the most important question.”
Noted poet and YA author Karen Finneyfrock chimed in, “Yes! Plot!” She described how she actively studied story structure and consciously applied what she learned to her second novel to keep herself on track before recommending a couple of good references on the subject.
Right! I needed to lay out a plot. If it weren’t for their encouragement, I might still be moping, instead of building a timeline.
As much as I would like to call these three talented people my friends, it wasn’t any sort of personal relationship that led to their helping me out of a creative bind. I was just one of about two dozen audience members at their panel discussion on writing for teens at the Central Library. It was part of a series called Seattle Writes hosted by the Seattle Public Library. Competently moderated by a Teen Services Librarian (who also happens to be my writing partner, which makes me completely biased but does not affect the truth of my statement), the conversation covered a lot of useful ground for novice authors.
Besides pointing the way out of my current writing dilemma, the authors talked about their process. The details varied, but all three of them had strategies for making sure they actually wrote while also recognizing the importance of goofing off. They found ways to protect the amorphous time that allows ideas to percolate and creativity to flourish by taking time off between projects or going for walks before sitting down to write. They stayed productive by going on writing retreats, and/or dedicating a physical pace or a time that was sacred to writing. Two of them also found value in writing partners who kept them accountable.
All three said they would never have made it without a writing community, not only for assistance with craft but also finding agents and publishers and handling the business end of being an author. They agreed that in Seattle at least, the writing community welcomes all people who write, not only those with sales figures. They all agreed that writers must be writers first, and write the stories that they want to tell. Although writers must worry about what is marketable or what they are willing to change for publishers or whether to self-publish, worrying about those things up front will keep them from planting their butts in a chair and typing the words of the stories they need to tell.
Afterwards, they all stuck around to sign books, answer questions and just chat. As friends do.