I’ve been writing for over fifty years now, if I count my grade school tour de force, which includes a poem about raccoons and a Nancy Drew style mystery. Of course, I’m still a Work-In-Process, and I cannot give enough credit to all the various workshops and critique groups who have helped me a long this journey.
That said, I’ve come to realize that one of my own philosophies on the “Art of Writing” has changed over time. At one point I believed I should hone in on one specific genre and not veer away until I’d perfected it. To start, that genre was poetry. I ventured to various workshops and conferences, such as the amazing Frost Place Festival, and studied under the likes of Robert Cording, Fred Merchant, and Ellen Bryant Voigt. And yes, those lessons and connections were amazing. I was becoming a stronger writer, and even an author.
As Elaine Mead points out in her blog, Writer’s Edit, concentrating on a certain aspect of writing is a great way to start. As she says, “Focus on the genre or format of writing your aspiring to or currently working on, and seek out resources to help you build a solid foundation of knowledge you can take forward into your writing practice.” Or, in the words of John C. Maxwell, “No one achieves greatness by becoming a generalist.”
Tip #1: See Where God Takes You
Still, I have a slightly different take now. I tell any young aspiring writer I meet to write everything and anything! See where it takes you. As a Christian I add, “Actually, see where God takes you.” Of course, I’m still honing my writing skills, but I work on more than one genre at a time. I can juggle. We can all juggle. By strengthening my poetry, I’m better prepared to create a picture book, and vise verse.
This might sound like a bunch of hooey and codswallop, but I experienced this over and over in my own life. My latest picture book story, HEARTS IN MY POCKET, which sold at auction to Esther Cajahuringa at Union Square Books this year, began as a poem with the same title (appearing first in FOR EVERY LITTLE THING coauthored with June Cotner). Its projected publication date is Fall, 2024.
Tip #2: Getting “Good” Rejections? Consider Switching Genres
Likewise, my story DOUBLE HAPPINESS started as a poem entitled, Today. It was a rainy day scene; a moment in time. And then I thought, “Hey, what if the father has this brother and sister find treasures throughout the house to keep them busy.” Soon there was another poem, and another, and that lead to the idea of transitioning into a story told through poems for young readers. That said, when I submitted the manuscript, I kept facing rejections because “It needs more action!” Finally, I came up with a solution. A move! What if the children were collecting treasures in a box from their grandmother, Nai Nai, while moving across the country (think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) from a home they loved. That was finally the version that sold to Chronicle Books.
Other times a blog post might lead to an article, a short story to your first novel. Just don’t be afraid to send your words out there. I can’t tell you how many journals and contests I’ve submitted my work to with the hope of something sticking. And yes, there were many “No Thank You” but there have also been surprises, and even the miraculous, when I won the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize for my poem “White Birch” out of 18,000 entries. That was totally God directing my path.
Tip #3: Be Flexible
All this is to say, if we’re flexible with our writing talent, it may take us places where we never imagined. Only God knows where our words will land. When our words take root in someone’s heart, especially a young reader’s, all the more wonderful is that journey. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.”
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