Sunday, February 19, 2012

The diligent hand: don't underestimate it

Photo by Mary Morgan
I completed an interview this week of illustrator John Manders. Among his many accomplishments, John has illustrated more than 30 children's books. Beyond that, he's also done more illustrations for children's magazines than I care to count. Taking valuable time from his busy schedule, he answered my questions in more detail than I had expected, which was tremendous. Like a vein of gold running throughout his obvious joy at illustrating and sometimes writing children's books, you couldn't miss the central message.

The secret to his success is that he works hard. Very hard.

Every day, John gets up early and goes to his studio where he puts in a solid day of work. Yes, he takes out time to walk his dog India who likes to doze nearby while he works. Yes, he has dinner and takes walks with his wife while they catch up with each other in the evening. But even after a long day, he often returns to the studio for a couple of extra hours of work. By my calculations, I'm guessing that he's probably logging ten hour days. Maybe more depending on his deadlines.

The moral to this story? Never underestimate diligence. Sure, you can be talented. Sure, you can be smart. Those are good things. But good, old-fashioned hard work is the foundation that will cause you to have the staying power of a true craftsman of excellence in whatever you do.

Comments? How do you cultivate excellence in your own craft? Have you seen benefits from your stick-to-itness?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Revisiting Shakespeare

One of the greatest writers of all time was William Shakespeare. To start your Monday, here's a post that will tickle you if you're a Shakespeare fan. (Just think of it as something to get your creative juices flowing and your funny bone in shape.) 

I absolutely dare you not to laugh during this piece. I don't believe you can do it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It gave me chills

When I was in college, I had an art teacher who drove me up a wall. He taught graphic design, and when I created something for his class that he didn't quite connect with, he could never tell me why. Our conversation concerning one of my lesser projects might be something like the following.

Me: What do you think?

Him: Hmmm. I'm not sure.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: It's just not quite there.

Me: How can I change it so it is "there."

Him: I'm not sure. It's just not quite right yet.

Me (later in the privacy of my room): AAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHH!

I know what you're thinking, but I'm not bitter. Really.

I read a passel of blogs on writing because, like many other writers, I'm trying to become a better writer. I enjoy reading great stories, and I want to know the secrets so my writing can be great, too.

But the main reason behind my study (which includes regular books on writing as well) is that I don't want to just write intuitively. Unlike my design teacher, who knew what was good or was not good when he saw it but couldn't tell me why, I want to actually know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.

That's why I have to share this post from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing from this week. It was so awesomely stupendous that I believe every writer who is serious about writing books that readers can't put down should read it. This is one of those posts you need to read. It's that key.

Enjoy! : )

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A favorite quote

I saw this today and liked it so much that I wanted to share it. I'm sure it's true about many things, but I believe it can be well-applied to the writing arena.

Don't only practice your art, 
But force your way into its Secrets,
for it and knowledge can 
raise men to the Divine.

Ludwig van Beethoven

(To watch The Piano Guys' Beethoven's 5 Secrets and enjoy the music they posted with the quote, check out this link.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Double duty: is your writing pulling its weight?

I've been reading Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, published through Writer's Digest Books, and I've been noticing a common theme. No matter what you're writing, whether it's setting, dialogue, drama, backstory, etc., Nancy encourages you to always make it do double duty, thus maximizing your word usage and the impact of your writing. 

Wow! I thought. Great idea! Then I began to wonder if I did this. The unfortunate answer was not often enough. In fact, I realized that the only time I was applying this powerful double strength writing was when I was doing it unconsciously. If I wanted to be published someday, I couldn't afford to miss out on this opportunity to make my writing better.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about with the double duty thing, here's an example. Say you're writing a scene which shows your main character trying to obtain an after-school job. Here's a paragraph that focuses on setting:

The bell jangled above Isaac's head as he pushed open the worn wooden door of the pet shop on Main Street. After his eyes adjusted to the dim interior, he threaded his way through a clutter of dog toys, bird cages, and pet food until he found the counter at the back over which the grey-haired owner Mr. Stanford  peered at him from under his shaggy eyebrows.

We've described the pet shop in which Isaac has chosen to look for a job, and we've even described its owner a little. There's nothing wrong with this, but could the description do more? Could we write this description in such a way that it actually does double duty and also paints a picture of Isaac's character in the bargain? Let's try again.

Isaac pushed open the worn wooden door of the pet shop on Main Street and jumped as the bell jangled above his head. He shuffled from one foot to the other, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior while he got his bearings. After a hesitant cough, he threaded his way through a clutter of dog toys, bird cages, and pet food until he found a counter at the back over which the grey-haired owner Mr. Stanford peered at him from under his shaggy eyebrows. Isaac swallowed a couple of times and opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

Ta-dah! Now we know where we are, but we know some things about Isaac, too. He's timid rather than bold and cocky, and he comes across as cautious. It would seem that he's either not comfortable when talking to adults or that he doesn't know Mr. Stanford well. Possibly he's a little scared of him. Even without the skilled hand of Nancy Kress, I've made my little setting do more work than it did before.

How about you? Are there ways that you can consciously get your writing to do more?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Creating Something New

I sometimes wonder why I write when everything has already been written. Walking into the library with no plan and just wandering the fiction shelves can be quite overwhelming (although I do it). However, it looks like everything in the world has been written about – over and over again. Then I am in a mood for something "new".

When I write fiction, I write to create something that either I would like, or that people I love would like. For instance, I am working on a novel with a setting that interests me at the moment and I think my neices might enjoy it. However, my interests are somewhat dynamic and eclectic, therefore my reading and writing choices change and shift. It must be the same with many people for books (and movies) are now consumed at an incredibly high rate.

This demand for a new twist or turn compels me to create something new – out of the old, along with some “new” ideas of my own.

My mother makes and my grandmothers made quilts. My grandmothers made them out of recycled clothing. My mother sometimes uses older material for effects. I personally like the older quilts better, although the fabric is more delicate. They have more of a story to tell, and I like stories, especially histories.

So, I write as I would choose to make a quilt – with an interesting pattern, using old and new materials, and that tells a story of history – creating something new.