Tuesday, November 27, 2007

For Whom Do You Write?

A while back, I stumbled upon an interview by an author whose book was a recent booksellers’ pick. As an writer who’s always interested in what other authors have to say about their work and the craft, I clicked on the link.

His answers surprised me—painfully so, in a way that left the writer side of my brain banging its head against the wall. Why? For one thing, in answer to one of the preliminary questions, he—this amazing writer—something I aspire to, sweat over, and work to becoming—had no idea where the idea for his fantastic novel came from. Simple as that. “I have no idea,” he said. Nothing more, nothing less, no little tidbits expounding on how ideas for a great novel are born. . . .

The unfairness of it all! I, who mull and stew and toss and turn and lose sleep over the weaving of plot elements, the molding of characterizations, after being spurred by the tiniest of seeds, seeds that may be as tiny as a simple line, like, He burped, and then wiped his hand on his leg before offering it to me. Yeah, seeds like that, offering depth, intrigue, character, . . . okay, maybe not quite.

But anyway, I read on, thinking perhaps not all gifted and talented writers need to be blessed with inspiration to write something truly amazing. Perhaps some writers are good enough to sit down at a computer and simply begin a masterpiece, at just the right point, with just the right phrase. . . . So, what was his secret? I was dying to know. Perhaps I’d find it in the next question – For whom did this author write?

I read on with anticipation, I suppose, in part as a writer to uncover a glimpse of his mysterious powers, and in part as an avid reader, constantly in pursuit of the next great book to discover. I suppose I wanted him to say that he wrote that book for ME. After all, I liked the title. Or, readers like me. Women, wives, mothers, dreamers, bakers, hikers, nature lovers, skiers—any one of a variety of categories I could fit into. A category that would tell me, yes, this incredible author wrote that incredible book for me. It was ME he was thinking of while he wrote it, and thus, I should buy it, and sit down and read on with pleasure.

But surprisingly again, he hadn’t.

Well, okay, I thought, I guess I can understand that not every book ever published is going to be written for me. I certainly don’t fall into the businessman category, or the fisherwoman category (tho I can bait a hook), or the boxing category (tho I do know a bit of self-defense), or even—surprise-surprise—the ballet dancer’s category. . . . But I was slightly miffed to see that the audience the writer wrote for was so small, so exclusive, that hardly anyone had hope of fitting into it. Specifically, his audience merely included his wife, his editor, and his agent. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Not even a smidgen of dirt of what type of people these people were.

Obviously, I don’t write like that. I'm quite certain many do it differently. And I’m placing all remaining hope of continued publication in the belief that we, as writers, work on getting our stories out by being pushed and pulled by various means.

Although honestly, the whole experience of reading that interview was akin to be slapped in the head with a 2x4. Initially, it was unnerving. Although later, the dull cranial pounding led to the illumination of a well-repeated mantra at many a writer’s conference I’ve attended. Know your audience and write for them.

I can’t possible imagine writing a book solely for my husband (who doesn’t read much fiction), my agent (who likes to be dazzled—ERG! The intimidation of it all!), or my editor (the last of whom left the building--permanently for other fortunes). Instead, I reaffirmed to myself that I write for three larger audiences. And I write for them happily. Middle-aged women who aren’t perfect, but have a sense of humor—this would be my mom-lit audience; kids ages 4 to 8—wide-eyed, smiley faced, picture book fans; and kids 8 to 12, who still retain a bit of innocence and reside in the middle grade aisles.

Although I’ll probably pick up that novel that was a bookseller’s-pick, anyway—just to see where it takes me, I can’t say I’ll ever re-read that interview. But I am thankful that his responses strengthened my own resolve to be a better writer by connecting with my audience, from the first line of page 1 and on.

Are you my audience? If you’ve stuck with me this far, you betcha. Welcome aboard! Am I yours? As an insatiable reader of fiction, all I can say is, I hope so!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Hi all,

A couple weekends ago I went to a fantastic writers conference in Eden, Utah, where the presenters shared all sorts of information geared toward helping us define and sharpen our careers. And it got me thinking . . . about all the great conferences I’ve been to in the past, and all the words of wisdom that I’ve heard along the way, and after a while I decided to dig out those old conference notes to see what I might have forgotten and relive moments that might be worth reliving.

Out of that pleasant exercise, I’ve come up with 15 TIPS FROM AUTHORS AND EDITORS FOR WRITERS.

15. Never under-estimate the power of gestation time. . . . And to quote Earnest Hemingway, Don’t leave your typewriter until you know what you’ll write the next day.
– David Sheffield, comedy film screenwriter

14. Revision ==> Re-vision.
– Ann Cannon, author, Charlotte's Rose

13. Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve done and try a new approach.
—Deborah Hopkinson, author, Fannie in the Kitchen,, Up Before Daybreak, Apples to Oregon

12. Write in Scenes. Show the character develop through what happens.
– Linda Sue Park, author, A Single Shard, Seesaw Girl

11. In a picture book, every word must sing.
– Julie Strauss-Gabel, Associate Editorial Director, Dutton

10. When I can imagine myself in the character’s skin, then I begin to write.
– Kathleen Duey, author, The Unicorn's Secret, The Faeries' Promise

9. Hook readers on the first page through tension, character, or voice. Show what makes that day different from any other.
– Susan Kochan, Editor, Putnam

8. Passion finds a way.
– Cameron Steve Wright, author, Letters for Emily

7. A novel is about the way things have to change in order to survive.
– Richard Peck, author, Here Lies the Librarian, The Last Safe Place on Earth

6. Understand what your character values, and what risk of losing that really means.
– Kim W. Justesen, author, My Brother, The Dog

5. To quote Richard Peck again, . . . “I noticed, while I was growing every minute at the typewriter, mysteriously, my readers remained the same age.”
So out of that, you can trust these words . . . “Know your audience, and write for them.”
-- Kay Lockner of AuthorMBA.com

4. Spend your words like money. Make sure there are no extras.
– Carol Lynch Williams, author, The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson, If I Forget, You Remember

3. The rhythms in your writing mirror the rhythms in your life – the sound of an oscillating fan, the buzz of traffic, the gurgle of a mountain stream. Get at the heart of those rhythms – whether they be past or present – and you’ll get at the heart of what drives your narrative voice.
– Ken Brewer, poet, sum of accidents

2. Quite often, your instincts in your first draft are good. Use the editing process to get at the rhythms within and best word choice.
– Ken Brewer

And 1. . . . which is not gleaned from a conference, but are my favorite words to write by:

When you have gone so far that you can not manage one more step, then you’ve gone just half the distance you’re capable of.
– Greenland proverb

So there you have it. A small collection of useful tidbits sent floating out you. But because I’m only one person hitting conferences here and there, please feel free to share and post your own here.

Happy writing!