Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Alone and Together

As a writer I spend most of my time working alone. In spite of this, or maybe because os this, I love the process of collaboration. Working with another person on words, images, or sounds is a deep pleasure for me.

One of my favorite collaborations was with the American composer Libby Larsen, The Science Museum of Minnesota, The Minnesota Orchestra, and students from four different public schools. We worked with students to identify how they heard sound and came up with three categories for our piece: quiet, beauty, and din.

We gave students tape recorders and asked them to record sounds in each of these categories. Quiet and din were easy, but beauty was trickier. What is the sound of beauty? Libby and I listened to all of these tapes and I recall the beauty ones the strongest: a baby sister talking, the wind whispering gently in trees, pages of a book turning.

With these ideas, I wrote text and Libby wrote music and then we revised and revised until the piece was premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra with students participating with their sounds.
Here's a link for sounds and pictures:

Working with Libby was exciting and engaging and I became much more aware of sound. I wrote the sound picture book, Vroomaloom Zoom, because of this and include more sounds in all of my work now. Thanks to Libby and thanks to collaboration.


Not Always a Solitary Life

I have experienced two instance of collaboration with editors in my writing life. First, years ago when my second short story (adult literary fiction) was accepted for publication, the editor, in his acceptance letter, suggested I use a different title for the story. At first I thought he was wrong, but, since titles have always been a struggle for me, I soon realized he had a point – and, perhaps more importantly, I needed a new title if I wanted the story published!! After a few weeks of agonizing and brainstorming, I finally came up with a more acceptable title.

Then, just over a year ago, as a break from working on middle grade novels, I submitted a humorous essay to a magazine regarding an anchor-dragging mishap in Pirate’s Cove. The essay was accepted for publication, but the editor wanted me to add a little “what did I learn from my misadventure” paragraph to the end of the piece. Though I thought the “lesson” of the piece was already clear, I added the requested paragraph and received clearance from the editor.

In both of the above instances, I initially shared the sense of resistance alluded to in some of the other posts on this topic. In both cases, however, I came to appreciate the value of an objective person’s input and perspective.

Which brings me to the two methods of collaboration I value, and use, the most: critiquing and brainstorming. Belonging to a critique group, as others have pointed out, is a form of collaboration. Group members give praise and encouragement but also point out issues ranging from typos to plot/character inconsistencies, all of which ultimately improves the story. Still, the most exciting form of collaboration, for me, comes when I am brainstorming story/character/plot ideas with friends. Bouncing ideas off others seems so much more effective than sitting alone in my shack, watching the weather and hoping inspiration strikes. Even when I do most of the talking (which is most of the time!) just the process of voicing my ideas and/or frustrations out loud seems to result in finding the “answers” more quickly, after which I can return to the shack and resume the solitary aspects of this life I have chosen . . . .