Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


The Source as a Resource

For the middle-grade series I am working on, my favorite resource is going to schools and talking to students. They are pleased to be asked and they have interesting ideas and opinions. I often ask a series of questions and have them write down their answers anonymously. Here's a sample from sixth graders in New Jersey to the question of what adults don't understand about what it's like to be in sixth grade.

1. Lots of drama and gossip.
2. We get tons of homework.
3. It's easy to get detention.
4. Getting detention once isn't a huge deal.
5. We're older now, don't treat us like babies.
6. Some kids swear A LOT.
7. Some teachers play favorites with students.
8. Some teachers don't like kids.
9. Kids know more than adults think they know.

Last fall, I asked sixth graders to write down answers to some questions about the first day of middle school. At the end one boy handed me a tiny folded up piece of paper. I thanked him and opened it up in the hall. It said, "Most people treat you like less when you're a kid."

Over and over I go to the source, the people I am writing about and they provide details, concerns, and insights that make my stories better.


Sources and Resources

I decided to walk over to a couple of my bookshelves and snap some photos of a few of my resources. Books on words and images-- I especially love books where the authors and illustrators reveal their processes through essays of their own writing or interviews. My favorite resources though are the works of art themselves or poems and stories. Thus my studio is packed with children's books, poetry books, and art books filled with pictures that I sit down to leaf through while eating my lunch or sipping a cup of tea after shoveling a foot of snow off the sidewalk. A trip to the art museum is another way to stir my muse, both visually and verbally. And my greatest resource of all has been my children. I have several notebooks filled with observations of them as they grew up. (They are 14 and 17 now!) Whenever I am feeling out of touch with the voice and nature of children, I return to these journals and read through quotes and notes. In fact that is where the idea for Winter is the Warmest Season came from-- my son had noted that in summer we drink cold drinks and in winter we drink hot drinks, in summer we turn on air conditioning and in winter we sit by hot fires, etc. It was such a logical way of viewing the world that it had to become a story!

Resources for Writers

So many great posts about writing resources by my fellow bloggers! Reference books, journals, “how-to” books written by famous authors – all have their place on a writer’s desk, in my opinion. To the varied list already posted over the last week or so, I will add a few additional titles that I consider my primary resources.

In an earlier post, I mentioned Masterplots as a personal favorite when it comes to resources. This seven-volume edition covers literally hundreds of titles in children’s and young adult literature, giving a plot synopsis and critical context for each. I use it after I read a particular title, to help dissect the text and to store what I learn into my long-term memory, but I also peruse it when I am simply looking for inspiration about plots, characters, etc.

Another resource in the same vein as Masterplots is the Bookrags website, which offers hundreds of “cliff note” type files on children’s titles, in addition to their adult fiction and movie files. More in-depth than the entries in Masterplots, many of the Bookrags titles have a chapter-by-chapter analysis of works, along with character and thematic information, all of which helps me “see” how other authors create their magic.

The Annotated Charlotte’s Web is also another gem. There is something about seeing all the changes, false starts, revisions, and headaches that went into making a masterpiece that gives me solace when I struggle with my own writing!

Of the several books about plot that I own, Building Better Plots, by Robert Kernen, has proved the most useful to me. Picture Writing, by Anastasia Suen, also has loads of good information. And, finally, I would recommend The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, by Nancy Lamb, which is a lot like Suen’s book but with exercises at the end of each chapter.

It was my turn to choose the topic for this round of posts, and I will admit to a private agenda in suggesting we all share our most trusted resources: I wanted to learn what my fellow bloggers depend on to inspire them and to help them with the “nuts and bolts” of writing, so I could add their suggestions to my own list and library. I believe that no matter what stage of your career you are in, you can always learn more, and I hope you find some of our suggestions helpful.


Unusual Resources

Does a book with chapter titles such as School Lunches and Broccoli count as a resource? It does to me! Anne Lamott's book,bird by bird, sits next to my computer along with my Oxford American Dictionary, Synonym Finder, and Diana Hacker's, A Writer's Reference. The other books give me precise answers to precise questions. Lamott's book gives me relief. In her chapter titled School Lunches, she says, "I know I set out to tell you every single thing I know about writing, but I am also going to tell you every single thing I know about school lunches, partly because the longings and dynamics and anxieties are so similar." By the end of her explanation I am laughing and longing for a turkey sandwich with potato chips in it. My fears about writing the perfect story have been allayed for a little while and my focus on detail has returned. Lamott gives great advice to new writers and tackles the tough subjects of writer's block, jealousy, fear, and perfectionism - all in a funny, non-threatening way. When I need a boost, she's the one I turn to.
I also love The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. She gets me out walking and journalling again, and she reminds me to have faith in myself. Her anecdotal stories are easy to relate to and her end of chapter activities can pull even the most blocked writer out of his or her doldrums.