I originally wrote this post while participating in a group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, that is no longer active. It was first published on March 9, 2014.
I still find it very relevant to me. Maybe you will, too.
In a very nebulous, non-scientific, late-at-night-inside-my-head-before-I-fall-asleep way, I have wondered about the connection between artistic talent and depressive temperament.
Many writers and artists I know, including myself, struggle with depression in one form or another.
Is it because we are more emotionally sensitive to the world at large? Is it because as the saying goes, writing is easy, all you have to do is open a vein and bleed?
I came across two pieces on the web this week that added some food for thought to this question.
This first piece I heard on Fresh Air while driving in my car. It’s a fascinating interview on NPR of Alexander Payne, the director of “Nebraska”. At one point he discussed how all great actors have ready access to their emotions at any time. What he said next was such an, “Ah ha!” moment for me, I sat in my driveway for ten minutes in my car mulling it over after the interview ended.
And that’s why life is often so difficult for them because they can’t keep their emotions tamped down, as like…as you and I can. So then if you can put an oil pump on that spurting oil well of emotion, then you can be a professional actor…
It’s beautiful to see how fully they wish to give of themselves. And I’ve always been confused by people saying of a certain actor’s performance, oh, it’s so brave. What a brave performance. What I think, that’s what they’re there to do, they’re there to do anything. It’s not brave. I think it’s the job. And it also should be coming from an attitude of fun and playfulness, and isn’t it delightful to be doing this and to be expressing these emotions and going deeply, deeply into who we are. And showing those of us who have less ready access to our emotions, and often have to pay people to help us get in touch with our emotions, to show us what’s available, what’s beneath the surface. It’s beautiful what they do.
I loved this so much. It made absolute sense to me. How similar is that to a writer connecting to the emotional truth of a scene? Of a character?
This second piece was written by one of my favorite YA authors, Libba Bray. She recently posted this deeply personal look at her own struggle with depression on her blog, entitled Miles and Miles of No-Man’s Land. I would strongly encourage you to take a moment to hop on over and bookmark this page. You will want to read this over and over again.
She describes depression as I’ve experienced so well. You can have a good moment and still be depressed. You can laugh at a joke, make it through a day okay and still be on the verge of losing it.
As she describes it:
There is an undertow to depression. It doesn’t take you all at once. It leaves you with some false sense that you are coping. That you are in control. That you have the shore still well in sight, until, at some point, you raise your head to find yourself all alone, battered by rough seas with absolutely no idea which way you should swim.
I was moved by Bray’s words. She mentions a shame that comes with depression that makes it hard to talk about sometimes because it’s an invisible disease; you can’t see the wound it leaves like a broken limb. The gaping hole we may feel inside isn’t obvious to others around us. This is why it’s even more important to know that you are not alone.
So what are your thoughts on the creative soul and depression? Do these thoughts resonate with you?
Jerry gave us a tour of his artist’s space, talked to us about comic design – explaining the difference between a penciler, inker, and colorist among other things. And what each job brings to the story.
And white space. He said that was very important. Who knew?
Jerry showed us the activities area he had prepared for visitors where they could create their own comic.
We were then included in a special treat as Jerry recorded an “unboxing” video of his new comic, Glamorella’s Daughter. It’s a fantastic story about a young girl with Asperger’s who has a super hero mom.
The event begins this week on Friday evening,April 6th, and continues through Saturday, April 7th.
As always manuscript critiques, and portfolio critiques will be available in limited numbers. This year there are some fun new additions, too! They include: Friday night sessions, Mingle with the Speakers events, paid face time with industry professionals, off-site critiques, and an autograph party.
Chad is an award-winning designer and
creative director at Abrams, where he oversees the design of picture books, novels and graphic novels under the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Amulet Books, and Abrams ComicArts imprints.
He is the designer behind such successful children series as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, NERDS Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales,
Frank Einstein and The Terrible Two.
Chad joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2KZzhAb
Follow Chad on Twitter here. Follow Chad on Facebook here. Follow Chad on Instagram here.
Andrea Hall is an Associate Editor at Albert Whitman & Company where she works on picture books through young adult. She is particularly drawn to stories that have layers of meaning and diversity. Andrea started her publishing career at Pearson Education and is a former ARA of the Central and Southern Ohio Chapter of SCBWI.
Hannah started as an intern in the New York office before becoming Steven Malk’s assistant. She’s had the privilege of working closely with a variety of talented bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators of works ranging from very young picture books to middle grade to young adult.
Now as a Junior Agent, she’s seeking clients from those genres. To learn more about Hannah’s preferences, visit her agency website here.
Hannah joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2wIFQUG
Daniel worked as Director of Children’s Publishing at the independent publishing house Workman Publishing before being promoted to Publisher there prior to his move to Macmillan in October of 2017. He is now in the process of developing his own imprint at Macmillian.
He is also an author of a few children’s books himself, including his latest book, STRAW HOUSE, WOOD HOUSE, BRICK HOUSE, BLOW. Daniel and his family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old and arrived in Oklahoma.
Daniel joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2KVsjMK
Follow Daniel on Twitter here. Learn about Daniel’s writing here.
To Allison, being an agent is a bit like a treasure hunt to find the books that speak to her most easily. Allison is drawn to voices that speak for themselves, stories that only the author can tell, and books that reflect the lives of every child – especially the ones told least often.
Allison joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here:http://bit.ly/2wz6Shr
Jerry Bennett – SCBWI Oklahoma Illustrator Coordinator and Professional Illustrator
Jerry is a full time illustrator who illustrates comics, storyboards and children’s books whose clients include Stan Lee, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Mattel and Dreamworks. He art directed and led cinematography for the animated short film, Even in Death, which won several film festival awards, and since gone to create trailers for Scholastic Books.
Jerry is currently creating original licensed sketchcards for Upper Deck’s Marvel line, and Topps’ Star Wars and The Walking Dead sets.
Learn more about Jerry’s work here. Follow Jerry on Twitter here. Follow Jerry on Facebook here. Follow Jerry Instagram here.
Emily Heddleson – Senior Manager, Library and Educational Marketing with Scholastic
Emily has over ten years of experience working on campaigns to promote books for ages 0-18, with a focus on retail, library, and educational markets. She will host a Skype breakout session with us entitled, “Marketing Your Published Books”.
Ah! Spring! My favorite time of year! And not only because I get to hang out with a lovely bunch of children’s literature people for an entire weekend, but also expand my brain at the same time. Our 2017 SCBWI Oklahoma Spring conference has so many excellent speakers attending, I can’t wait to hear them!
The event begins Friday evening, March 24th, and continues through Saturday, March 25th.
As always manuscript critiques, and portfolio critiques will be available in limited numbers, but this year there are also new additions, including Friday night sessions, paid face time with a professional, off-site critiques, and an autograph party. Sounds fun!
Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the EMBASSY ROW, HEIST SOCIETY, and GALLAGHER GIRLS series, which together have sold more than two-million copies and have been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Oklahoma, where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever. She’d tell you more, but…well…you know…
She will give the Keynote address entitled, “Dear Ally: A Letter for Baby Author Me”.
Follow Ally on Twitter here. Follow Ally on Instagram here.
Kristen established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002 and over the last decade+ of her career has represented over thirty-five New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Clients include Ally Carter, Marie Lu, Scott Reintgen, Gail Carriger, Stacey Lee, Marcia Wells, and Simone Elkeles. When she is not busy selling books, Kristin attempts to play golf & tennis. She also enjoys playing Bridge (where she is the youngest person in her club), and can be found hiking in the mountains with her husband and their dog Chutney.
Jill received a BA in English literature from Columbia University, an MFA in writing for children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a certificate in intellectual property law from NYU. As the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group, she has edited many New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors including Atia Abawi, Terry Border, Chelsea Clinton, Andrea Cremer, Lisa Graff, and Alex London. She’s the author of the Sparkle Spa series, the Alec Flint mysteries, the Follow Your Heart books, and the upcoming adult novel The Light We Lost. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.
***Get to know Jill before the conference! She will be a Special Guest during our Twitter chat on March 7th, from 7-8pm CST. We use the hashtag #okscbwichat.
Missed the chat? You can view the Storify version of the conversation with Jill here.
Linda joined Prospect Agency in 2015 after a decade in publishing. After graduating from Cornell University, Linda interned at Simon & Schuster and Writers House literary agency, and worked at Penguin and Random House before making the leap to agenting. She has an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Katrina is currently a Senior Designer for the trade imprints of Random House Children’s Publishing, where she designs and art directs approximately 35 middle grade and picture book titles per year. She was previously Art Director at Amazon Children’s Publishing. Recent projects she art directed include the 2015 Geisel Award-winner “You Are Not Small” (Anna Kang/Christopher Weyant), “Grover Cleveland, Again” (Ken Burns/Gerald Kelley), and “This is My Book” (Mark Pett).
***Get to know Katrina before the conference! She will be a Special Guest during our Twitter chat on March 20th, from 7-8pm CST. We use the hashtag #okscbwichat.
Missed the chat? You can view the Storify version of the conversation with Katrina here.
Matt is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He is the editor of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Little Rhino series by Ryan Howard. His YA list includes the New York Times Bestseller Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.
We began the second half of the Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference after a lunch filled with engaging conversation and good food – did you see the dessert? To die for! I always enjoy that our conference provides more intimate interaction with real industry professionals at each table.
The speaker in the challenging position after lunch was more than ready to keep us awake and attentive with his talk on creativity. A native Oklahoman, he introduced himself to our OK SCBWI group earlier this month when he was our guest for a special edition of our #okscbwichat. You can read about his Twitter chat here.
Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.
Karl gave a talk entitled, “Go the Distance by Cultivating Your Creativity” where he asked us all to define this big question:
“What does creativity mean to you?”
Karl talked about his educational history here in Oklahoma, and teased about his school resembling Hogwarts aesthetically, although much of the learning relied heavily on rote memorization. It wasn’t until college that he began to think critically. He also encountered his first major writing influence there, THE COURAGE TO CREATE by Rollo May.
Within its pages, he came to understand that being creative takes courage, in fact creativity demands courage. According to May, creativity defies social order; it makes other people uneasy.
Knowing these things, how do we begin to cultivate creativity?
Failure is one way, and the way most of us learn.
Exposure to new experiences is another.
Karl encouraged us to say ‘yes’ to new experiences and to collect everything we create – to keep dream journals, idea hampers, or whatever it takes. The more you cultivate your work the faster your ideas will come. The important thing is to keep track of your ideas.
Once you’ve collected your ideas, you need to synthesize them. Part of this is making time to work. Another part is getting feedback from others – critique. The final step, as always, is revision.
Karl ended with a great quote:
“Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person.” – Rollo May
Sara acquires picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction and nonfiction with a focus on pop culture, social media, and digital platforms. Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Sara has worked with New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.
Sara’s talk entitled, “You’re Funnier Than You Think You Are”, showed how humor can vary from the overtly funny to something more subtle to a recurring joke spread throughout the entire novel.
“The involuntary laugh is such a strong response; I feel like you get me.” You make a connection with your reader when you accomplish this.
One place you can add humor is in pitches or query letters. Sara said if a writer uses an engaging title or uses humor, it will stand out from the rest.
Another place one doesn’t see a lot of humor is in Girl YA books. She gave some examples of different types of humor from GALGORITHM by author Aaron Karo.
Misdirection – Making someone think one thing, then going the other way. She was feeling many things, “happy, sad, bored, and umami”.
Quirky Character Traits – Take this to its craziest conclusion. “He looked like a 1950s football star with knuckles that needed constant cracking.”
Specificity – Express the sharpest image in your mind. “Her nail polish is pink and her ring finger also sports a yellow smiley face. I hate the fact that I know this is called an ‘accent nail’.”
Sara also suggested going through your manuscript and highlighting the punchlines. You may find your comedy isn’t evenly dispersed, and you may need to revise. She suggests that you start with your best/funniest stuff at the beginning of your manuscript.
Learn more about Sara and read her Acquisitions Wish List here.
Follow Sara on Twitter here. Follow Sara on Instagram here.
Our final speaker of the day came to us via Skype from Australia, and he was well worth it. His talk about failure was strangely inspiring.
Carter came to children’s publishing in a roundabout way. After a decade of working in grocery, followed by a two-year stint in textbook publishing, he left everything behind to follow his passion for children’s books, and he went back to school to get his MA in Children’s Literature from Simmons College.
Since 2008, he’s been a children’s bookseller at various independent bookstores in Seattle and in Cambridge, which he still continues to do part-time when not at Candlewick. Some of his favorite non-Candlewick books include: The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Jellicoe Road, Ready Player One, Three Times Lucky, and many, MANY more. Basically anything that has a great voice, is a good story, and is “unputdownable.”
Carter’s talk entitled, “You’re Gonna Lose. And That’s Okay” addressed the humungous elephant in the room – failure is a big part of writing.
He started off by showing us a clip from the original Rocky movie where Rocky is expressing doubt about beating Apollo Creed. He adjusts his idea of success then. “All that matters is that I go the distance,” he says. (Ties in nicely to our conference theme, right?) He decides this because no one else has ever done it before. His idea of success is his own.
Carter applied this to writing and said, “The only barometer of failure to follow is your own.”
The only rule to follow with running is to show up. The same can be said of writing. “Sometimes just turning on the computer is a victory in itself.”
One perceived failure is that everything we write is crap. Chances are our first attempts will be abysmal.
“Writing is an exercise, a process.”
When we’re so used to consuming our entertainment as fast as we can, we expect everything to come that easy. Part of the rush is the need for validation. First drafts are rubbish. Maybe a character or a sentence are worth keeping, but the rest must go. Sometimes we’re not willing to do the work.
Another type of failure is cherry-picking critiques. When we do this, we hear only what we want to hear, then our writing doesn’t get any better.
Carter stated, “Some of you may not get published. Is this another type of failure?”
If the point of writing is to get published, you will fail.
What gets in the way of strong, honest writing, is focusing on getting published. You’ll suck the soul out of your story if this is your goal. Carter suggested adjusting your motivation slightly – write for yourself.
If writing is a process, then so is failure. Look at what went wrong, how you can learn from it, and correct it.
Understand how and why you are failing so you can make the best choices for your career.
This year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference “Go The Distance” was held in Oklahoma City where there were enthusiastic authors and illustrators ready to learn, an art room decked out with colorful portfolios ready to be viewed, dynamic speakers ready to teach about pacing, humor, creativity, failure, and even what it was like to attend a school like Hogwarts.
Jodell wrote her critical thesis on pacing picture books and earned her MFA in Writing for Children & YA from Hamline University, 2009 and started agenting a few years later, and most recently launched Kidlit College. She hosts workshops and presents on pacing with Writer’s Digest. At Kidlit College, she brings in editors and agents to present and offers participants direct critiques. The webinars span from picture books (fiction and nonfiction) to MG/YA.
Jodell gave a talk entitled, “Pacing Picture Books & Beyond: Move Yourself to Action to Move Your Reader”. She discussed the 10 P’s of Pacing and gave examples of how carefully considering each one could improve a manuscript.
9. Page Turn
She encouraged writers to release their inner spirit onto the page and to use all creative techniques at their disposal.
(This is a topic that she teaches through her Kidlit College for those not able to attend the conference.)
Our next speaker was also no stranger to this blog or to our OK SCBWI group as she was our March Twitter chat guest. You can read about her chat here. For her talk, she encouraged all of us to view our manuscripts from the same perspective as agents, editors, and readers.
Victoria has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.
Victoria’s talk entitled, “Does Your Manuscript Go the Distance?” encouraged writers to become knowledgeable in all aspects of writing and the publishing process. She provided several resources in an excellent, detailed handout.
The first section had a checklist of things to look for to ensure your manuscript was indeed ready to submit.
Does it have clarity on intended genre, age group, and word count? And is it appropriate for each?
Does it have a strong opening sentence/paragraph?
Distinct voice of main character and sub-characters? Great dialogue and interactions?
Great pacing, tension, suspense?
Fluent sentence structure? Writing that is rhythmic-almost musical/graceful?
These were just a few of many. We took a closer look at how focusing on these questions could improve our manuscripts.
Victoria made an interesting analogy, comparing writing to road construction. We are the driver of our manuscripts. We want the ride to be smooth for our readers.
Pacing – “Balance is key.” You never want to take your reader out of the story because the pacing is too slow or to have them stop reading because the pacing is too intense.
Dialogue – All dialogue should advance the story. Make sure the characters are moving/gesturing naturally when they speak, not standing still like robots.
Voice – This is the unique way an author writes. Voice and tone are different. Voice captivates your reader and allows them to connect emotionally. If you struggle with voice, she suggests writing the way you talk.
Plot – Something has to change or happen. She likes to think of the plot as MAGIC = the Main character Always Grows In Conclusion.
Final thought – Mastering the skill to be constructive in your assessment of your own work is important. Have to think like an agent (would I represent this?) and an editor (would I acquire this?) and a reader (would I read this?) when evaluating whether or not your manuscript is ready.
Jason is also an illustrator. He designs a wide range of formats including picture books, non-fiction, YA novel jackets and interiors, and has also contributed illustrations to award-winning published titles.
He began at Dutton Design as a design assistant and was subsequently promoted to the position of Senior Designer.
Jason spoke on the topic, “The Marathon and Teamwork of Creating Picture Books”. For those who were new to the process of how a few, well-crafted words of a picture book manuscript turn into a finished, physical book, this was very enlightening. It is truly a labor of love.
For the rest of us, it was a pleasure to look at some amazing artwork, and watch how another great book came to life.
As one of his examples, Jason used NICE WORK, FRANKLIN! written by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day.
I always learn so much from listening to the art directors and designers, don’t you?
WHY STUDYING THE MASTERS IS NOT AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.
That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear any writer say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I get discouraged when I read books by writers more talented than I am” or “I don’t have time to read.”
Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.
To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.
Let’s set up our easels, smear some daubs of paint on our palette, and enter the world of the visual arts medium for a moment. Our task for today? Study one of the most interpreted paintings of all time. The Mona Lisa.
The original by Da Vinci
Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She’s smaller because she IS small.)
Different interpretations of the Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa as seen by artist Bembol de la Cruz – This painting was part of The Mona Lisa Project sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Iya Consorio also contributed her version of Mona Lisa to The Mona Lisa Project.
Artist Vik Muniz created this version of the Mona Lisa, emulating Warhol’s style of the Mona Lisa while using peanut butter and jelly as his medium, for his “Portraits of Garbage” photographic series. He took one artist’s interpretation and then created his own interpretation of THAT interpretation. The mind boggles.
And these are just the tiniest sample of what’s out there. These interpretations of the original Mona Lisa create new dialogue and add to the conversation of what art is. They are all original art.
When artists expose themselves to the influence of other artists, you can clearly see that it doesn’t make their work the same. None of these interpretations is an exact copy of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Instead, what comes through in each painting is the artist’s own artistic voice. Yes, VOICE! By studying the masters, you not only don’t create carbon copies or their work, you can discover your own true voice!
Think about it. Each person viewed the same original. Why didn’t they create the same painting or the same interpretation? In part, because their artistic talents vary and in part because they all bring completely different perspectives, those unique life histories, to their creative process.
We filter our work through our life experiences, through ourselves. What comes out is our voice. Our own unique voice. That’s why no matter how many versions are written of the Cinderella story, if you have one inside you to tell, it will be unique from all the others that have come before it, no matter if you read every single version.
And let’s say an artist set out to purposely duplicate Da Vinci’s style, what would the artist learn from that exercise? Would that be wasted effort? No. He or she would learn how a brilliant painting works – how the composition fits, the lighting, the shadows, the perspectives – how all the pieces come together. The artist would have learned something valuable about CRAFT.
The same is true of writers who read and study great books. All of these lessons can be applied to our own medium of writing. Our medium uses stories as its easel, the blank page as the palette, and words as the daubs of paint; what better place to study the masters of writing than in books?