Friday, July 25, 2014

A Kernel of Writing Advice

While it is a wonderful to get caught up in the heat of writing, the words flowing from a pen (or onto a computer screen) unbidden—the fact is that the words ultimately need to make sense to an audience. 

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve received was that a scene I wrote didn’t have to be true—readers had to believe that it was true. This advice works on two levels. 

First, if you’re writing something that is based on events or emotions that really transpired, unless you are writing nonfiction and are in essence telling the reader “this happened,” it doesn’t matter that it’s true if it isn’t believable. Conversely, if something is believable, it doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest whopper or scientific impossibility on the planet.

Writing for kids is especially fun because kids embrace the absurd. But within the parameters of a story, the absurdity still has to make some sense. In recent Caldecott winner  Jon Klassen’s “I Want My Hat Back,” because the rest of the plot makes sense, no reader stops to ask—why was a bear wearing a hat in the first place? Mo Willems makes us believe that a pigeon really could drive a bus if we only gave it the chance. In the subtle interplay between the believable and the absurd we can see these authors’ craft.

Last month I was fortunate to attend an SCBWI picture book workshop with Christopher Cheng. Next month I’m heading to the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference. I’ve found that attending workshops is an investment in craft that repays itself many times over.
What’s one piece of writing advice that has helped you?


  1. One that has always stayed with me: Juilene Osborne McKnight said in her workshop that we took, how many years ago? - it's a special group of people who can actually write "the end" on a manuscript. You can edit and re-write it forever, but if you don't finish it, it won't do you any good. That's my paraphrase, but the advice it good.

  2. You should check out the "sub-six" group on Facebook. The goal is to commit to submitting six manuscripts (at least) this year just to combat that endless re-writing, never sending syndrome.
    The End.