Reading and Writer’s Block

Recently our local Arizona indie bookstore, Changing Hands, held a stellar event for those interested in children’s books. Changing Hands does a wonderful job attracting dynamic and popular kidlit authors and illustrators, as well as others industry insiders, to give an annual panel discussion (in the past they have featured local author Stephenie Meyer).

The discussion this time was lively and entertaining, an informative exchange between the experts and the audience. At one point an audience member brought up the topic of writer’s block. Two of the participants stated something that surprised me. They admitted that reading their way out of writer’s block did not work for them.

One author said that he had read a lot as a kid and before he became a writer. Now that he writes, however, he doesn’t want to read anything. First of all, when he has his editor mind working, he finds himself being critical of others. Also, he admits that he is afraid he will pick up other writer’s voices, something that certainly does happen.

Another panel member chimed in that he doesn’t read either. He is concerned he will read something really fantastic (he mentioned Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), and it would be too discouraging. He thought it would make him want to quit because he would compare himself to that standard and not be able to reach it.

These remarks make a lot of sense. I had always thought that writer’s block occurred when “your well is empty” and you need to read to refurbish yourself. Maybe reading doesn’t make you a better writer after all, at least not when you are actively writing.

Another panel member suggested that blocks are often the result of problems you don’t know the solution to yet, and that walking away or free writing might help the process along. Going to a movie or taking a walk might give that part of your brain that is chugging away on the problem a chance to finish processing.

I have to admit that when I have “my editor’s hat on,” I find it extremely difficult to be creative. Recently I had a copy editing job that continued on for several weeks. Every time I set down the job and tried to do my own writing I would stumble around looking for the perfect words for each sentence I wrote. Now the job is over, the words flow.

What do you do when you are struggling with writing? What do you think of the idea that reading might not be helpful?

On Creativity and Writing

I have always wondered why I don’t mind taking a hundred photographs and throwing out the 50 or even more that are slightly out of focus or didn’t capture the image the way I wanted, but that I expect every word I write to turn out brilliantly.

Thanks to my friend Deb for pointing out that in every creative process you need to be willing to create some (and maybe a lot of) duds, learn from them, throw them out either literally or figuratively, and keep trying. Sometimes you need to perform exercises that are meaningful only to your own process in order to produce works that speak to others in the future.

What do you think?

Fireworks for Fourth of July

Reading Fireworks by Vicki Cobb and Michael Gold (Photographer) is a wonderful way to get ready for the Fourth of July.

fireworks1

The author says, “You’ll get a bang out of this” and she is right. You can almost see the lights, hear the explosions and smell the smoke from reading the first few pages. She calls it “painting the sky with light and sound.” Cobb quickly points out, however, that although spectacular and interesting, fireworks are not toys. They can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of fireworks themselves, Cobb also packs in a lot about the science behind the show. She educates the reader about scientific terminology, such as combustion, what an element is and how a match works. She even describes how a “party popper” works, which is the type of explosive a child might have experienced first hand.

The photographs definitely add to the quality of this book. Did you know that different types of fireworks have beautifully descriptive names like chrysanthemum, peony, soaring palm and silver willow? Michael Gold’s images make you want to “ooh” and “aah” just like for the real thing.

Interspersed throughout the book are great hands-on activities. Some are familiar, like growing crystal gardens using laundry bluing. Others are innovative, like doing a flame test to show how the fireworks get their colors. This experiment will require more than just adult supervision; the author suggests an adult should carry out the final step of adding the materials to an open flame of a gas stove.

Vicki Cobb has a friendly, conversational style that makes even difficult material easy to read. In the case of this book, younger readers may need some help with the unfamiliar terminology. Adults wanting to learn more about pyrotechnics will also find this book fascinating and useful.

If you are interested in adding new dimensions to your Fourth of July fireworks experience, this book can provide it.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Millbrook Press (September 2005)
ISBN-10: 0761327711
ISBN-13: 978-0761327714

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Photo provided by Public Domain Pictures

Stories and Real Life

My son pulled out A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books last weekend for yet another reading. We have read them together again and again through the years, and still find something new to enjoy each time. My son appreciates the gentle humor and easy relationships between the characters, I think.

While reading the books, I often pictured Milne telling the same stories to Christopher Robin in a big old armchair, a scruffy Pooh bear tucked in beside them, lit by a nice fire crackling in the fireplace. I often wondered how Christopher Robin benefited from having these wonderful stories written just for him. Therefore, when I spotted Enchanted Places, an autobiographical work by Christopher Milne, I was eager to find out what his life had been like.

As is often the case, imagination does not quite meet reality. The Just-Pooh.com website has a description of Christopher Milne’s life if you want to get a quick summary. Basically, as was the culture at that time and place, Christopher Robin was raised by a nanny and sent off to boarding school. He had little interaction with his father and he did not enjoy the stories at all. He felt the books were more about his father than himself.

It was a rude awakening to realize this could be true of my writing, too. I keep Christopher Milne’s resentful words in mind whenever I write something “for” my son. I hope it keeps me more honest.

Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne

When We Were Very Young (Pooh Original Edition) by A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard