Friday, October 29, 2010

"Go soak up the world...

...and then come back and turn it into art and words."

I think if I could give one on-going piece of advice to any writer or artist, no matter his or her level of expertise, that would be it: to remember how important it is to go out and engage with the world you're trying to reflect, in one way or another, in your creative efforts.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, throwing advice around in the first line of a blog post, all willy-nilly and entirely unbidden. So let me backtrack a bit, and give some context, starting with this: one of my earliest, most valuable lessons about how to be a good editor came from brilliant-editor-now-turned-brilliant-agent (and former boss) Brenda Bowen, who told me more than once during the time that I worked for her that, "Interesting editors make interesting books." In other words, an editor's job is not (contrary to her often-slavish instincts) to be always at her desk. Because there's more to having the kind of vision that is required of her than simply reading, or editing, or doing the dreaded and evil paperwork. It's also an editor's job to be be fascinated by, and curious about, and, most of all, engaged with the world and everything in it...pretty much constantly!

Why? Simply stated, it's so that when a writer or artist writes about or creates something interesting--when she or he captures a new idea or perspective, or reflects the world in an utterly unique or wonderful way, or finds a fresh and memorable way of telling a universally resonant story--then an editor like Yours Truly can, in turn, be alert and savvy enough to recognize its wonder, rather than inadvertently having her head stuck inside a filing cabinet instead, and missing the whole thing! That's the plan, at least. Like anyone who's human, I do a better job at being "interesting" some weeks than others. But I do know that the weeks when I've engaged more with the world, I'm more alive within myself somehow, and more able to see that spill over into the work I'm doing. And the result is that there's more of an openness in me, more of a willingness and receptivity toward discovery, toward possibility. And what is the whole process of creating and reading and sharing children's books about, if not possibility?

Interesting editors make interesting books. I've learned many times over how much truth these five words contain, and I expect I'll keep re-learning their lesson throughout my career. But it's a maxim which applies 100% to every kind of creator, I think; it's in no way limited to editors. Because interesting writers make interesting books. And interesting artists make interesting books, too. And in fact, I suspect you could sub in a lot of words into the place of "interesting" in that motto: daring, humorous, revolutionary, intelligent, creative, thoughtful...and the list goes on and on.

So how does one learn how to be an interesting writer? And what does it look and feel like to embark on trying to be one? My author Veronica Roth currently has a really honest and wonderfully articulate post about it on her blog, and I think it's pretty much a must-read for anyone grappling with creativity, or a lack thereof. So go on over and give it a read.

And then? Yep, you guessed it. Go on out this weekend, and soak up the world! And then come back and work to transform all the interesting things you've collected into art and words--into interesting books-in-the-making! (And oh, yeah. Have fun along the way, because that matters a whole lot when it comes to creativity, too. But I think that's a whole new blog post....)


  1. "But I do know that the weeks when I've engaged more with the world, I'm more alive within myself somehow, and more able to see that spill over into the work I'm doing."

    LOVE this post! So, so true. My latest post is on transformation, which makes writing (and everything!) much more interesting. Thanks for the lead on Veronica's post. I'm heading there now.

  2. So true and well put, Molly. It was reinvigorating just to read this! :)

  3. I completely one hundred percent see Brenda saying this to you! (And, of course, looking forward to reading this book!)

  4. I love how you put that, "reflect the world in an utterly unique and wonderful way." That sums up exactly what we writers need to do. Excellent post! Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Did you see the movie "Bright Star" about Keats? There's a great line: "If Mr. Keats and myself are strolling in the meadow, lounging on the sofa, or staring into the wall, do not presume we're not working. Doing nothing is the musing of the poet." :) I would argue that doing SOMETHING is the necessary work of a writer.
    Thank you for the wonderful post!