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....)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting back to the blog, and asking questions

Next summer, I'm putting up a "Gone Fishing" sign on my blog, I think: I'll have lots less guilt about meaning to post, but not quite actually getting it done. And I almost just typed that I wasn't really fishing all summer, I was mostly busy editing up a storm (and can't wait till I can show you all the good books I've been working on)--but then I remembered that I actually DID go fishing this summer! See?

(For realz. I caught that guy, and some of his other friends, too!)

I promise I'll tell you my summer fishing adventure story in a belated but still-hopefully-lovely "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" post very soon.

For now, though, I decided to cannonball back into blogging with a deep-ish post. This one was inspired by a recent email from my college friend, Jeremy, who is a campus minister in Michigan. He wrote, in part, "I'm looking at the use of questions [in my work]. Good questions stick in our minds and we come back to them regularly. They move us out of our normal ways of thinking and being. Good questions can help us to look at the truth of things and challenge us to go deeper. What was the best question you've been asked recently? Why has it stuck with you?"

And that got me thinking about questions, which are something I'm really fond of. I heartily agree with my friend that good questions help us get to the truth of things and challenge us into deeper ideas, and I think that a good book--like every kind of art--is one way of asking and creating forums for such questions. In fact, that's probably part of why I like books and their creators and bookish people in general so much: they're always stirring up interesting questions and conversations. And I think books for kids and teens ask some of the best, most important questions!

So, friends, two questions that I'll now turn over to you: feel free to answer either of them in the comments section!
    Question One: What was the best question you've been asked recently, & why has it stayed with you?
    Question Two: Writers and artists, what questions do your stories ask?