Why do you write and do you like to write for kids?
I’ve wondered about this, too, especially when I’m having trouble writing a part of a story! I’m sure one influence was my father, who always told amazing stories. I’ve always loved to listen to or read stories. I suppose from that it’s natural to try it yourself. I need to record my own experiences to remember and sometimes to understand them. I also love words, to play with them either to make beautiful word pictures or to entertain myself. I am thrilled when I hear that other people are entertained, too, so another reason I write is to share myself with others. Most authors really want to communicate with young people, whether it is to make them laugh, help them solve a problem, or to share a sense of beauty with them.
Sometimes an author learns a lot about herself when writing a book. For example, I learned how deeply moved I am by nature when I wrote Up North at the Cabin. When I worked on Mattie, I realized how much I had missed not having a brother or sister, and how much I really wanted to be friends with boys when I was growing up.
Is it hard being an author?
Yes, sometimes it’s as hard as “a river trying to flow through rocks,” as a second-grader told me. Have you ever felt as if your head were a rock? I have, but I don’t give up. Writing is work, some days easy, others hard. I always have ideas, but only some turn into stories. I write little notes to myself in a special notebook about anything I think might be a part of a story someday.
Where do you get your ideas?
An idea might come from my children or from my own memories or from the newspaper or even from a conversation I’ve overheard in the grocery line. When you think of yourself as a writer, I believe you’ll hear stories, or parts of stories, everywhere.
How long does it take you to write a story?
I usually try to think out the whole story before I write. Sometimes I’ll think about a story for six months before I write it down! I worked off and on writing Mattie for about two years. Up North at the Cabin only took two months to write, but the illustrator, Steve Johnson, spent one year thinking about what to paint and actually putting brush to paper. Every story’s creation is different.
How do you write a story?
I write and re-write a story many times, working each word as if it’s a tiny piece of clay and I am a sculptor molding a beautiful sculpture. It’s very hard for me to know that I’m truly done with a story. I always wonder if it’s good enough. That’s one of the reasons I keep writing, to get better and better.
What’s a good way for a young writer to get started?
Writers are people who are very interested in everything around them. Think of what interests you and what stories you like to listen to or read. Then think of something similar from your own life or family experience or observation of other people or situations around you. That’s the story you’ll want to tell. Do you like funny stories? What’s funny to you? It doesn’t have to be a ha-ha joke kind of funny. Read lots of stories and books. Discover what makes you enjoy one story more than another, then try to write something like the one you appreciated. And that’s not copying, it’s learning.
When can a young person become a writer?
Right now! You are what you do. If you write letters, essays, stories, poems, or journals, you’re already a writer. I always wrote diaries and little poems as a kid, but I never believed I could write a story until a teacher told me I had to, and that wasn’t ’til college! I wish someone had asked me to much earlier. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to write a story and, yes, there is a lot to learn about the craft of writing, but the best way to learn is by pushing yourself to do it! Michael Jordan didn’t wait until a certain age to start shooting hoops. The court’s open, the net’s waiting. Just shoot!
I hope that books will be your friends for many, many years. Maybe some of you will want to write stories to share with the world someday, too. And I will try very hard to keep writing good stories for children like you to read.