Monday, April 05, 2004

I've been inspired by Judith Ridge's blog of her trip to the US, meeting all kinds of writers and visiting libraries, so here goes!
I'm not a fan of diaries - my focus is books and writing, obviously. I read a lot of children's and young adult books, I write children's and YA books, but I also read adult novels, poetry, and short fiction. I write poetry and fiction, and this is what I teach.
My writer friends and I grapple with the writing stuff all the time. Some of my friends teach with me.
Can writing be taught? I think the craft can. I have seen students make huge improvements in their writing. Some to the point where they eventually get published, but they have to work really hard at it.
Others just have a gift. Even without attending a class or course, they would get publiished if they persevered.
Ah, perseverance! I have also seen a lot of talented writers give up. It's hard, it's like being stuck under a huge rock. The rock is often other people's expectations - why don't you get a real job? it's a nice hobby, dear, but... You've probably heard a few of your own. And then there are our own hopes and dreams. It's about keeping your own dream alive, long after everyone else has given up on you. It's about the rejection letters, and not taking them personally. About sending that manuscript out again and again and again. And if you are still getting rejected, then taking a good look at the words on the page and rewriting - AGAIN.
No one asks us to be writers. No one comes knocking on our door, saying "Please write poems and novels and stories - I'll pay you a million bucks no matter how bad it is."
I try to teach people the basics. Plot, character, dialogue etc. Then I try to push them deeper into what these mean, what they need to do to make a story "grab the reader by the throat and not let them go". I said that to one of my classes last week and they just looked at me. Oh well, I'll keep on saying it, because if you can't do that, if you don't understand why you have to do it and then work at your novel until it happens, then you won't get published.
I remember at the SCBWI conference in LA 2 years ago, three different people (agents, editors) saying that if you have a great character and a weak plot, it can be fixed. If you have a great plot but the character doesn't engage the reader, if the voice isn't working, it can't be fixed. So I tend to teach character and voice first, especially in my Writing for Young Adults class.
Enough about writing. Books? Just recently read "House of the Scorpion" by Nancy Farmer. Is it just me or are there quite a few books about clones out there at the moment? I enjoyed this book. It made me think about what a clone might be (we don't know yet, do we?). How much is cloned? Just the body or the mind and experiences too? I agreed with some of the reviews - the ending was a little too neat and happy. But I thought the concept of the story, the themes and characters, were all well done.
At the moment I'm reading the second Alex Flinn book, "Breaking Point". I'm interested to see how it goes, having read "Desire Lines" by Jack Gantos not long ago. DL was a book that really unsettled me. No happy ending, no redemption for the main character. Chilling. BP is heading along the same track - loser/loner kid who teams up with troublemakers in order to have friends and fit in. We'll see.

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