Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sarah Stewart: writing up to children

Sarah Stewart
Sarah Stewart is the author of five picture books: The Money Tree, The Library, The Gardener, The Journey, and The Friend. David Small, her husband, illustrated each of them. Her next book, The Quiet Place, comes out in 2012.

If you don't remember anything else, Sarah said, remember these two quotes:
Whenever Flaubert was asked for the true identity of Madame Bovary, he would say, "C'est moi."

"If it doesn't come from deep inside of you, forget it," Sarah said. "It's not going to go across the world."

And then, E.B. White, when asked about writing to little children, said, "I write up to children. They are my most discerning audience." 
Children listen differently, Sarah told us. Much more honestly to one another and in their speech.

She exhorted us to leave the room if we weren't willing to go deep with our work: "The blank paper stares at me unblinking, unforgiving, daring me to write a meaningful line. If you're not prepared to fling yourself, body and soul into your writing for the rest of your lives, you should rise up and flee out of this room right now."

And she gave us three words to live by: expect, protect, and reject.

Expectation: By this, she means to expect a lot of yourself and expect a lot of your reader. Honor that desire to know in all of us, she said ... the insatiable curiosity in nearly every child. The openness that is so natural for the very young. At the same time, acknowledge the best in yourself. Be quiet. Search within your own unique experience. Take the time you need. Take the time that you and your writing deserve. Remember that only in long silences are we able to hear our most inner selves.

Expect to finish what you've started. "Small miracles can come from the simple act of finishing a story," she said.

Expect a lot of yourself and write up to the child with honesty. 

Protection: She urged us to "Protect yourself from Internet invasion and family chaos and work stress in any way that does no harm to your relationships. Get up before everyone else. Ask for quiet time in the family when appropriate. If you work away from home, if you can, eat lunch occasionally and take notes. Eudora Welty said, 'Writing is a muscle. If you don't use it every day, it will let you down. It will diminish'."

Protect your brain. Eat well and exercise. You'll not only write better, you'll feel better. And when you're called up onstage to receive the award for your next book, you'll even look better.

Rejection: Reject the shallow connectedness of the web. Without being selfish or rude, give yourself and your own thoughts as much time as possible.

You do not have to be the most popular person ... to be a great writer. You have to write, and write some more, and then start again and write it better.

When you do send a story off and it gets rejected, remember that it's the story being rejected--and not you. And so put that story away. Let it rest. Don't look at it for months. Write another story. Get out from under that rejection.

Sarah read to us from three classic books (check them out for inspiration):
  • The Grinch by Dr. Seuss
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • The Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley

1 comment:

  1. What a great summation, and such good reminders. Thanks for posting these, as I'm at home with my foot up, recuperation from surgery and wishing I could be there. These posts do help!