Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kathryn Erskine: Keynote - Keep Your F.O.C.U.S.

Kathryn Erskine is the author of MOCKINGBIRD, which in 2010 won a National Book Award and a Golden Kite. She also wrote QUAKING and THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, which was a 2012 ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for reluctant readers.

She talked about we as writers can keep our focus (which she turned into a clever little acronym).
  • Freedom: "You owe yourself the freedom to create." 
You have to sketch and write in cracks of time. You can record your thoughts using a voice app or recorder, or just scribble them on a napkin or your hand. "No time is wasted. Even if you're not physically writing or creating, we're artists. These ideas come to us. These ideas come to us. You can't escape it." 

But more practically, when you're creating, block everything else out

"You have to create a little waiting room in your mind, and [your distractions] will have to take a seat for now." 

Kathryn likes to gather her focus by doing some Sudoku. Transition rituals can also help. "It's a sign to your body and your mind that this is a time when you're supposed to be creative." 

Also: "Free yourself from the guilt that you're taking time from other people. Don't those people out there want you to be happy?"

And don't give up: "If you ever think about hanging it up, think about the one kid out there who needs you." 
  • Organization: 
"I don't think it's all that unusual for artistic types to be lacking in the organization department. But it's important to get organized because it saves a lot of times." 

In her office, she keeps a drawer of all the stuff--books, maps, brochures--that go with a certain writing project. Plus, she can close all the other drawers and not be distracted. She also has inboxes just for "the business"--marketing, website, tax info--as well as another box for teaching, schools, and library visits. 
  • Creativity: Do what you need and ask yourself "what if?" 
Don't forget to take care of your body, too. It will take care of your mind. But a few vices--like candy and coffee--are OK. 

She needs solitude to write. You have to know what you need. If your muse gets stuck, you know how to get it unstuck. Cook, sing, do something physical like run. That really does help the other creative parts of your brain. 

She also listens to playlists that relate to her work-in-progress when she's driving.
    • Understanding: Understand where you're going and what you're trying to say
    Who are your characters, and what motivates them? If you need an expert to explain something, find an expert. If you want to know what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, find one who's willing to show you.
    • Sharing: Prepare your baby for the world
    Vett your manuscript with a critique group, in class, at conferences before you send it out. It took Kathryn 10 years from the time she started for her first book to come out. Start reaching out to potential readers before you even sell a book, perhaps by linking your blog to your Facebook account and automatically send posts there. 

    Short book trailers are fun, too. Her son made a book trailer for Quaking.

    On bookstore signings: "Bring a friend or sign with someone. Otherwise, you're sitting alone like Typhoid Mary."

    She sent us all home with candles and inspiration, and in three months, she'll post a reminder on her blog to keep focusing.


    1. I've read both "Mockingbird" and "Mike," and feel a connection to Ms. Erskines work, since my daughter is a reluctant reader. Does an author purposely target that market? Is it part of a pitch to an editor? Are there guidelines for writing for this type of student?

    2. Great ideas from a great author!

    3. thanks for this blog post. I wanted to hear Kathy's talk, but ironically was out of town (I live in NYC) thanks for this. It's of court not quite the same as hearing her live, but still very helpful!!!

    4. Thanks for post in this blog. I wanted to hear Kathy so much, but ironically was out of town (I live in NYC). Not quite the same as being there, but still very helpful.