When I was small, keeping a journal or a diary was Top Secret Business. All my friends and I had a small books complete with fake leather covers and keys to lock them up. On the lined pages we wrote how angry we were at our sisters, which boys we thought were cute or annoying (or both), and who our best friend was that week. The idea was to bear witness to your deepest truth, to bare your secret heart.
For me, though, the facts of my life, set down on paper, proved to be dissatisfying. I loved the thrill and rush of writing, but afterwards, reading over the day’s entry, I’d find it kind of…boring. I started tinkering with my entries, making them more…interesting. Though it would be years and years till I thought of myself as a writer, I guess I always felt reality could use a boost. Now, when I write fiction, I start with the facts but go after something wider and deeper. A good question for any story writer to ask herself as she scrutinizes her world and transforms it is, Is it true yet?
But back to diaries and journals. The one I’m writing now isn’t, of course, just for me, though it gives me great pleasure to keep it. In the last week I’ve had a librarian at a school I’m about to visit (hello, HB!) and a dear friend I rarely see (hello, Nicki!) both tell me that they read it often. That made me so happy! Sending words out into cyberspace can be today’s equivalent of the message in the bottle– you’re never sure what, if any shore, they land on. It’s very good to know you’re out there, sharing this. And you didn’t even have to pick a lock with a bobby pin!
My good news: Candlewick, publisher of some of my all-time favorite writers, will publish two new books of mine. They’re illustrated chapter books, starring Cody, Spencer, and a rather large orange cat. We’ll have to wait two years to actually hold them in hand, but meanwhile, a tra la la, a callooh callay, and a twirl or two around the kitchen are in order!
When I talk to groups of kids, which I so so love to do, I often show them printed-out drafts of my work, so they can see how many changes, additions and deletions I make. I tell them how I revise again and again. Of course I mean this to be encouraging–look, no one’s perfect, at least not the first time!–but often I’m met with looks of, if not downright horror, at least mild distaste. No child I’ve ever met shares my enthusiasm for revision. Maybe that’s partly because they have so many ideas, ideas to spare, oceans of ideas. If one doesn’t turn out so great, oh well. Onto the next!
It can be maddening work, especially in the last, this-is-it phase. You’ve got a character sitting at a desk–does she chew her pen, or chew on her pen? Another character has a broken arm–can you just say she gave Mo a hug? Or do you need to specify a one-armed hug? And that moon–oops. Here it’s full, and a week later it’s a half moon–what solar system are you living in?
And at some point, it gets scary. Because once you and your editor say, Done, off the book sails. A home-made paper boat, your thumb-prints all over it.
That’s where I am right now with MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND. Just about ready to let go but…hmm. Should I say ten years or decade? And…