Jane Yolen on Writing

I have been reading a lot of Jane Yolen’s books on the craft of writing this summer.  Jane Yolen is one of my all time favorite authors.  I aspire to be like her when I “grow up.”  She is incredibly prolific and is not limited by either subject matter or genre (dare I say like myself?). 

This summer as I have my eyes set on children’s books, I find a lot of her writing incredibly profound.  Perhaps the most influential thing I’ve heard her say is to WRITE DAILY.  To quote her:

“But if you want to write, you will get to the pen or typewriter some portion of every day.  If you are not really a writer, you will find any excuse to keep from writing.  Or at least to keep from finishing what you have started.”

and even more bluntly:

“Because it really is not a question of HAVING but of MAKING time.  Writing is not a matter of choice with me but a necessity.  It is as necessary for me to give birth to a story when it is ready as it was for me to push out each of my 3 children when they were kicking to be born.  If you don’t have that natural drive to write, you are not and will not be a writer.”  (from Jane’s “Writing Books for Children” published in 1973)

I admit that I struggle with this.  My career as a teacher is incredibly demanding (and certainly has been doubly so the last few years as I’ve started my career from scratch).  My writing was entirely put on hold while everything focused on teaching.  It was only this last year that I was able to start finding some breathing room again and time for myself.  I made my writing a priority and saw it start to flourish once again.  And yet, this summer when I should have a lot more time on my hands, I find myself avoiding the writing projects that I set out to do!  Why?

As Susan Shaughnessy so adequately puts it in her book “Walking on Alligators”: “Writer’s resistance is persistent, so we must be persistent.  We need to work with it a little every day.”

This is the heart of the matter.  I need to force myself to SIT DOWN and focus on it, every single day.  I can’t remember which writer it was that I read years ago that described the process as tying himself to his chair every day so like a prisoner he couldn’t escape.  Of course, I fought that image for years of the prisoner.  Surely writing shouldn’t be like torture?  And yet, if I don’t force myself to sit down and do it, when does it get done?  Life constantly has things that get in the way.

So this summer, I have finally surrendered.  I’m creating those daily habits and FORCING myself to do it every day.  Hopefully over time, this won’t have to be quite so forced.  Although I suspect that it always will be.  After all, if writers greater than myself have been saying this same thing for hundreds of years, why should I expect myself to be any different?

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