Writing for JOY

This summer as I have been researching HOW to write and publish in the picture book market I have found myself of two minds.  1) I must write something that can be marketed and published.  vs. 2) I must write something that is pleasing to me, perhaps poetic and containing words from my heart.  I have genuinely struggled to make these two thought processes mesh.  I read this quote today and it reminded me again of the second thought process:

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.  Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” ~Annie Proulx (The Paris Review, Spring 2009)” 

It seems that I will need reminding of this repeatedly.  It is so easy for me to get caught up in “What would be a uinique idea?  What would be something that could sell?”  But the sad fact remains that if I write books for the first train of thought, they may in fact get published, but will they be remembered?  I think not.

Point in case, I went to Barnes and Noble the other day and browsed through the new picture book releases.  I had a huge stack of them that I read and I was sad to find that not even one of them really reached out and grabbed me.  There wasn’t a single one that I would buy or keep forever.  They were simply not memorable.  And the point that hit home even more?  In my search for “unique” and “original” I’ve been thinking of modernizing fairy tales in unique ways.  Apparently I’m not alone in this.  There were two different (and modernized) versions of Red Riding Hood on the shelves (one was a ninja and one was a “supergirl”), neither of which I can say were exciting to me (which reminds me once again that picture books are written for BOTH children AND adults).

This summer Anne Rice (or someone under her name) posted on Facebook:

“Write what interests you, what obsesses you, and not what you think might interest or obsess someone else.  Protect your own voice, your own vision, your own characters, your own stories.  Go where the pain is; go where the pleasure is.  Create the book you want to read, the book you want to live in; the book you love.  And then be stubborn.  Never cave to rejection or criticism.  Just keep going until you find those who ‘get’ what you are doing; and make yourself into the writer you want to be.  Ponder the absolute value of individual imagination, individual eccentricity, individual discovery and surprise.  And remember: the world needs you.  If you don’t write the classics of tomorrow, we won’t have any.”

When I think of memorable books, I think of passion projects that must have started out for the writer’s “SELF.”  I think of Adam Rex’s “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich” and the follow up book “Frankenstein Takes the Cake.”  These picture books are a collection of short stories about the classic movie monsters IN POETIC form!  These were cetainly a hard sell as they are such unique beasts that they would be hard to market.  AND YET, they are so creative and blissfully embrace the author’s sense of humor and interests that they are wonderfully memorable.

In her book “Take Joy,” Jane Yolen says:

“You are–after all–the very first reader of what you write. Please that reader. You may not have any other.”

I take this to heart.  I MUST remember to write for me.  I may never publish.  What then is the point of writing fluff that “can be published” if I’m the only one who ever reads it?  No!  I must write for joy.  Again, in her book “Take Joy,” Yolen says, “All we can count on is the joy in the process of writing.”

I must write the words and the stories that my heart wants, not my mind focused on marketing.  It was this very fact that lead me to an inspiration this summer on a retold fairy tale that burst forth from my pen as if it had a mind of its own.  It may never get published (as the word count is about 1,000 words too long for the picture book market), but I am terribly proud of that story.  And what a rush it was to write that story so frantically on a plane between CA and WA as I travelled this summer.  I wrote that story for the sheer joy of it.  And it is for this purpose that I must write.  Not for any other.

About jenabenton

I'm an elementary school teacher, writer, illustrator and storyteller.

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