Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me — Tracy Barrett

Dear Aspiring Writer Me,

I’m going to give you some advice that runs counter to what everyone else will tell you:

Don’t read so much.

Seriously. It’s time to put down that book and pick up the pen (or the laptop, in the to-you distant future). An aspiring musician should listen to music, sure—but at some point she has to turn off the cassette player (or that same laptop—I know you don’t know what I’m talking about, but trust me, you’re going to love it) and play some scales. Same with writers. Time to get to it.

Another problem with reading so much is that you can’t stop comparing what you read with what you’re trying to write, and it hasn’t occurred to you that maybe E. B. White and E. Nesbit and Astrid Lindgren weren’t writing anything particularly noteworthy at your age, and that what they first tossed down on paper might not bear a whole lot of resemblance to what was eventually produced between covers and placed on a shelf.

Trust me, you don’t have to worry that you’ll never write anything like The Phantom Tollbooth. One day it will occur to you don’t have to, because Norton Juster already wrote it, and also—this is a biggy—because Norton Juster didn’t write anything like the stories that are swirling in your brain. You’re you and Norton is Norton.

Plus you’ll find out that you don’t have to do it alone, that writing a publishable book is, in 99% of the cases, a collaborative effort. You’re going to discover a wonderful critique group, a brilliant and perceptive agent, a slew of creative and talented and enthusiastic editors, and most of all, the Society of Children’sBook Writers and Illustrators. All of them will help you bring out the best in your writing.

So put down that book and write.


  1. Replies
    1. Yup--that's a hard lesson to learn, isn't it? "I should just go to this conference/read this book on plotting/read a dozen books in the same genre"--very tempting, and a lot easier than writing!

  2. Super-good advice, Tracy. You've got to write every day. Every. Day.

    1. Welllll . . . Actually, I don't. I take breaks, sometimes quite long ones. So far, it's working.

    2. I think that's cool that you can do that. For me, there's a kind of rhythm to writing (kind of like jumping rope). When I get out of rhythm, I get tangled up. Do you take COMPLETE breaks, not even thinking about the project, then find you can come back to it?

    3. I do continue to think about it, but sometimes there are weeks when I don't create a single new word or revise an already-written one. This distance can be the best way to see the problems--although that's not why I do it. I sometimes just plain don't have the time!

  3. I take breaks too, and I'm glad to hear I'm not alone! With a full time job, sometimes I just can't get to my laptop. Sometimes I just have to decide that I won't work until X day/week/month. But I've come to believe that there is a lot of subconscious action going on when I'm "working" on a book, but not working on it.