Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I had the pleasure of listening to Rebecca Stead talk at the National Book Festival. Her book, When You Reach Me won the 2010 John Newbery Medal.

Rebecca discussed her journey from school (she even had a class with Frank McCourt!) into law and then, almost reluctantly, into writing. I say reluctantly because Rebecca said writing was something she wanted to do for a long time but didn't pursue. She was afraid of failure, worried that if she admitted she wanted to be a writer then all that rejection would become even more personal. Her takeaway was that the rejection you receive regardless of what you admit to yourself does hurt and the longer you keep pretending NOT to want something, the more you're standing in your own way of getting it.

After her son knocked over her laptop onto the hard floor and she lost any previous writing, she decided to start fresh. This time she turned to her local bookstore and bought all the books she remembers as being instrumental to her growing up, trying to pinpoint what it was about the writing, the characters, the storyline that made them successful. She became a student again which is so important and not only a student of writing but of her genre, also studying up on what kinds of books were popular in that genre now.

When You Reach Me, she explains is about Miranda growing up and starting to see the world in a slightly different light; her realizations parallel the categories in the $20,000 Pyramid game that her mother is preparing for. Rebecca drew on her own childhood growing up as an only child in New York City as well as Madeleine L'Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time.

Here's a Q & A with the author:

Rebecca's talk about "owning" your writing and admitting what you're up to and what you want was reminiscent of a talk Molly O'Neill, associate editor at Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of Harper's Collins) gave at this year's WriteOncon called, "Give Yourself Permission." It's wonderful advice and if you're a writer, I strongly urge you to read it. Think of it as the communal Jerry Maguire mission statement.

I'm curious to hear from your personal experiences. What obstacles do you face in your writing? Are you like Rebecca and worried to put all those ideas down on "paper" because once you do, it's out there for the world to critique? On the flip side, how do you stay motivated?

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