Saturday, May 15, 2010

the write place

A few days back, I posted something about being torn between two simultaneous projects and not knowing which one I should pay attention to. I thought about it for a while, and I realized that there is no reason for me to be working right now, because my head is not in the right place for writing. So I stopped. Boom. After 100 pages of work.

Just like that.

What's the "right place" for your head to be in for writing? Well, I definitely know where the "right place" isn't.

And it's not an excuse; and I certainly don't believe in writer's block, but just as there are certain times when you should not be operating heavy machinery and motor vehicles, there are also times when you should not be writing. Well, unless you've got an essay due at school or something, in which case all I can say is tighten your chin strap and watch out for innocent bystanders.

But kids, don't let that make you hate writing. It's not the writing you want to do. It's survival writing, like treading water when you fall off a cruise ship. But the writing you want to do --- well, just don't attempt it when you're in the do-not-get-behind-the-wheel state of mind.

Trust me.

A couple weeks ago, I received a copy of the book Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook, by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.

I sat down and read the book in one day. It is beyond terrific, and will stay permanently on top of my desk.

Until it gets buried, which, by the rate at which matter accumulates on my desktop will happen sometime after lunch. But then I'll just have to dig it out because it's one of those books where you can open it to any page and find some words that just make absolutely perfect sense.

Let me tell you a little bit about the book -- not so much in the way of reviewing it. I am lucky enough to own an autographed copy. Ellen Potter was nice enough to send me one when I told her about my young writers' group of high school students (mostly boys, mostly grade 12). The book is supposed to be for younger kids -- like grades 6 - 9 -- but, I'm, like, are you kidding me???.

This is a book that anyone who's starting out, looking for some tips, wondering how other writers approach common obstacles, simply must read. No matter how young or old you are. Seriously.

It is really that good. The fact that the "voice" of the book is accessible (but not preachy) enough for 6th-graders does not detract in any way from the value of the content.

When I speak to groups, I am frequently asked things like where writers should go to school, what they should study, and if I have any good book recommendations for writers. No doubt, Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook is always going to be waved around (provided it doesn't get buried on my desk).

And teachers and schools: Listen up. This is the book you've been asking for. We need books like Spilling Ink in our classrooms, so we can help kids connect with and rediscover the kind of writing that gives them joy -- the kind of writing that they want to do, as opposed to the kind of writing that merely keeps their heads above water from one grading period to the next.