Using Your Guts

Saturday, August 30, 2008
In August, I heard 2006's Newberry Award winner, Susan Patron, speak at the SCBWI national conference. You may remember her, even if you aren't into children's books, because there was a big controversy over her use of the word "scrotum" to describe "that part" of a dog. Many people wanted to ban her book, The Higher Power of Lucky, or they thought it was a pretty good book, except for that one word, and so on. It is a wonderful book. I laughed out loud in the first few pages several times while I was waiting in line for Patron to sign it.

But book banning and word use are not my topics today. I want to tell you about something she said during her speech that has stuck with me while I'm writing, and I hope it will stick with you, too. Here is what this brilliant children's author and Los Angeles librarian said:

"If you use your GUTS to write the very best book you can, then you may get the January phone call."

(The January phone call she is referring to is when the Newberry committee calls a children's author to let her know she won the prestigious award, and she should get ready to go on The Today Show soon!)

If you use your guts. . . notice she didn't say your brain, your creativity, your heart, or your soul. She said your guts. Did it take guts to write The Higher Power of Lucky? I would say yes--to write on the subject of a girl worrying about abandonment, searching for her Higher Power, and running away takes guts and courage, and this paid off for Susan Patron.

Look at our own WOW! editors--did it take guts for them to start this on-line, supportive magazine for women, this blog, and Premium Green? It sure did (with a little daredevil attitude thrown in, too.)

What about J.K. Rowling? (Can you tell I LOVE children's books?) Most people know her story--she was poor, poor, poor, but she used her guts to write a book she believed in, and now, well, isn't she richer than the Queen?

So, are you using your guts? Are you writing the very best book you can? What about your articles, blog posts, or short stories? Reach down deep inside, and then reach down deeper, and pull out the words that are yearning to get out of you. Write them down on the paper even if you sacrifice food, sleep, and cleaning (especially cleaning!)

Think about it--it takes guts to share your inner most thoughts, feelings, and stories with the world. For just attempting to do that, you should feel proud of yourself. You don't need an award for that--although it would be nice! :) Just ask Susan Patron.

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill


Shelli said...

I love that quote. Thanks.

Suzanne Griscom said...

That's great advice, Margo!

It's true that heart and soul and skill are necessary to create a good book for a young audience, but it takes guts to challenge, as well as entertain and inspire a reader. Susan Patron said it so well: to whit, the difference between good and great books is the guts that went into the work.

Beyond that, I think the fact that so many "grownups" love children's books is proof positive that we're all kids at heart, and we all want to hear those good messages of bravery and courage and fear, and to be challenged by what we read.

I was lucky to work with Mildred Taylor when I was fresh out of college. She was a ground-breaker for many writers, whose quiet grace belied the guts it took to write Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

The message we get from both women is take heart, trust your guts, and don't give in to what other people think is best.


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