I have to admit that I tried a number of different titles for this post. At one point, it was “Gray Days, Part 2” since it continues Jeanine’s post about pushing through those gray days to write. “Freaked out” just seems so undignified and a bit melodramatic. But 2020? Undignified and melodramatic barely scratch the surface.
Yet, there have been high points. I hope some of you are Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) members who registered for the Summer Spectacular. One of the best sessions was a conversation between Jane Yolen and her daughter and co-author Heidi Stemple.
Someone asked Jane how she manages to write during the pandemic. How does she write when the world is falling apart? Jane is infamous for her butt-in-chair attitude to writing. If you aren’t familiar with butt-in-chair, to write you must put your butt in the chair. This is solid advice but given the joy that is 2020 a more elaborate answer was needed.
Jane advised listeners to take the negative emotion they are feeling and use it in a story. She explained that it doesn’t have to be a story about coronavirus or violence. Instead use this emotion to create a story on another topic but use that emotion to its fullest.
One opportunity to give this a try came a few weeks ago when my dad was in the hospital. The doctor wanted to give him a quick cognitive test so he asked Dad “Do you know who Sue is?” After a salty exchange with my father who was mad he had been woken up for this nonsense, I told the doctor there are three women named Sue on just that side of the family. “How would I have known that?” Hmm. Ask a question? Find things out?
It was frustrating to know that Dad could have gotten a worse evaluation based on assumptions made by someone who doesn’t know us. I took that frustration and wrote “Four Freddies” a picture book about three cousins who are named after their grandad. And, yes. That’s how you spell Freddie in my family. See? All you had to do was ask.
My second opportunity to try Jane’s technique came from Dad’s second hospital stay of the summer. Someone lost their cool which translated into days of hate-filled, threatening messages cc’ed to five different people.
Where to go with this? First I had to unravel the tangle of negative emotion. It didn’t take long to pull out judgement, bullying, and condescension. To my surprise, the whole thing reminded me of dealing with an alcoholic relative who would get mad when you wouldn’t drink with him. It is a far cry from the original events, but the emotion gave rise to a piece of flash fiction called “Day by Day.”
2020 is giving us all a lot to process. As writers, one of the best ways we have to process what we are dealing with is by writing. The best part? It doesn’t have to resemble our present reality in any way except the emotion.
Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers. To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.
Sue is also the instructor for Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020).