Saturday, October 17, 2009

Write on

After piles of submissions that are based on photos of children in Halloween costumes acting out the parts or stories in rhyme about talking household objects, editors can be forgiven for getting cynical from time to time. But if those same editors could have seen the last meeting of my writing group, I think their faith in writers would have been restored.

This month, as usual, we spent two hours or so talking about the craft and business of writing for children. One writer is painstakingly rewriting a novel that she's made major revisions on at least twice already, doggedly working to get it as good as it can be. One has been carefully rechecking references in a biography that's nearly ready for the printer, tracking down page numbers for a footnote. One was updating a market study for a publisher who responded to a query.

We talked about Where the Wild Things Are (the movie) and the fact that Maurice Sendak refused to change the final line to "And it was still warm" to accommodate the publisher's concern about the food being described as "hot," part of another discussion about to what degree we should try to protect children in our fictional worlds. We talked about differences in what can be published here versus abroad, based on one member's recent experience at an international conference. We talked about the current state of bookselling based on another's experience at a trade conference.

We also took home manuscript to critique and discussed feedback to other works in progress.

In other words, we worked. This group of writers, some published and some not, does this every month and has been doing so for years. I've been on the fringes lately as I've been busy coping with other life issues, so I brought more of an outsider's eye to the process than usual. Sitting with them this week and seeing their professionalism and seriousness reminded me that for every poorly done celebrity title or derivative copycat book there are dozens of writers laboring away, trying to create genuine art.

It's terrifically hard work to write for children, and I'm so proud to know authors who are giving it their best.