This month I attended two writers’ conferences—James River Writers and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Mid-Atlantic Regional—and felt like I’d shopped in a gourmet food store. I came home excited to cook.
Speakers laid out the usual conference fare—how writers must learn to accept failure/rejection, cultivate resilience/perseverance, find their own unique (authentic) voice, etc.—a smorgasbord of advice.
When Lin Oliver stepped up to the podium, she gave a talk called, “A Ten Point Guide to Launching and Sustaining a Children’s Book Career.” During Point Five, she dropped a crumb that made me sit up, made my mouth water. Five was about studying the craft, and Lin peppered it with spices like letting the child solve the story’s problem and writing “in scene” and beginning on the day that’s different. Delicious stuff, all of it.
But the morsel Lin dropped—the one that got me to lean forward, the one sparkling at me from the carpeted floor, the one I pinched up and set in my palm before anyone stepped on it—was this: love your main character.
Lin moved on to Point Six about practicing a lot (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours business) while I sat there, rolling crumb Five around and around with a finger.
Love your protagonist. Duh. Of course. But did I? That manuscript I’d set aside—the one I’d spent three years writing, the one that still wasn’t working—did I love the main character in that story? Would I take that boy to lunch? Fix him his favorite dish? Share a spoon with him? Extend my plate for a second helping? Or did he leave a bad taste in my mouth? And can I possibly find another food metaphor to add to this blog post?
I rushed home to check on the pot that had been simmering for months. Yeah, the old pot on a back burner metaphor—you know it. A skin had formed on the surface, but when I punctured it and stirred, ooohhh—I could smell the way the flavors had melded. I watched the steam escape. Now I just need to adjust this flame…
Time to give this baby some love.