May 31, 2007

This really got me cranked up when I read it. Cynthia Leitich Smith has a website loaded with resources and advice for writers. So in the course of my exhaustive (minutes at a time!) research into the writing life and the publishing industry, I came across her site and read through much of what she has to say. A lot of it sounded like good advice and I was really glad that she collected all of that information and made it available to writers like me. Then I read,

You must read. You must read like you breathe, only more proactively. You must read so much that when anyone mentions a children’s or YA book, you are familiar with it or at least its author and/or editor, or you are jotting the title down to check it out. You must be better read than your independent bookseller and your public librarian (if you live in an amazing book city like Austin where this last goal is impossible, you must nevertheless still TRY). When someone announces the, say, Newbery winners, you should have read so much that there are no real surprises to you. You must study the books you read, the good ones and the bad, and be able to clearly articulate what does and doesn’t work and why. And if you think that you have no time or money to do this, get a different goal because you don’t deserve to make it. Libraries are a godsend.

I have a problem with that kind of thinking. Isn’t that like saying that I should have a P.H.D in food science or I don’t deserve to make a really good cheeseburger? Of course I don’t agree with that. Yes, it is good to know what you’re getting into when you write a particular kind of book. Yes, it is good to educate yourself about the market and what has been written and what has been successful and what hasn’t. I don’t think, however, that a thorough understanding of the whole market is absolutely necessary for a writer to create a great story. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s opinion that there are those who “deserve” success and those who don’t based on how much they have been involved in the Children’s and Young Adult book scene is really self-serving and exclusionary.

This is not me being defensive, either. The kind of involvement and research she claims is necessary is exactly what I like (and need) to do. That’s my personality. I don’t think it applies to everyone, though. There are many musicians who have created music that has changed people’s lives despite the musician being unable to read a note of music. Then there are other musicians who spend their whole lives studying and learning music history and theory. Everyone must find his or her own path.

It is possible that I’m just being nit-picky about the way C.L.S. has expressed her opinion, but I trust that a writer as accomplished and successful as she has chosen her words carefully and says what she means. I just don’t agree with that small part of it.

2 Responses to “deserve?”

  1. no, I think you’re right. you don’t have to be an expert to be good at something. she takes it to the extreme.

  2. Sarah said

    I like your cheeseburger analogy. Besides, if you read everything that’s already out there, studied it exhaustively, I’d have to wonder how original your work was, or if any ideas/styles from other authors had sneaked their way into your work. It’s one thing to be aware of your market & audience, but entirely another to claim you must be an expert before even attempting to enter. Very cliquey, too!

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