The swing hung from the branch of a willow tree split in two by lightning. It was my quiet place. Under its shade, I observed the world, contemplated life, and read more books than I can count. The books came from a wonderful city library with circular staircases and a heady book-smell, a school library with a librarian that knew her students, and as gifts from my parents. In those days of five TV channels and no air conditioning, being outside with a book was the best way to spend a summer day.
I love to read. Whether I have an hour or five minutes, as soon as I begin I am drawn in. I am there. That is the beauty, the power of words well written. They transport you to other times, places, and lives. That is writing at its best, but it is not easy to do.
Writing is a craft, like weaving or painting. Two craftsmen may use the same thread or paint, but the finished products are very different. Writers draw words from the same bank, but the magic is in how we put them together. All craftsman have their tools. Writers have their pens and laptops, but what else does a writer need? They need a keen power of observation, quiet moments, idea seeds, a rich vocabulary, an imagination, words of encouragement, and persistence.
I’ve been writing stories for children for over 25 years. As with many writers, the quiet days of writing greatly outnumber the YIPEE days of manuscript acceptance. If I didn’t enjoy the quiet days, I wouldn’t write. For me there is satisfaction in the telling of the story. When an idea sticks in my mind, I need to see what it grows into.
I recently made a list of finished manuscripts to share at a school visit. I had 103 finished manuscripts. Of those, four became books and 20 were published in magazines for children. In most jobs if you were less than 25% successful you’d be looking for other work. But those 79 unpublished manuscripts, and the countless unfinished ones, weren’t failures. The thing is, not all ideas or finished stories are good ones. But the process of thinking and writing them is. Each time I find the beginning, middle, and end of a story I become a better storyteller.
So when people ask me, are you working on anything now? The answer is “yes.” As a picture book writer I might have several “ideas” on a list and tumbling around in my head at any one time, several manuscripts that haven’t quite made it all the way from beginning to end, and several that are in the revision process. There may be manuscripts that are with publishers or agents. I no longer hold my breath waiting for a reply. In fact, when I send something off, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I hear back. That’s not being cynical but rather understanding the business and accepting that rejection is not always a reflection of your work. Besides, there isn’t time for indignation or self-pity. A writer writes, but they also are students (perfecting their craft), agents (if they don’t have one), booking agents (school visits, bookstore events), marketers (social media, website), researchers (read what you write), administrative assistants (bookkeeping, correspondence), and most have a job to pay the bills!
So to my fellow writers, be proud of the published and unpublished, the finished and unfinished manuscripts. There are stories waiting to be told. You are a writer; grab your toolbox and get busy weaving stories that will draw someone in!
Holly Niner is a speech therapist, book lover, and children’s author. Her books include No More Noisy Nights (Flashlight Press) and The Day I Ran Away (Flashlight Press), which both received a Gold Mom’s Choice award; Mr. Worry: A Story about OCD (Albert Whitman), which received the 2005 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities Award; and I Can’t Stop: A Story about Tourette Syndrome (Albert Whitman), which was the winner of the 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award and a 2005 Bank Street College of Education Best Book. She has had numerous stories published in children’s magazines.
Holly lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana with her husband, in a home with books on bookshelves, on tables, in boxes, even in the bathroom! Her now-grown children were always able to talk her into buying them a book. Find her at hollyniner.com.