Thinking of Writing
What time is it? I'm probably thinking about writing. When I walk, when I cook, when I shower. When I drive – watch out! I'm constantly thinking of stories, an affliction that began around the time I published my first poem in first grade:
Boats, by Allyson Valentine
It appeared in our school newspaper, and then, my Aunt Dodie wrote it in BIG LETTERS and posted it on an easel in her boating store. BOY was I proud! I kept writing, and published my first book when I was in second grade. It was an autobiographical account of how I spent my summer. I wrote the story, drew the illustrations, and built the book out of construction paper and glue—what a treasure!
Since those auspicious beginnings I have continued to write in one form or another throughout most of my life. I wrote poems that I tucked into my dad's lunchbox each day along with monster sandwiches I'd made just for him. Liverwurst, pickle and onion, anyone? I wrote painfully angsty poetry and short stories in high school, which I was too embarrassed to show to anyone but my writing teacher—and he loved them! I've almost always kept a journal. As a young adult my journals were more diary than story, these days they are more story than diary.
I believe that thinking about my stories is a critical part of my creative process. Instead of beating myself up when a day has gone by without my having touched my laptop, I am proud of myself for the time I spent in my writing brain, even if I was there without paper and pencil.
Thinking of Reading
Oh boy oh boy oh boy do I love to read! I adore a story that makes me forget there is a book in my hands. I cherish a story that takes me someplace imaginary and leaves me wondering whether or not it was real. I am not a fast reader, but I am a thorough reader. These days, I read for the magic of the story, but for something else, too. I read because I want to learn how the authors I admire do it – how do they take me to that magic place? How do they write a setting so real that I feel as if I am there? How do they write characters I am convinced are flesh and blood? How do they make me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time? It is my dream to write books that make people wonder how I do it!
Since I graduated in July, 2009 with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College I have found that I read even more closely, more carefully. In the books by my bedside table I look for clues like hidden treasure that will spark and enhance my own writing. Dinah Stevenson, vice president and publisher of Clarion Books says, "Read, read, read, because it puts you in touch with the way other writers handle their craft." I couldn't agree more.
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