Sunday, November 19, 2006

One Writer's Process: Carolyn Crimi

Carolyn Crimi is one of those rare writers who can make readers laugh.

"I have a severe silly streak," Crimi says, "and hate all the wet blankets out there who are set on reforming people like me."

Her picture books--Boris and Bella, Tessa's Tip Tapping Toes, Don't Need Friends, Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies, and The Louds Move In--are off-beat, humorous tales which reviewers have described as "poetic" and "bewitching," filled with "snappy" and "corpse-fresh" prose.

Mostly, she writes about things that make her laugh or about things she loved when she was young. "Sometimes that leads me down strange, twisted paths," Crimi says, "since the things I love, like monsters and Pop Tarts, tend to be a bit odd."

Thank goodness for readers (and writers) that Crimi has followed those twisted pathways.

Crimi, who teaches writing for children in the Chicago area, has just set off on another pathway, creating with her pals, Andrea Beaty and Julia Durango, a new (and silly, of course) blog on picture books--Three Silly Chicks (

Recently, Crimi was kind enough to take time away from blogging and other forms of procrastination to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: If writing is like do you get into the water each day?

Crimi: S-L-O-W-L-Y.

I spend the first part of my day watching Oprah, drinking coffee, and responding to e-mail. I would love to be one of those authors who dives right in and works until noon, but I’m afraid I need to ease into my day. I’ve been known to spend all morning opening and closing the same file without actually working on the story.

By 3:00, I’ve usually settled in. Usually. Sometimes it takes me all day. I have a hard time writing if mundane things are hanging over my head, so the end of the day works best for me.

I also consider e-mailing and journaling a warm-up for my real writing. If I write enough silly, sloppy stuff in the morning, my inner critic throws up her hands in frustration and leaves. That’s when I know I can begin.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat... for short work? For longer work?

Crimi: First drafts are pretty easy for me. I love the promise of a new story. After that, it’s all down hill. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
If I’m working on a novel, I make myself do 400 words a day. It’s a measly number, but if I raise it to 1000 and then don’t meet my goal, I feel like a failure. For picture books, I tell myself I have to sit down at my desk for at least 2 hours.

I take weekends off. Otherwise, I feel like I’m stuck in one big, long Tuesday.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Crimi: Journaling. Taking long walks. Petting my dog, hugging my dog, walking my dog.
It helps to have a dog.

Another sure-fire tactic is to shop for writing accoutrements, like fun pens and fancy journals. There’s something about a shiny new journal that makes me want to write. I tell myself that shopping for writing supplies counts as writing.

It does, you know.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Crimi: Bad reviews suck eggs. They can throw me off for a couple of days. Weeks, even. I spend a lot of valuable time composing nasty rebuttals in my head. Sometimes I even put these thoughts down in the form of a haughty, rude, name-calling letter. I don’t send these letters, though. I think that could put a damper on my career.

I also find it incredibly frustrating when I can’t do the revisions that my editor or agent suggests. I start by getting angry at them, which turns into despair, which then morphs into a strange combination of anger and despair. And yes, I often sit down and write yet another haughty, rude, name-calling letter. It’s great therapy.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Crimi: Well, there’s the haughty, rude, name-calling letter thing. The dog thing. The shopping thing.

Getting together with other writers helps, whether it’s a conference or an impromptu dinner. There’s always someone there who’s having a harder time with her career than I am. Or there’s someone there who has had already dealt with the same thing that I’m going through. I remind myself that the solution is out there, I just have to listen and wait for it.

I think the biggest difference between beginning writers and more experienced writers is patience. The story will get better, the market will turn around, and that poky editor will eventually get back to you. I’ve lived through many ups and downs in this crazy career and I can safely say it’s impossible to control it. All I can do is write the best story I’m capable of.

I can’t believe I’m about to quote Tom Cruise in this public forum, but he recently said that the best way to weather a career in acting is to “keep your head down and do the work.”

You’d be surprised at all the good advice you can find in People magazine.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Crimi: You mean besides the fancy pens and shiny new journals? I guess I’d have to say that I love that buzzy, post-writing high. It’s addictive. Sure, new book contracts and fat royalty checks are fun. But those things don’t come along often. I keep coming back to the page because I love the process.

For more information about Carolyn Crimi, visit her website:

P.S. - Wordswimmer will be taking a break until the 27th. Happy Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

jo'r said...

I love Crimi’s relaxed moods about writing: “If I write enough silly, sloppy stuff in the morning, my inner critic throws up her hands in frustration and leaves. That’s when I know I can begin.” Great stuff. Substitute “overwrought, or preposterous, or maudlin” for “silly,” and it also seems good advice for cleaning out the percolator of a writer attempting a serious tome.

And you have to admire a writer that can toss off lines like: “First drafts are pretty easy for me. I love the promise of a new story. After that, it’s all down hill.” I’ll be smiling all afternoon as I labor on my revisions of a YA novel.

Nice home website, Carolyn.