It was Linda Urban’s grandmother who gave the award-winning author her first lesson in perfection.
“Only God can make something perfect,” Urban’s grandmother told her.
Those words were spoken years ago, but they're still etched clearly in Urban’s memory.
“So many of us, when we set out to write, start with an idealized notion of what a poem or a story or a novel should be,” explains Urban, whose first novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was published last year and came as close to perfect as a novel can come.
It received wide acclaim from readers and reviewers early on, and earned numerous awards, including the 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award and the 2007 Michigan Library Association’s Mitten Award, and was a Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2007 and named a Junior Library Guild selection.
In spite of all the awards--or perhaps because of them--Urban’s well-aware of the dangers of reaching for perfection.
“How we aspire to write the Perfect Book! It motivates us. And it scares the crap out of us. Some of us get so scared that we can’t write at all.”
That’s why Urban–who is as witty and engaging as Zoe, the 10-year-old narrator of her novel–continually reminds herself that there’s no such thing as a perfect book.
“Guidebooks have their place,” Urban warns, “but if you're at all like me, thinking about the writing is fatal to writing a first draft of a story.”
The only way that she can write, she explains, is to “shut out all those guidebook suggestions about through-lines and character arcs and theme and let my subconscious do its wild, unpredictable thing. Rules are for revisions.”
Urban has a picture book, Mouse Was Mad, coming out in 2009 with Harcourt. She was kind enough to take time from her work to share a few thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.
Wordswimmer: How do you get into the water each day?
Urban: I get in early – before I can worry about it. I’m usually up at 5, brewing tea and lighting a fire in the woodstove. Recently, I’ve been doing ten minutes of yoga, and then I sit down at the kitchen table and write until the kids wake up at about 6:30. It’s not a lot of time, so I try to make the most of it. A few days a week I also have a morning babysitter for my little guy. On those days it's sometimes harder to get back in the water. Already I've listened to the radio or browsed the blogs, and it’s harder to keep my creative mind from the business side of things. Eventually, though, I get there.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Urban: Perhaps you mean the P&G Tips Tea that I always have at hand? Or maybe you mean more spiritually? If the latter, I can only say that the best days for me are those where I sit in service to the story. Doesn’t that sound pretentious? But it’s true. On the days I keep my ego in check and just let the story work itself, the writing is full and fun and energizing. The remembrance of those days keeps me going on the days when things aren’t so smooth.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Urban: I’m still learning how to do this, but I can say that there are fewer dry spells when I make the commitment to write every day and when I don’t get worked up about reviews and deadlines and expectations.
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Urban: Keeping myself from distraction.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles and problems when swimming alone?
Urban: A walk is nice. Yoga helps. Reading a great book that's different from what I'm trying to write. Watching Mister Rogers can help, too. He’s a true inspiration to me.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Urban: When the story is flowing. Then I’m hardly swimming at all. I’m floating, being carried wherever the current leads. It takes a bit of faith to do it, but it’s really lovely when it happens.
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