Sunday, October 26, 2008

One Writer's Process: Sneed B. Collard, III

"There are so many incredible things to write about," says Sneed B. Collard, III, the author of more than fifty books for children. "There are more great ideas that I can ever get to."

A biologist, computer scientist, and author, Collard's curiosity about the natural world has helped him discover rich ideas in the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and Central America, which are only a few of the exotic places where Collard's research has taken him.

"Unlike many other authors," writes Collard, "I like to gather the information for my books by talking to the experts. I especially love to travel into the field with scientists to see first-hand how they work, where they work, and what they are discovering."

Collard first fell in love with the natural world when he was a boy learning about the mysteries of science, nature, and the environment from his parents, who were both biologists, and from his own observations of whales, snakes, turtles, and fish.

Since those early years, Collard has continued to pursue his love of nature through his writing and has won numerous awards, including the Washington Post Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for his body of work.

When Collard isn't writing, he enjoys speaking to students, conducting teacher workshops, and going for walks with his border collie, Mattie, who loves catching Frisbees.

Recently, Collard took a few minutes from his works-in-progress to reflect on his writing process with Wordswimmer.

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

Collard: When I was single and childless and dogless, I would just pour myself a glass of apple juice, turn on the computer, and dive in. I still pour the apple juice, but now check my email during the highly-interrupted period between when I wake up and my son goes off to school. Usually, I play a game of solitaire just to settle down after they all leave, then dive into my hardest work I want to get done for the day.

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

Collard: Actually, I try to have a longer work and a shorter work going on at the same time. The shorter works are nice because you can accomplish more in a reasonable period of time and feel like you’re actually making progress. For the longer works, I just have to make myself think only of the next scene. If I dwelled too deeply on what a LONG journey it was going to be, I might never take the first proverbial step.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Collard: A professional writer cannot afford dry spells if, by that, you mean “writer’s block”. No professional I know ever talks about writer’s block. Financial dry spells are another matter. I’ve been fortunate to make a livable salary the past dozen years or so, but there was a time when I had to work another full-time job, get up early in the morning to write, then head off to work. The transition period between that and full-time writing was also tough. I had to move back in with my mom for a couple of years in my early thirties. Fortunately, she didn’t mind having me around.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Collard: I’d say, being happy with what I’ve accomplished. No matter how many awards I win or how well my books do, it’s my nature not to be satisfied. I have to really just stop my mind sometimes, take a deep breath, and remind myself of what I have accomplished—as well as what is really important in life, i.e. being healthy, having other beings to love, waking up each day in Montana. Then again, it’s that dissatisfaction that also keeps driving me forward. I think Sir Edmund Hillary had something to say about that.

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

Collard: Sometimes I don’t. Every once in a while there is an idea or a concept that just cannot be figured out. In those cases, I have to put my work aside and go on to something else. A writer’s group also helps a lot. I’ve had a number of problems solved by my writer’s group. Otherwise, I just have to have faith in the process. Often I head down an uncharted road and don’t know where I’ll end up. It’s amazing, though, how the answers come to me along the way. I am sure that all writers experience similar inspirations. Now if you want to talk about obstacles and problems with publishers, that would be a whole different essay! For the most part, though, I really enjoy the people I work with in publishing.

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

Collard: That’s tough because I love most aspects of the ‘swim’. Probably my favorite parts, though, are when I’m putting those first words down for a new project, when everything is new and fresh and full of promise and mystery; and the moment I open the envelope to see the first bound copy of the finished book. Those are both pretty sweet.

For more information about Collard, visit his website:

And for an interview with Collard in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, visit:

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