Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spilling Ink

When two outstanding writers put their heads together and come up with a young writers handbook, it pays to listen to what they have to say whether you’re a young writer seeking advice on a story or an older writer (who has left your teen years far behind) in need of a brush-up course to remind you why you started writing in the first place.

The two writers are Anne Mazer (author of over forty books for young readers, including the award-winning The Salamander Room, the Sister Magic series, and the best-selling The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes series), and Ellen Potter (the author of the award-winning middle-grade Olivia Kidney series, as well as the middle-grade novels Pish Posh and Slob), and their new book, Spilling Ink, is the kind of book that I wish I’d had as a guide to help with questions about writing that I struggled with as a teen writer just beginning to figure out how to put words on paper in the hope that the words might one day form stories.

Not only are Mazer and Potter the kind of guides who can provide an insider’s view to the craft of writing, they have the remarkable ability to sound like your best friend... so the advice doesn’t feel as if it’s being handed down to you from the writing gods on Mt Olympus or force-fed down your throat by a well-meaning adult or heavy-handed teacher. The tone is chatty, convivial, engaging and energizing, and their enthusiasm for writing (and for each other) is so contagious that readers will come away from the book inspired to pursue their own writing with a greater sense of confidence that they can succeed... because Mazer and Potter believe success in writing is possible.

“We wanted the book to appeal to all kids,” writes Potter, “even the ones who would run screaming at the mere mention of a book about writing. The title Spilling Ink sounded fun and slightly rebellious. You could tell it was a writing book because of the ink, but it didn’t sound like a boring textbook on writing.”

And, indeed, Spilling Ink is every bit as much fun (and slightly rebellious) as the authors intended, a guide to writing as far from a boring textbook as you can get... as you can see from the examples excerpted below:

From the intro: “When you sit down to write a story, you are embarking on a wild ocean voyage. You don’t know where you are going or what sort of storms you might sail into along the way. You might get shipwrecked by writer’s block and have to spend a few weeks lying in the dry hot sand, looking up at the sky, telling yourself you were crazy to take this uncharted voyage in the first place. But don’t worry. Another ship is sure to sail into view, and it will whisk you right back out into those tumbling, unpredictable waters of your brilliant imagination!”

On revision: “Revision can be a magic wand that transforms your work. Saying no to your own words takes courage. In order to do it, you have to separate yourself from your writing. You are not what you write. What you write isn’t you. It’s part of you, but not all of you. You and your writing are always in the process of changing.”

On writing tics: “Thank goodness, I’ve stopped using suddenly–except when I really need it. Suddenly is like a strong spice; you only want to sprinkle a little of it into your story.
But lately I’ve noticed a tendency to use just in just about every other sentence. No matter how many times I delete the word, I just keep using it over and over. I just don’t know why just just crops up over and over in my writing. I just have to stop relying on it.”

On the creative process: “There is a lot of time wasting in writing. Make up your mind that this is the way it is and don’t let it bother you. Writing doesn’t always have a clear ending or beginning. There isn’t any one way to do it. And you usually have to throw a lot of it out.”

On audience: “When you write a story, you set an imaginary stage and people it with characters. Then the play begins to unfold. You’re the writer, the actor, the producer, and the director. But who is the audience? Who are you writing for?”

In addition to interviews with the authors about writing (Anne interviews Ellen, and Ellen interviews Anne), there are chapters that will help writers of all ages with first drafts, inspiration, crafting characters and plots, selecting titles, developing suspense, writing dialogue, struggling with revision, keeping a journal, and much more.

You can tell after reading the first page how much these authors love stories. It’s their love of stories–and their hope that their book will help other writers bring more stories into the world–that makes Spilling Ink the kind of book that every writer will want to keep close by, not just for the helpful advice it offers but for the encouraging sound of Anne and Ellen’s voices urging us to keep trying, reminding us that we can succeed... if we keep writing.

For more information about Spilling Ink, visit:

To learn more about Anne Mazer, visit Anne’s site:

And to learn more about Ellen Potter, visit Ellen’s site:

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