“I love what I do.”
Walter Dean Myers
To me, there’s nothing more satisfying and inspiring than to hear a writer express a genuine love for writing. Joy and satisfaction in his craft came through loud and clear when I had the pleasure of hearing Walter Dean Myers share his experience and advice at my local library. What a delight!
Walter is the award-winning author of more than 100 books, most of them juvenile fiction, though he has also written for adults. He is also the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a position created to raise national awareness of the enriching influence of lifelong literacy on the lives of young people. He’s written about everything from slavery to World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq.
It’s not often that the chance comes along to learn from someone who has a storied career and decades of success as a writer. And finding out about that mysterious blend of circumstance, talent, and desire that turns a reader into a writer is always exciting. But what I loved most about this author’s spirited talk was the insights he shared about his writing process:
• He’s disciplined and consistent: He gets up early in the morning and writes five pages every day. While this takes a few hours, his mind is actively engaged in his work throughout the day.
• He’s committed to meticulous planning: “For years, the thing I did was to look for inspiration and it didn’t come,” Walter observed. Instead of waiting around for inspiration, he’s learned to invite it through careful preparation. When he comes up with a promising story idea, he creates a 1-page outline and then maps out 30 strong scenes. This scene-by-scene breakdown may take a month to pull together, but it gives him a valuable roadmap he can follow.
• He “discovers” his characters: Once he has a story idea, Walter goes looking for characters. He’ll creates a “portrait gallery”by cutting out photos of potential characters and putting them up on the wall behind his computer so that they’re all looking at him. Then he keeps looking back at them until he begins to learn who they are.
I love the photo idea — what a wonderful tool for a fiction writer. What a great way to begin living and breathing your characters. Write on!