Allison's Book Bag

Not All Guides Are Equal

Posted on: August 26, 2011

girl, writing

Image via Wikipedia

In grade school this month, teachers are launching their year-long writing programs. Typically, these launches include an explanation of what authors do when they write. To coincide with these lessons, I’ll feature a round-up this weekend of writing guides for young people. During the week itself, I’ll post a tidbit about the authors of those guides.

In reading these writing guides, here’s a truth that has hit me: How-to books are not equal. While I’m selective about the informational books that I read, I often view them in terms of whether I prefer a broad or in-depth coverage, predominance of text or illustrations, or academic or casual style. In other words, I typically judge nonfiction books by personal taste rather than by the book’s quality. When I started reading guides this week with the purpose of reviewing them, I found myself disliking some and loving others.

Find out which ones in my round-up post this weekend. Save the date: August 28!

Guide #1: What ordinary things happen to you that could be turned into stories? Author Vivian Dubrovin poses this question in her book Write Your Own Story. Another way of phrasing this would be: What do you most like to talk about? Dubrovin goes on to encourage readers to take an imaginary treasure hunt to collect “ordinary things” that could be turned into stories. The treasure list includes items from home, school, hobbies, culture, experiences, dreams, feelings, and relationships.

I couldn’t find much info online about Vivian Dubrovin, except that she’s been writing for thirty years. She has also worked as an editor, taught continuing education classes, and directed writer’s conferences. In 1993, she formed Storycraft Publishing to produce storytelling materials for young tellers. On the heels of those, she started a Storytelling Club newsletter and a website–both of which she still edits.

Guide #2: What is your favorite genre to read? In their guide Writing Mysteries, Movies, Monster Stories, and More, authors Nancy Bentley and Donna Guthrie define the concept of genre and overview different types of genres. They also overview the writing life and some potential markets.

Nancy Bentley began writing in diaries and journals from the age of eight, but never seriously thought about publishing my own writing until I was a teacher. As the oldest of four girls, she also spent a lot of time reading to escape her siblings or reading to them for enjoyment. Reading was her way of transporting myself to magical places around the world and meeting fascinating people. As a writer, every experience she had, every person she met, and every activity that she pursued also serves as potential ideas for a book. So today, she reads and writes every day.

Although I found less info online about Donna Guthrie, I did discover that both ladies have been teachers. Guthrie has also twenty-three books to her name. These days besides writing, she also holds story time and writing workshops at schools for students.

Guide #3: In her biography, author Marion Bauertells about starting kindergarten at age four. Younger than most of her classmates, this left her somewhat lacking in social skills. Moreover, her mother sent her to school wearing velvet bonnets and high-topped leather shoes. Eventually, her classmates began to notice how different Bauer was and she became an outsider at school.

In her writing guide What’s Your Story, Bauer explains: “”When I was a child, I knew I would write stories one day…. But I didn’t know how to begin to write my stories down. This book is intended to help the young writers following me to make that beginning.”

After a brief attempt as an adult at writing picture books, Bauer began writing about somewhat older characters and about the time in her life that had been most difficult. Writing such novels allowed her to “return to childhood to fix what went wrong the first time around”. Why do you share stories or information with others?

Gail Carson Levine at the 2007 Texas Book Fest...

Image via Wikipedia

Guide #4: Like many authors, Gail Levine wrote stories and poems throughout childhood and into high school years. Some of those writings were even published in student anthologies. Yet she writes: “The authors of most of my favorite childhood books were dead. I knew a few artists because my dad owned a commercial art studio, and I saw actors in the movies and on stage, but I didn’t think of writing as work that any modern person did.”

As an adult out of college, Levine was constantly reading books. One day, she wondered why she wasn’t making up any books of her own and tried writing an art appreciation book for young people. This led to writing classes and critique groups. For nine years, she wrote and received rejection letters. How do handle criticism or rejection? What keeps your interest in a novel?

Then one day her first book was accepted: Ella Enchanted. I have yet to review it, but have reviewed Two Princesses of Bamarre. On the strength of the latter and her collections of fairy tales, Gail Levine became one of my favorite authors and so it was with anticipation that I read her guide: Writing Magic: Writing Stories that Fly.

Guide #5: Anne Mazer grew up with parents who wanted to be writers so badly that they rose at 4:00 every morning. Consequently, Mazer woke up daily to the sound of typewriter. Unlike most of us, Anne knew about revisions, first and second drafts, and rejection slips, before she even reached the age of seven. Although an avid reader, it took Anne a long time to figure out that she also wanted to be a writer.

“When you squish an author’s life down to three or four sentences, you can’t help but make it sound enviable.
Tidy, picturesque. No bad smells. It’s just not fair.” — Ellen Potter

Ellen Potter remembers the exact moment that she knew that she wanted to be a writer. She was eleven years old and strolling the aisldes of her school library trying to decide what to read next. In her own words, she writes: “I decided that the best books in the world were written for eleven-year-olds! Sadly, my twelfth birthday was just around the corner. So I reasoned that the only thing to do was to grow up and write books for eleven-year-olds.” And this is pretty much what happened.

In the back of their guide Spilling Ink, they interview each other. What questions would you like to ask your authors?

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