This started out to be about three aspects of writing what we know, but I see that it would be a ridiculously long post. So I’ll divvy it up and start with a fairly recent example. I received a lovely personal response from an editor at one of the publishing houses represented at an NJ SCBWI event. I am very appreciative to receive such a thoughtful and detailed reply, although, of course, I wish it were better news. She complimented me on tackling a difficult subject, but found it a bit melancholy and added that quiet stories were not selling much in the picture book market these days. Happily, she was also very encouraging about my writing and my pursuing it.
This is where writing what we know comes in. What I know – one of the things, anyway – is about animals and their ability to affect us profoundly, both personally and through literature and imagery. This particular picture book story has a wonderful magical element to it and healing on several levels. While I don’t see it as melancholy, it still behooves me to pay attention to the perception and opinion of one who lives and breathes children’s books. But what stops me is the “quiet story” part.
I like quiet stories. I like funny stories, too, but I also like something that touches the heart and soul in some way, something that’s real, that’s a reflection of what children go through in their young lives. I get that kids like funny and action-filled, but what about the other aspects of a child? Are we no longer looking to feed that as well? Are our increasingly fast-paced and digital lives crushing the inner lives of picture-book age kids? (OK, maybe that’s extreme, but then again …)
As writers, we certainly need to be aware of the trends in the industry and what the market is looking for, otherwise we can be twirling about in our own stew of ideas that will never get published. At the same time, we need to consider what “writing what we know,” (the advice we are always given by editors and agents), actually means and where it fits in what’s being published. It’s a challenge to all of us. So I look at the body of work I have to date. Maybe it’s time to let some of my stories go; maybe I haven’t sent them out often enough and/or to the right publisher/agent who will appreciate a particular “quiet story.”
So where does the rubber hit the road? Where do writing what we know and what’s being published intersect?