art is war

Last weekend at the SCBWI conference in Miami, author Bruce Hale stepped onto the stage, decked out in a beige suit and bowler hat. He wore a gold lizard pinned to his lapel and never stopped smiling. At the end of his speech, he burst into song.

Hale's keynote described the "warrior's mind" that all writers share. He has written or illustrated over twenty books, but it took many years of persistence. Hale shared a few letters that he had received from publishers over the years. When he first started sending out his work, the rejections came rolling in. Sometimes he didn't even receive a letter, just a business card. After a while, he began to get closer to his goal. He never gave up. Eventually, he landed his first contract.

"Art is war," he said, leaning close to the podium. "You are at war with yourself." But when you tell a story that matters to you..."It's like the planets align."

During the panel talk on Publishing Secrets, a trio of literary agents (Sarah Davies, Erin Murphy, and Michael Bourret) spoke about measuring success by your happiness level.

"It's too easy to compare yourself to others," said Murphy. When an author struggles with a lack of confidence, it often shows in their manuscript.

Bourret agreed. "Be happy with your work." He encouraged published authors to set realistic goals and continue to grow in their craft.

"A lot can change in this business," said Davies. A particular trend may be hot one year, then fizzle the next. It's important to write the story of your heart. Don't bother chasing market trends. "Things can turn around in ways you never expected."

Robin Wasserman (author of the Skinned series) talked about Finding the Real in Tales of the Unreal.

"The stories that we really love are the ones we believe in." She hates the term "realistic fiction" because "every good book is realistic...even if it's about a werewolf." All writers are "alchemists." They take concrete details (truth), a palette of emotions, (more truth), "make up stuff" and mix it all together.

The conference's theme--finding your voice--is very meaningful to me. My characters look at the world in strange ways. Not everyone is going to understand where they're coming from. And that's okay.

A couple days ago, I chatted online (through the magic of Skype) with the teen book club, School of Thought, at Spartanburg County Library. Their questions reminded me why it's important to stay true to your voice.

When they asked, "What's the hardest part about writing?" I already knew the answer.

Writing is a battle, as Bruce Hale said. Sometimes you have to let go...of paragraphs, whole pages, or even scenes. This is the part where revision gives shape. It teaches you to look at the book in new ways. If you listen, the story will whisper: This is what I want to be.

Listening is the hardest part.