The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The ABC's of Writing---Jane Yolen Style

photo by kris247

If your butt's on the fence as a writer,
that means it's not sitting in a chair, writing,
like it should be!
           Jane Yolen, one of my favorite author of children's books (Owl Moon, The House of Sand, The Sea of Grass, The Devil's Arithmetic among countless others) has a marvelous book about writing called Take Joy.  It's been one of my favorites for years.

photo of Jane Yolen by fgherman

       As a finale, she offers a chapter called "The Alphabetics of Story."  I was skimming this morning, and the "G" just jumped out and grappled with me and threw me down. Here is one of the "G" gems Yolen has about writing:

G is for Grab Bag.

       Most of us have minds that are grab bags. Or compost heaps. Or in somce cases, sewer lines. But a good story focuses all that messiness into bit-sized portions.
        Awful metaphor?
        But we haven't reached M yet.
        Where do stories come from? I answered that once earlier in this book, but here is another way of looking at it. Stories are around us everywhere, like fireflies, and the writer must be ready to grab them as they fly by. Use a net with a very small weave. Ideas are small---what we do with ideas is the large part of the equation.
         However often I capture an idea, its look, its size, its wingspread is always a surprise.
         As writers we must be ready for those surprises.
         The way to do that is to organize your luck. In other words: be prepared for whatever happy accidents may occur along the route of story. It means clipping articles that interest you, even when you have not a clue what to do with them. It means buying odd books on the off chance that you may some day have need of them. It means being open to a universe of possibilities long before a story has arrived.  As Louis Pasteur noted: "Chance favors the mind that is prepared."

photo by vylettefairwell

            What happy "accidents" have impacted you as a writer?  What fireflies have you snared in your net? Please share, so we can all bask in the flickering light...


  1. I have revealed all re: your meme.


  2. I must confess that most of my writing is a happy accident. My pieces begin as a little seed and often grow in directions I didn't imagine when I first started writing them. Ms. Yolen is correct - there are stories everywhere. As writers, we need to be, wait, and let the details stick.

  3. Sioux,

    It was great meeting you tonight. I looked for you afterward to say goodbye, but you were apparently already gone. I can't find your email, but please feel free to email me at I used to belong to SLWG and Saturday Writers awhile back but got away from writing groups lately--just kind of working my way back very slowly. Hope to see you again at an upcoming SLWG event.

  4. Hi Sioux,
    Wish I'd had more time to spend with you last night. Thanks for coming!


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