November 23, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver -- Define Yourself As A Professional

(To see all the articles on writing, click on WRITING ADVICE label to your right.)

On a marvelous, colorful Saturday in October, I had the opportunity to listen to co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, author, TV writer and someone who helped launch the careers of thousands of other writers – Lin Oliver. For the next TEN essays in WRITING ADVICE, I’ll be sharing from her talk – not because I can’t think of anything else to say, but because what she said has left a profound mark on me both as a children’s writer and as a science fiction writer. Her comments cut through genre and across the ages…at least MY ages! She had no Powerpoint, no overheads and no handouts. She spoke from her heart and that’s the part of me that responded. I’m not going to be doing a transcript of her talk just a sharp point and how it applies to me.

While it may seem obvious to some of you, Lin (I’m not sure if I should show proper respect and call her Ms. Oliver or call her has I feel she spoke to me: as a friend. I’m going to opt for friend unless told otherwise!) said that the first thing from her point of view was to define myself as a professional.

It means that rather than thinking that I’m doing a hobby, I AM a writer. I’m not sure I can shade the distinction, but I’ll try to use an analogy from my life as a classroom teacher.

I’ve always believed that teachers are born and not made. You can see it in kids who, when someone says, “How’d you do that?” they get down on their knees and show exactly how they threw that curve ball, made that kite, caught that fish or blocked that soccer ball. Then they position their students and drill until the other kids pick up the new skill. Even at 10 years old, THAT’S being a teacher. A BS or MS is just a formality. In 27 years of experience, I’ve seen teachers whose degree is a lie – they should have said they were a car salesperson and saved everyone the hassle. I’ve also seen car salespeople who are teachers and shudder to think what the world has missed out on.

Lin says that I should define myself as a writer. Not “think” I’m a writer. Not “believe” I’m a writer. I am to place the word “writer” in the dictionary of my mind and after it put a picture of ME.

What a shocking, delightful thought!

1 comment:

William said...

At first I wasn't sure that "define" was stronger than "think." But in today's vocabulary, "think" is often used in a hesitant, stammering sense--"I think I can do this," meaning "I hope" "I wish" "Maybe I can, maybe I can't."
Defining yourself as a writer is bold and uncompromising--though of course, you do actually have to commit to writing (Lin had much to say on that, too.) There is a trap one can fall into, where you surround yourself with writerly talismans (the home office, the big reference shelf, the folder of future yet not-quite-started projects, the cycle of conferences and workshops and classes) in a sort of "cargo cult" expectation that they will somehow attract success. I'm trying to reorganize my own writing folder and reference shelf along more professional lines, and have to keep reminding myself that these things, however useful, are not actual writing.
I'm looking forward to more postings about Lin's talk.