It’s summer! Let’s break some rules!

Tip of the Day

June 5, 2017

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
-Oscar Wilde

Dear Writers,

Thank you to everyone for helping me celebrate the release of The Wish List #1: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! This book is the story of a fairy godmother who doesn’t learn the way others do. Like me, the rules don’t always work for her. She is going to need to break them to become an official fairy godmother. I love writing this series, because it has allowed me to smash some rules that used to hold me back.

Breaking rules is a favorite topic of mine–especially in terms of writing and reading. In reading, I am that rule breaker who must often read the ending first. I like books that make me laugh. And cry. I LOVE intrusive narrators. And I don’t care how fat or thin they are–if the characters are interesting, I’m IN!

I can’t stand when people rely too much on rules, because most of the time, all that rules do is limit readership. Don’t believe me–listen to Shannon Hale. Books aren’t just for girls or just for boys. Boys can read pink. Girls can read blue. Tough topics are not just for teens. Thin books are not just for reluctant readers.

I love tweets like Aliza Werner’s:

Graphic novels = REAL reading.
Audiobooks = REAL reading.
Wordless PBs = REAL reading.

Grown-ups…get out of the way and let kids read.
Every day, I read about young people who are doing great things after reading books that inspired them. Or who laughed out loud. Or who picked up a book that “wasn’t for them.” This week, I also read a lot of posts by teachers thinking about how to best organize their libraries–so that readers can find books they want to read. Not “have to.” Not by level. By taste. And interest. And curiosity. Thank you!!!! You are fairy godmothers (and fathers) for making all books accessible. By breaking old rules about reading, you are allowing new and old readers expand their tastes and discover what they want to read next!

I remember when one of my first great teachers, Dan Sigley, handed me The Pearl by John Steinbeck. How did he know I would love that book? How did he know that I needed that book? How did he know that a slim book with a bleak ending would rev up my imagination? (I was a girl who liked theater. I giggled too much in class–like Isabelle–not a great student.) A few years ago, when I asked him, he didn’t remember. He said, “I handed a lot of kids a lot of books they weren’t supposed to like.” When I look at my reading life, I don’t think it’s unusual that after The Pearl, I found all kinds of books of all levels and genres. Once I got reading, it didn’t matter. That year, I also read Blubber, Jane Emily, Harriet the Spy, and Ms. Magazine. I was addicted to the funny pages. I also LOVED looking for Al Hirschfeld’s Ninas in the New York Times.

So writers, I think this is where we come in! Are we breaking the rules? Or are we playing it too safe? Are we putting our books into categories too soon? What can we do with words to make our stories sing more authentically? To make them reach out to new readers? How can we use language and form to excite them, to perhaps reach that one reader who has not found his or her book quite yet?

This summer, let’s take a challenge. Let’s break some rules.

Today, pin down the the writing rule that holds you back. (It’s probably what you like LEAST about writing.) See what happens if you smash it to smithereens! If you feel like, write to me. Tell me what rule you intend to obliterate! Is there a book you love that already smashed it?

It’s not as risky as it sounds. Just hold on to the heart of your book–your main character’s inner struggle. Write down: What do your characters yearn for? Why does it matter to you? What part of YOUR HEART does your book reveal? What part of your heart do you want to share?

Then go write some pages!

xo s

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