newbery honor author 

new york times bestseller

Gennifer Choldenko
Gennifer Choldenko
Write the books you wish you could have read when you were a kid.
More about writing

Stuff That Helps

1. Write about what you want desperately to understand.

I wrote what I knew and no one want­ed to buy it, which is quite a lucky thing because it wasn’t very good. Turns out what I know is what every­body else knows too. When I write about what I don’t know, what I don’t under­stand, and what I wish with the deep­est part of myself could be … my writ­ing gets better.

2. Look for the “second right answer.”

“Often it’s the sec­ond, or third, or tenth right answer which is what we need to solve a prob­lem in an inno­v­a­tive way.” (Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head)

I came up with 260 title ideas for Notes From a Liar and Her Dog. How nice it would have been if I only had to come up with one. Alas I’m not that tal­ent­ed. I have to fill in the gaps with work.

3. Write no matter how you feel.

I write best at my desk in the morn­ing with two caf­feine lattes and three oat­meal cook­ies with­in an inch of my hand. I’m stale in the after­noon and no amount of caf­feine or cook­ies can help, but I write then too. Just in case.

4. Know when to take criticism. Know when to leave criticism.

To me this is the hard­est thing. When peo­ple act like they know what they’re talk­ing about and come at my work with a loud voice and all the force of their cre­den­tials, I crawl in a hole in my head and I don’t come out. When they go away, I try to sort out what about the crit I agree with and what I don’t. This is the tricky part. But my rule of thumb is this: if I’m not sure about a par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cal com­ment, I don’t make the change. I fig­ure if the com­ment is valid, I’ll hear it again in a way that will make more sense to me. On the oth­er hand, if a crit­i­cal sug­ges­tion “rings true” I take it seri­ous­ly. I don’t allow myself to gloss over the issue or make token changes. I stop every­thing and do the best job I can to cor­rect the problem.

5. Let your head be a mess.

I like to get every­thing to work out. That is one of my great­est plea­sures in life. But if I try to get things to come togeth­er too ear­ly in the writ­ing process, it’s like putting a pan in the oven with noth­ing in it. All I get for my efforts is a scorched dish. It’s the chaos that gives rich­ness to the order when it final­ly comes. I remind myself, “slow down — let the mess be all around you.”

6. Finish everything (okay, almost everything).

I write as many drafts as I need to to feel I’ve done the very best job I can with a par­tic­u­lar man­u­script, then I move on. I do not — so far at least — have any half-done nov­els. Pic­ture books seem to be dif­fer­ent for me. I can’t sink into them the same way. I do bet­ter work­ing on pic­ture books in lit­tle bits here and there. I have lots of half-fin­ished pic­ture books.

7. Go after the idea that you can’t convince yourself out of.

My head spe­cial­izes in telling me I have stu­pid ideas. It stays up until all hours of the night plan­ning strate­gies for my demise. My only hope is to go after ideas I want to do so bad­ly that I don’t care what my head has to say about them.