The kind-hearted and patient Sarah Aronson is my guest today. “Kind-hearted” is evident if you’ve spent five minutes with her or with her books; “patient” refers to the fact that I promised to host her months ago and completely spaced out on that promise! Luckily, Sarah is not only gracious but flexible and so I am thrilled she joins us today on the last Friend Friday of 2017! You can check out Sarah’s website here (to subscribe to her newsletter, go to the Writer Section on TIPS, and scroll down) and follow her on Twitter, @sarah_aronson.
The first time I wrote about my “peach sorbet” was at the Highlights Whole Novel Retreat in Sept 2014.
I didn’t mean to do it!
I was working with four amazing novelists on their work. This is the best work I do. I love reading works in progress, then analyzing them, and then talking to the writer about how to take the seeds from their manuscript and nurture them into authentic characters and stories. I admire the writers who work with me. They share their hearts, their dreams, their fears…they are completely honest. In our sessions, I am honest, too. I talk about my evolving process, my evolving interests, and what I have discovered about writing. Through reading. Through writing. Through putting the pen down and looking for inspiration. I told them about a dark novel I was working on—one that had come close a couple of times—and the “peach sorbet” I wrote for myself when my “real writing” was over. This story was silly. Just for me. To cheer me up before the family came home.
Later in the week, as luck would have it, that tough manuscript came close again. And was rejected. As I walked around the farms near the Highlights Foundation, my agent and I made a decision. It was time to shelve the novel. To move on.
That is a hard conversation to have.
And the timing was a little awkward. Here I was—the teacher. The role model. The writer that was supposed to be showing them how to have a career. I felt exposed. Not sure what to do.
So I did what my best teachers did for me—what the heart of the Highlights Foundation is all about. During our last night together, when everyone got up to read, I did, too. I told them what had happened. With the encouragement of the group, I read my peach sorbet!
And you know what?
They liked it! More important, reading it made me happy! I wondered if writing something for myself might not be so silly after all.
That’s the day I began to embrace The Power of Play!
I gave myself a challenge. For six months, I would write all the things I thought I couldn’t write, from picture books, to essays, to adult stuff, and my peach sorbet, a chapter book series about fairy godmothers in training.
For six months, I did not think about selling a book.
I did not worry about product. Or ego. Or what was going on in the Twitter Universe.
I did not compare myself to other writers.
Instead, I drew a lot.
I played with clay.
I made eleven olive bowls at a pottery class!
And I wrote. A LOT.
When I was done, I had a lot of half-baked stories to play with. (About ten terrible picture books!) But I also had some gems I could send to my agent.
The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever (book one of The Wish List Series) was one of them. Another was Just Like Rube Goldberg, a picture book biography. (I have seen sketches and OH MY GOD, it is going to be amazing!!!)
More important, six months of play taught me something about myself and how I write. It gave me confidence. It made me remember why I write. Not to be published. (That we can’t control!) But because I have something to say!
Now I write what I want to write. Currently, I’m working on Book Four of The Wish List Series, as well as two picture books and a secret project that I don’t want to jinx!!!
Play is a permanent part of my process.
Here’s something I do every day.
First, I try NOT to start my day online. The news these days is mostly bleak. Or aggravating. Or infuriating. Since election day, I have found that if I am a “word consumer” first, I will not produce many words of my own.
Then I take out a pen. I doodle. Sometimes that means I draw squares. Or a picture of Isabelle, the main character in The Wish List. If that doesn’t work, I take a walk. I give myself a portal to creativity—a way to walk away from all my other responsibilities and see what the day has to offer!
And then I write! I like the pomodoro method. 25 minutes on, and then a non-online break. That’s because one of the things I’ve discovered—I’m a lot like Isabelle! I’m not a fine print reader. (Like I’m not sure if you wanted a word count!!!) I do best when I force myself to write in short, intense bursts. The best part of this? During those breaks, I always find more to write! My brain swirls. I find that inspiration. My intuition is awake. Best of all, I feel great about what I am doing
Maybe one day, that dark novel will find a home. I hope so. I think I had something to say in it. But if it doesn’t, it is the novel that helped me figure out what else I can do. It helped me find my ability to play. It helped me find my voice.
Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three novels: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe as well as the first two books in The Wish List series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever and Keep Calm and Sparkle On! Sarah is also really excited about her forthcoming picture book biography, Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books). When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation or online at Writers on the Net (www.writers.com ). She is also the cofounder and organizer of the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat at VCFA, now approaching its fifteenth year. She has served as an SCBWI mentor in both Illinois and Michigan. She loves sports. She overuses exclamation points. When she’s excited, she talks with her hands.