Today I have been struggling to write a joint blog post with Tedrowe. In the spirit of this blog, I have been striving to approach a new perspective and level of depth in writing for adults—a level that Tedrowe seemingly accomplishes easily– but I am finding it very rough going, often bringing me to the point of tears. Why is this so frustrating, even agonizing, for me? I know how to write. And writing is writing, correct? No, and therein lies the problem.
I am a well-published writer who is accomplished in her particular genre. I write nonfiction series books for the school and library market, books that fit into existing sets and so must follow very specific guidelines and parameters. I have written 110 of these children’s nonfiction books, as well as 500 magazine articles for kids. I have also been a children’s magazine editor. I have an impressive output listed on Amazon. I know how to do what I do very well, and I have built relationships with publishers who know that I can deliver what they need and have been wonderful about supplying me with steady work. This is bread-and-butter writing, writing which unlike many other types actually pays fairly steady money, and it also gives me great satisfaction to write books that I hope might spark a child’s interest in a topic or provide them with more about something they already find fascinating.
These books, however, tend not to delve into subjects too deeply, and to avoid anything too overtly controversial if possible, so as not to offend. It is actually a very exacting form of writing. Ironically, it is similar to following a complicated recipe that results in a fairly bland dish.
So why would I delve into other types of writing if what I’m doing is successful for me? As a writer, I realize that I need challenge, I need to stretch and try new things and expand my abilities, to move beyond a more pragmatic type of writing for pay and perhaps into writing that feeds my personal development and my unique voice. In fact, personal development, the desire to reach and experience and attempt and become more than who I presently am, to bring more to the world, is one of the greatest driving forces in my desire for change in my writing.
But here is where things get sticky. Sometimes we have to forfeit our mastery at something in order to gain success at something new, which is the irony–and the pain– here. When one is trained over many years to do one particular thing well, it can be very difficult to move beyond that “mastery” into new waters without sinking. The same old boat that was fine in a tranquil pond isn’t going to keep me afloat on a wild ocean, to continue the metaphor. And it is actually a hardship, to put it mildly, be told that my adult writing still requires training wheels, i.e., Tedrowe’s substantive editorial and developmental guidance and involvement. As he might perhaps phrase it, more bluntly than I, my mastery is in many ways the reason for my failure. That is difficult to swallow. And it is not always easy to move from master back to student.
I do, deep down, believe that the things we work hard for and sweat over and cry over are often our greatest accomplishments. And I know that I have much more to say than can be written within the parameters of a children’s book that by its very genre is controlled and restricted. My personal viewpoint, my voice, has no place in this type of writing, and I cannot freely say what I want to say because of the nature of school and library nonfiction publishing. This is becoming increasingly constrictive and I find part of my writer’s mind struggling to break out and really write, write something that could change a reader (young or old) or at least make them think. But right now, my voice and my message do not fit this new type of writing I am embarking on, which makes me feel terribly raw and at times, even despairing.
But as one of my favorite songs says, “the only way out is through” and my choice is either to withdraw back into the complacency of my current writing mastery and work towards publishing my next hundred books, or continue to experience the moments of great discouragement, the small glimpses of success, and the occasional moments of elation that come from stretching, reaching, striving, and simply living as mindfully and as determinedly as I can to be what I absolutely have to be: a writer.