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Wild Ink Interview Part IV: Loving the Story

February 27, 2013

Tags: Nonfiction, getting started, exclamation points, Wild Ink

The last installment of my interview with Victoria Hanley for her book Wild Ink ...

• What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer?

Love the story, whatever it may be. Find that aspect that speaks to your own passionate curiosity or observe the passion in others and lead with that. For example, I’m a big sports fan but had never gotten into motor sports. But when I was asked to write a series on racecars, I delved into the mindsets of the fans as well as the driving teams. By the time I started writing, I understood and resonated with their affection and devotion to what is a very demanding sport.

If you’re going through the motions when writing something, then chances are your readers will find it boring, too. And I’m not talking about adding exclamation points in the text. (BTW—Don’t add exclamation points to try to manipulate readers into amazement! It doesn’t work! It smacks of desperation!) Use story-writing skills to create characters, build suspense, and instill humor and surprise. In the end, good writing is good writing whatever the genre.

• What is most rewarding to you about writing?

I get a kick when I do school visits and the kids go “Ewwww!” when I tell them what a goat’s eyeball tastes like. (Greasy and gristly, if you must know.) There are also the moments when I know the topic, have found its heart, and the writing flows with little conscious effort. It’s very Zen.

• What’s your best advice for people who want to write nonfiction for teens?

Read the best stuff and practice the craft. Become active in a critique group that will offer constructive and honest direction. If you write consistently and court constructive criticism, you can’t help but improve. Join SCBWI and learn how the industry works.

As far as writing for a young audience, I try to access the child and teen that still lives inside me. Spending time with young people is valuable and insightful for getting a sense of who they are and where they’re coming from. When I’m at my best, though, the material is being filtered and channeled through my own voice, not being forced into rhetoric that I think young readers want to, or “should,” hear.

After I’d been at Scholastic for a while in the early 1990s, I realized that becoming a writer had much more to do with skill development than knowledge acquisition. I gradually improved because everyday I had to write and write and write, and revise, revise, revise. It was an intensive apprenticeship, and I was fortunate enough to work among some very talented people who insisted on my best work and inspired me to produce it.

Cool Quotes


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have dome them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

-Theodore Roosevelt

"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate."
-John Ruskin

It’s a myth that writers write what they know. We write what it is that we need to know.
-Marcie Hersman

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
- Paul Ehrlich

Nothing softeneth the Arrogance of our Nature like a
Mixture of some Frailties.
It is by them that we are best told,
that we must not strike too hard
upon others
because we ourselves do
so often deserve blows.
They pull our Rage by the sleeve
and whisper
Gentleness to us in our censures.

-Halifax

Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty
and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
-Rumi

“We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.”
-Didactylos in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

"You can do it."

-Sherman Alexie, from
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

"It is blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again." -Martha Beck

"Live in the active voice rather than the passive. Think more about what you make happen than what is happening."
-William De Witt Hyde

"The soul of a child demands these mighty passions, opposition and adversity."
-Isak Dinesen

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
-Mary Anne Radmacher

"That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time."
-John Stuart Mill

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."
-Wade Davis

"It is so easy to be cynical. It's an accurate reflection of reality. It's much harder; it takes a philosophical point of view, to be optimistic. You have to work at it every day. One of the joys of working with children is that they are still unspoiled by cynicism."
-Yo-Yo Ma

"Story means pleasure, as distinct from art; it would rather gratify than edify.
But stories also protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the twentieth century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories—that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle, and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narratives—in many fields of knowledge—because it is impossible to live without them."
-Bill Buford, 1996

"Adulthood is the consequence of decisions made by a teenager."
-Stew

"Kids are not stupid. They're just short." —Jack Prelutsky