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Where the learning never ends ...

Wild Ink Interview Part IV: Loving the Story

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.
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