Today’s quote comes to us from my friend, fellow VCFA alumna and extraordinary picture book author Sarah Sullivan. I first met Sarah when she was a graduate assistant during one of my residencies at VCFA. After one particularly long day, she invited me to see the F&G of her latest picture book, Passing the Music Down. We talked late into the night and I remember thinking, ‘This is why I love the children’s book writing community. Because of our generosity and kindness and willingness to share.’ Sarah is the embodiment of these fine qualities.
When I asked her what quote shores her up as a writer, this is what she said: “I have several quotes, each one of which has sustained me at different times, depending upon what difficulties presented themselves at a given moment. Lately, I’ve been holding onto Eudora Welty’s well-known quote,
“all serious daring starts from within.”
“I’m not sure when I first saw it. But, the older I get, the more it means to me. If a story is to have weight, it must have emotional resonance and achieving emotional resonance requires taking on a seemingly impossible task. It requires ‘serious daring’ that ‘comes from within.’ The preceding portion of the quote reads, ‘A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.’ I’m not really thinking about living a sheltered life. Rather I’m thinking that the very act of creating characters, setting, dialogue, plot – the whole ball of wax is an act of serious daring and it all starts inside your head and your heart.
“I think that quote speaks to me now because of where I am in the writing process. My fourth picture book came out a few months ago and I just sold a middle grade novel in June, so now, before I receive my editorial letter and dive into revisions on the novel, I’m attempting to push forward on a new manuscript. But, I don’t really know enough about the characters to feel secure about decisions I need to make to move forward. I need to put my literal, analytical mind on hold and let my dream mind and subconscious take over. That’s an uncomfortable feeling because it’s filled with uncertainty.
“Writers have a streak of “control freak” running through their veins because, after all, they are puppet masters in their own stories. When you begin a new project, the desire to impose order comes into conflict with the need to invite uncertainty which you must do if you are ever to discover something fresh. So, simply to begin something new is to seek out discomfort and dissonance. It’s in the resolution of that dissonance that you create story. The whole process sounds like a recipe for mental illness when I describe it this way, but I think writers will know what I mean.
“To tell a new story, to start with a blank page and try to create something fresh is an act of daring, like stepping onto a tightrope. One false step and it all comes crashing down. Unfortunately, false steps are an inevitable part of the creative process. You must be willing to dare — to try something dangerous and uncertain. To fall off the tight wire and tumble, arms flailing, into the net. That’s what writing is. And it all starts from within.”
You see what I mean? Generous. Kind. Willing to share.
That fourth picture book Sarah mentioned above is Passing The Music Down and it has been nominated for a West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award. Also, the middle grade novel was bought by Candlewick and has the working title, Ticket to Edgewater. It has a publication date of 2013. Bravo, Sarah. You deserve each lovely success.
“When you begin a new project, the desire to impose order comes into conflict with the need to invite uncertainty which you must do if you are ever to discover something fresh.” The line between order and uncertainty is difficult to find and I struggle all the time trying to find it. The uncertainty is the reason a story comes to life at all. What a wonderful post, Lindsay!