Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to be a Writer -- My Facebook Commercial

If you are a reader, you will know I was reluctant to get a Facebook account. I can tell you that as of today, I am sold.

I read that the author, Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Burned) had created an update that said, "interested by the turn my book just took. I love surprises." I made the comment, "So, I assume from your comment that you don't have a plan before you start? Or is it that you let the plan change as you go?"

You see, I am fascinated by skills that I don't have. I struggle to write, which might seem funny since this blog now has 124 posts. I have a basic idea what I want to say, but I have trouble keeping the train on the tracks, so to speak. I start with a great motivation and then stumble to trying to get the words 'just right.'

The most amazing thing happened after I responded on Facebook, she responded. She wrote, "My MO is fairly inefficient, but it works for me, and for some other authors I've talked to. I build characters first. Know the theme and about where I want the book to end. Then I let my characters talk to me. I do know what I need to accomplish in sections of the book, but how I get there is often a mystery to me. Other authors need to plot and outline ahead. But if I try to force characters into a plot line I conceive up front, I always get into trouble because they tell me "I wouldn't do THAT!""

I sat and stared at the screen and was amazed at how this creative process unfolds. Since my wife is an English teacher, I immediately forwarded this message for her to share with her high school students. Then, it hit me that I have made some really great connections through Facebook. I am currently 'friends' with Susan Patron (who wrote one of my favorite YA books, The Higher Power of Lucky) and have actually received email from Deborah Wiles (author of another favorite book, Aurora County All-Stars). What a great venue for communication.

I think everyone in the world knows that I admire Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, and the illustrator of the Judy Moody books). I have sat and watched him create artwork and marveled at his skill at crafting a story. I have also learned a lot about story writing from him. The day I met Peter which was at the Iowa Technology and Education Connection Conference, I was sitting in a restaurant and heard this great piece of advice... Give your characters a great name, it helps to develop their character. Now, I work part-time for FableVision Education and I feel SO lucky to be a part of such a motivating and creative company.

Ultimately, if I can't be a great writer--I can study great writers and become a little better.

So, I rarely give advice to people over 18, but if you are on Facebook, find people that interest you. Ask questions. Learn from everyone you can. Then, let me know how it goes.


kellywchris said...

That is a great story about why social networking is such a powerful tool. (btw, why won't you accept my friendship? I keep sending you requests but you ignore them. What did I do?)

I don't have any authors in my network but I do have a number of different people to whom I can direct questions. I like the fact that I can do a one-to-one (especially with people who are my friends) and really have some good conversations.

I also have family and friends but my FB account is mostly for my professional development. I'm glad you shared this because it is important that people see that there is a great and positive side to FB that doesn't have to do with some kids mother sending hate mail.

Anonymous said...

TJ, I enjoyed this entry very much! I love it when authors are humble enough to respond to their fans. One of my most exciting emails ever was from Peter Reynolds himself...very cool!!! I also wanted to comment that my grown children's friends have found me on Facebook and that has been a rewarding result of my FB activity that I never anticipated.

TJ Shay said...


We are already friends and have been friends for a long time!!!


Great to hear from you! I agree, there is nothing as happy as a Peter H. Reynolds email!