Dancing with Words

When I was in school, I wrote all the time—short stories, essays, poetry, songs, greeting cards. I had a few poems published and once I won a prize. I was on fire with the love of writing. Over the years sometimes that fire has gone out. It’s usually when I’m too busy or too stressed to remember that I love what I do. Deadline pressure can kill the flame, too. Wanting more to happen than is realistic always drops me in a sinkhole.

How does a writer hold on to what’s important?

To be a writer of any age, you have to love words. So play with them, toss them around, jiggle them, and see what they can do. Be a crazy kind of reader, too, the kind who gets so excited about a certain sentence that you just have to read it out loud to someone. Think about stories—why they work and why they might not. Take risks with your writing. Know your characters until they seem real—actually they have to be real (almost) because there’s a point in the process where they will begin talking to you a little, so learn to listen and talk back, too.

Develop your style and your voice. An artist paints with a brush, you paint with words.

Don’t be discouraged by criticism. Editing is key to the writing process. Listen to it. Be challenged by it. Revision is your friend. Keep practicing—it’s like playing scales on the piano, like batting balls over the net in tennis, like rehearsing lines for a play—the better you get at writing, the more fun it is.

And what can ruin it?

It’s when we lose the joy of dancing with words.

Hold tight to that joy.

Keep dancing.

—Adapted from JOAN BAUER by Alleen Pace Nilsen, TEEN READS: Student Companions to Young Adult Literature, Greenwood Press

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