Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the Passion That Drives Our Writing

October 2017
"I do not believe you have to have children or be around children or act like a child to write for children. But I do believe that good children's writers share two characteristics with their readers: curiosity and enthusiasm. These qualities are what make books for young people such a joyful challenge to write and read: the ardent desire to learn more about the world, and the passion which that knowledge is received and shared." --Linda Sue Park, 2002 Newbery Award Acceptance speech for her book, A Single Shard.

Curiosity and enthusiasm. Ardent desire to learn. Passion. What wonderful words to define characteristics of a children's writer. I was inspired to look into advice from award-winning author, Linda Sue Park, when I realized I missed a great opportunity to actually hear her speak earlier this year at the SCBWI Northern Ohio Annual Conference. Oh, dear, maybe another time? But I was able to do the next best thing: check in with my friend, Peggy Harkins, herself author of a great fantasy book, The WindSinger (, who did attend.

The theme of the conference, which was held this past September, was "Blazing a Trail: Your Creative Journey." Ms. Park, author of (among other titles) A Single Shard, A Long Walk to Water, and Kite Fighters, was the keynote speaker. She spoke on: "It Had to Be You: The Importance of Writing the Story That Only You Can Write."

Passion, it seems, is a big part of the answer to writing the story that only we can write.

Thoughts that Peggy shared from Ms. Park's message:

"A writer's passion must include a love for the written word, both writing and reading."--Linda Sue Park

"It's a big thing that you be passionate about the details of life. Everyone has some things they are passionate about. Those are the details that should go into our stories...(and) we are responsible to write the best stories we can. The formula? Passion + craft = 'magic.'" --Linda Sue Park

"Write about your passion and come back to your passion when you get stuck." --Linda Sue Park

All of this left me with a desire to discover what additional advice I might glean from such a talented author. A bit of research brought me to the following:

On the Fun in Writing: "What I like most: Reading well-written sources that take me to another world for hours at a time--and being able to call that 'work'! Also, of course, finding a gem of information that is either exactly what I was looking for, or else fits perfectly into the story in some way." --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Making Progress in Writing: "When I'm writing, I try not to think things like, 'Gosh, I have to finish writing this book.' Books are very long and it's easy to get discouraged. Instead I think to myself, 'Wow, I have this great story idea, and today I'm going to write two pages of it. That's all--just two pages.'" --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Vision in Writing: "I want all my books to provoke some kind of response in the reader, to make them think something or feel something or both, and for that to become a part of them and work into their own lives." --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Making Connections in the Writing Process: "Making connections has always been the most important element of story to me. Connections to another time and place and to my own ethnic background in historical fiction; connections to a character within the text; connections to people around us because of a text." --Linda Sue Park (2002 Newbery Award Acceptance Speech)

According to Peggy, Ms. Park mentioned some of her passions in her conference speech. They include baseball, gardening, and Korea. Based on my reading, I would suggest that libraries and librarians are a passion of hers as well. Check this out:

On Libraries and Librarians: "What people truly desire is access to the knowledge and information that ultimately lead to a better life--the collected wisdom of the ages found only in one place: a well-stocked library...To the teachers and librarians and everyone on the frontlines of bringing literature to young people: I know you have days when your work seems humdrum, or unappreciated, or embattled, and I hope on those days you will take a few moments to reflect with pride on the importance of the work you do. For it is indeed of enormous importance--the job of safeguarding and sharing the world's wisdom...The ability to read and access information isn't just a power--it's a superpower. Which means that you aren't just heroes--you're superheroes. I  believe that with all my heart." --Linda Sue Park (GoodReads)

And this passion seems to stem from a special link to her childhood. In Ms. Park's Newbery Award acceptance speech, she also said, in part: "Once upon a time there was a young Korean couple. They had been in America for only a few years, and their English was not very good...The young woman cut out...cartoons (ones that taught the alphabet phonetically, published in the city newspaper) and glued them onto the pages of one of her old college textbooks. In this way she made an alphabet book for her four-year old daughter...That was how my life as a reader began--like so many stories, with a mother. Mine continues with a father who took me to the library. He took me to the library. Every two weeks without fail..."

Wonderful, how varied and unique those things that lay the groundwork for our passions in writing.

Thanks to Peggy, I was inspired to look into not only the wisdom of a great author, but into my own space to see where my writing comes from, the passions that fuel the words I want to write. I've also pulled Ms. Park's book, A Single Shard, from its place on my shelf to re-read it and be inspired by her style and her passion. I may not have been able to attend the SCBWI conference this time, but the inspiring seeds sown there are still bearing fruit!

What about you? What words by Ms. Parks resonate with you? What are some of the passions that drive your writing?


  1. Thanks for sharing all this, Kenda. I can truthfully say that Linda Sue Park's address was one of the best I've heard. She was so funny and articulate. I think everyone enjoyed it. The thing I got from her speech was to keep going. Maybe that's tied up with the idea of passion. A passion for things like baseball or pottery or libraries. But also a passion for writing. I imagine most of us keep at it because we love it. Maybe a passion becomes something we can't NOT do!

    1. Thank you, Peggy, for sharing from your experience so more of us could benefit :-) And I value Ms. Park's advice that you mention about how we should keep going. Yes, the passion isn't just in what we value or enjoy but in the writing experience itself--and that's what helps keep life interesting. Appreciate your support and here's to keeping the words coming! Have a great week...

  2. Thanks for this post, Kenda! It's so inspiring. I'm bookmarking it. I love the idea that when you are stuck you must come back to your passion. I have never read A Single Shard, although I've heard so much about it. Now I must get that book. Also, I wonder if Linda Sue Park has written a book on writing yet. She should.

    1. So glad you found the post helpful, Elizabeth--and I'm taking Ms. Park's advice to heart as well. She is very inspiring. And I agree, the writer's world would benefit from a book on the craft from her! And I do believe you would enjoy A Single Shard, especially since I think you really enjoy different cultures, too :-)

  3. Being a former children's librarian, I appreciated what she said about librarians. I never felt my work was humdrum, unappreciated or embattled, but felt privileged and even giddy to have the responsibility of spending the equivalent of $84,000 each year on new books for children of all ages, besides everything else I did to promote reading and literacy. I felt awful when I had to cull books due to lack of space, but when so many books are coming in, an equivalent number need to go out each year. Thanks to digital books, that problem is being resolved yay!

    1. Cathy, so glad to hear from you, and a former librarian to boot! What fun it must have been, yet daunting, to be the one to choose books to put on the shelves. But at the same time be so instrumental in promoting literacy--what a wonderful profession. Kudos to you for inspiring new generations of readers. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be responsible for having to take books off the shelves. That would be hard for me to do, evidenced by my bookshelves around here :-) Hope all is well over your way...

    2. Cathy - really? $84,000? Wow - that sounds like a lot. Or is it? What does it translate into for number of books? Did you divide it up, so much for picture books, so much for novels, etc.?

  4. This post is packed with info and inspiration! Thanks for ever encouraging us, Kenda. Have a great weekend!

  5. Thank you, Karen :-) We all need a dose of inspiration now and then, don't we? Enjoy your weekend, too!