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Posted Friday, March 11, 2011, at 10:53 AM

Most writers start out as avid readers. Many of us have a favorite book we remember reading early on, something that touched us and instilled in us a love of stories. It might have been something as simple as the picture book primers in kindergarten or first grade, that first introduced us to the magical world of words. Or perhaps it was something more complicated than that; "Black Beauty," for example, or "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

For me, it was "Little Women," by Louisa May Alcott, the first book I remember reading that, though it had black-and-white sketch-type illustrations, was not a picture book. I cried when Jo broke Laurie's heart, and envied Amy's beauty and spirit. For the first time I realized that fictional characters could seem as real--could feel as genuine--as any of the people in my day-to-day life. It was a revelation, and I devoured books like a starved person suddenly given access to an overflowing buffet. That buffet was the public library, and I'll never forget my disappointment when, after staggering to the checkout desk with an armful of books, I was told I could check out only five at a time. I learned to read faster.

What was your favorite book, or the first one that really touched you, as a child?

Somewhere along the line, as young readers, we start to understand that these books, these miraculous stories, were written by people not that much different than ourselves. That knowledge plants the first tiny, barely-formed idea that we could write stories too! Given writing assignments in school, the writer in us took those assignments, grew wings and soared into a world of infinite possibility.

Then, eventually, it happens that we read a book that's not particularly well-written. We throw it aside in disgust, thinking, "I could do better than that!"

Many writers I know say that's that moment when they first began to entertain the idea of actually writing something for publication. It's a scary idea. But once it takes hold it's an idea not easily discarded. We wonder if we have the talent to succeed.

Talent is just another word for creativity. If you wonder if you have talent, you do. Some admittedly have more than others, but talent isn't everything. The world is full of talented people who do little or nothing with their gifts. It's also full of people who, by working steadily at their craft, have found real success and personal satisfaction because they had the determination to stick with it. That's a talent in itself.

A word about publication: Not everyone who writes is doing so to have their essays, stories or books placed in a national magazine or listed on Amazon.com. In my writing workshops I get a fair number of people who are there because they want to write something for their family. Often it's a retired person who wants to tell their life story, something to leave to their children and grandchildren before the stories are "lost forever." They don't care if anyone else reads it--and in many cases would prefer that no one but the family did--but they feel their early experiences in the war, the Great Depression, even the holocaust, are part of a legacy that shouldn't vanish. And they're right.

Whatever your reason for writing, don't forget to have fun! Getting lost in a good book--which, if done by a skilled author, becomes invisible in the reader's hands--is a joy. Writing is hard work, no doubt about it. But if you keep your eye on the bigger picture, the payoff in the end is worth it.

"I hate writing. But I love having written."

Dorothy Parker.

I'll be presenting Part 2 (of 5) of my "Writing Your Book" series in Sioux Falls, on Thursday, March 31st, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. In Part 2 we'll discuss POV (Point of View), Characters and Dialogue. You can see my schedule at www.JeanTennant.com.

Why do you write?

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For me that book was Old Yeller. No story since has affected me quite like that one did.

My question: Kids don't seem to be reading any more. Sure, Harry Potter, but not the classics, like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc. Will books disappear from the next generation?

-- Posted by ggilmore on Mon, Mar 14, 2011, at 8:52 AM

How do I know what I should write? Seems like one day I want to write children's books, the next I'm looking at nonfiction, maybe a memoir. I also see that thrillers are popular, and wonder if that's what I should be trying to do.

-- Posted by DHarris on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 9:45 PM

Certainly children don't seem to be reading as much as they used to. Why should they? There's so much entertainment at their fingertips, and reading seems like work.

We've become a nation accustomed to instant gratification. It's easier to go to the movies and watch a screen for 2 hours than it is to pick up a book that will take several hours or more to read. (And don't get me wrong here - I love a good movie as much as the next person.)

Same with the computer, and computer games. It seems like every child you see, down to 4-year-olds, have a computer game in their hands. True, they're learning important skills, because computers will be an even bigger part of their daily lives than they are to us now, but they're missing out on the joy of picking up a book and getting lost in a wonderful story.

Parents who read to their children, take them to the library and encourage a love of books at an early age are the key to ensuring that books remain alive in future generations.

I don't think books will ever disappear. But I do see authors struggling to remain relevant, and, sadly, I suspect it's a trend that will continue.

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 9:54 PM

As far as knowing what you should write - that's a decision each author must make for him/herself.

But I advise against looking to the best seller lists to help you decide what you should write. You should be aware of those lists, to keep in touch with what interests people, but if you try to write in a certain genre just because it's popular, you'll be faking it, and that always shows on the page.

What I always advise is that you write the type of story you love to read. If you love thrillers, then great - go for it. But if you don't love reading thrillers, you won't enjoy writing one either.

Do you like romances? Mysteries? Then start reading them with a writer's eye. Pay attention to how they're constructed, the length of the chapters, whether they start with a prologue or jump right into the action in chapter one. Are they written in the first person POV (more about this later) or third person?

Take a look at the books on your shelves. They're an excellent guide as to what you should be writing.

-- Posted by JTennant on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 10:06 PM

As a reader I have discovered authors who are able make a daily task or happening come to life. They are able to reach into the air and bring the sounds and smells into a 'reliving' experience which brings emotions that had been put away for another day.

I'm currently reading, Under The Tuscan Sun, by Francis Mays. When she writes about fresh baked bread I can smell the yeast aroma filling my house.

I'd like to be able to write with that awarness.

Jean, as a result of your BLOG I've sorted my books by topic and made a discovery about my interests. Using this awarness as a starting point..like a stone thrown in a pool, I will work out from the stone and into the ripples of uncertainty.

-- Posted by wordgardener on Wed, Mar 16, 2011, at 11:03 PM

Wordgardener - lovely descriptions!

-- Posted by JTennant on Thu, Mar 17, 2011, at 8:13 AM

Writing for me, is a way to express myself. It's something I need to do. When I started school, I read the Dick and Jane books through ahead of the class. My father took us to the library and I became acquainted with the Heavens To Betsy Books, and Little Women Black Beauty, etc.

When I was 10, I wrote my first story and sent it into a children's magazine. I knew nothing about writing then, but I had the desire to write. My parents were surpised when my story came back. They never dreamed their daughter would try to get a story published. I kept on trying, and since then, I've had the pleasure of seeing my work published.

-- Posted by rjochims on Fri, Mar 18, 2011, at 6:28 PM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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