Dear Eva, Thanks for All the Aunts!

One of my favorite children’s book authors, Eva Ibbotson, has passed away at age 85. In reading an interview she gave not long before her death, I found this quote about the publication of her first book (which I hope will encourage all the yet-to-publish): “I must have been nearly 50 before it was published. I was certainly a late starter.”

I’ve spent the week mentoring a group of ten writers as they discover the incredible writing voices they already had within themselves. I’ve watched their eyes widen as those voices spilled freely across the page, sometimes for the first time ever, and I’ve seen a lot of tears shed. Each of these writers has such courage, and together we discovered something about the lives we each have lived. What stories I heard! Like Eva Ibbotson, they are using the stuff of their experience to write with authenticity and verve.

Tips for finding your voice:

  1. Freewrite daily, pen to page, no agenda, loose and flowing and streaming across the page.
  2. Use the five senses to connect back to your childhood.
  3. Write down some of those family stories you share over and over at reunions.
  4. Do word associations that take you back to your childhood. Write down a word such as telephone, television, newspaper, pet, candy, toothbrush, CD player; then brainstorm, list, and/or write about the memories that come up.
  5. List things you did that you hoped your parents would never discover. Write about some of them.
  6. List your childhood scars (physical first, then emotional). Freewrite about them.
  7. List your favorite toys from preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school. Choose a few and freewrite. Begin with “I had almost forgotten about [fill in the blank]” and continue for at least five minutes.

The more you reconnect with the voice of your child self, the more you’ll uncover the authentic voice buried beneath (misguided) assumptions about what writing for children “should” sound like.

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