We at Gemini Ink are curious about where our favorite authors produce their novels, poetry manuscripts and plays so we thought we’d start a Writer’s Desk Series. This week we spotlight children’s book author Diane Gonzales Bertrand who will be here this Saturday, July 13, leading a Writing Picture Book Manuscripts workshop. Learn more about the class HERE.
I have always stolen time to write. From sitting at the computer during the children’s nap time to taking a writing notebook into a doctor’s waiting room, I write when I can, I must, or when I see or hear something that inspires an image, a story, or a scene in a novel-in-progress. If I get brain freeze over one project, I revise another one. When a chapter feels stale, I go for a walk. I wait to hear the character’s voice inside my head, working through the maze one step at a time.
GEMINI INK: Do you have a favorite writing tool?
DIANE GONZALES BERTRAND: I could not be the writer I am without composition books. I love the feel of an idea sliding down my hand into the pen and moving across the page. In the last week, I have been rereading my notebooks, because I am a bit distracted lately by my mom’s declining health. Rather than try to create something from nothing, I decided to look again at past ideas and build up from there. Revision always puts a good pair of running shoes on my muse!
GEMINI INK: What is integral to your method of writing?
DIANE GONZALES BERTRAND: Incubation. Throughout the writing process, I’ve relied on incubating through an idea, rolling it around in my head, stretching it like silly putty, reforming, listening, rethinking, and sometimes, tossing it out because I thought of a new way to approach the image, the character, or the plot. My best incubation periods involve physical activities like mopping the floor, ironing, or walking around the park. Before Mass, when I am centered in my faith life, I often have an unexpected idea pop into my head too. A quick jot in the small notebook in my purse usually holds it safe until later when I can explore real possibilities.
GEMINI INK: What is your favorite piece of writing advice?
DIANE GONZALES BERTRAND: ”Writing is an act of communication.” Keep a reader in mind when writing and every word, phrase, and paragraph builds a meaningful relationship. How a reader will decode my language choices, especially when I know that a piece will be translated for a bilingual book, forces me to think carefully about what I communicate. I have been known to lose myself in a thesaurus for an hour, searching for the best word to communicate exactly what I want to say. Because I am not fluent in Spanish, I spend time discovering new words in a Spanish-English dictionary. I always remember I write for a reader. I trust the process to lead me where I need to go.
GEMINI INK: Does good writing result from best practices, magic or both?
DIANE GONZALES BERTRAND: It’s crucial to remember the business of writing for children is competitive and influenced by trends no one can predict. Join writers groups, take workshops, and attend a conference every few years to avoid rookie mistakes because of ignorance. At the same time, a writer must write, not just join groups and go to conferences. Writing is hard work, it is frustrating, challenging, and surprising.
I also ask myself, what have I read that is like what I want to write? So I am reading as much as I can in between those writing days. And I still feel frustrated, inspired, or something in between, and then I remember good writing is almost always 100% rewriting. Sometimes there’s a “gift” when the words form the right image, or a character says something on paper I had no idea would be inside my head. Is it magic? No, just a faith in the process. I also have writer friends who read my work and continue to remind me to trust the process.
GEMINI INK: What is your next project?
DIANE GONZALES BERTRAND: I have faith my next picture book project will find me on Saturday, July 13 at Gemini Ink. I found four possibilities inside my old notebooks, and plan for a few to sneak inside the writing exercises and start to develop on the page. I’m reading a pile of picture books this week, searching for models to guide my sentence patterns, characters and story structure. One of my favorite ways to write is to write with students at my university classes or at a day long workshop with other writers. There is an energy in the classroom that fuels my imagination. It’s like a sugar high, but without the calories!