Qualities I Love in Art Forms and How They’re Reflected in What I Write

I was so honored to be part of the SCBWI/Smithsonian Nonfiction Conference! I was on a panel Saturday about The Personal Journey to Nonfiction. (It started right after Biden’s win was announced, and I was positively shaking with excitement and relief!)

The panel was based on Melissa Stewart’s fabulous new anthology, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep. I just pre-ordered my copy–I’m thrilled to be in it and eager to read it! (In fact, hint hint, if you write nonfiction or you teach young writers, this would be a fabulous holiday gift for yourself–just sayin’!)

In the panel I was on, with amazing nonfiction authors Melissa Stewart, Sarah Albee, Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Paula Yoo, I spoke mostly about how my challenging childhood led me to root for the underdog…for unappreciated things that are really wonderful if you just pay attention. That’s a theme that runs through the heart of many of my nonfiction books.

I also shared how reflecting over the past couple of years on the ways my own experiences and personality affect my nonfiction writing has HELPED my writing process. I’m quicker to find my way in to topics now, because I take into account my own emotional connection to it. In addition, I shared a little exercise I did recently–the results surprised me.

I thought about the qualities I appreciate in art/imagery, in music, and in the books (for grown-ups) I read. Click to open a printable .pdf of this chart.

And here’s my chart, filled out.

This is all hindsight, of course. And it’s not prescriptive. I’m not saying that if I like a certain type of image or music, I can only write a specific kind of thing. I’m just surprised at how many connections it’s easy to draw between the things that appeal to me in other peoples’ works and the things that I feel most happy and most accomplished in writing. I think anything that helps us see ourselves more clearly as writers is a useful tool.

Thank you to Melissa, for inviting me to be part of this panel; to Lin Oliver of SCBWI and Jill Corcoran of the Smithsonian, for creating this conference; to my fellow panelists, who I learned from; and to all the attendees, whose encouraging comments and curiosity were uplifting. And huge shoutouts to the ASL interpreters, the tech people, the moderators, and ALL the behind-the-scenes folks who made this conference work!

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