I love Aimée Bisonette‘s essay below because it taps on something creatives worry about incessantly: am I doing it right? Her insights are as refreshing as an icy cold glass of hibiscus tea on a hot day. And Aimée provides a great reminder that getting our butts OUT of the chair every once in awhile can lead us to look at our work in new ways. Enjoy her observations below then go get a copy of her wonderful new girl-power picture book, Headstrong Hallie! The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female “Fire Guard,” illustrated by David Hohn (Sleeping Bear Press).
Kirby, thank you for inviting me to Friend Friday. You and I haven’t met yet, though I hope we can remedy that soon now that the world is (kind of) back up and running. We do have a mutual friend in Vicki Palmquist, though, and anyone who knows Vicki and what a treasure she is in the world of children’s literature is a friend of mine. So, hello friend!
I love your blog and have read through many of your Friend Friday posts by wonderful authors sharing their writing wisdom. Unlike them, though, I’m not always sure how to respond when someone asks me about my writing process.
I love to write, but I am not a disciplined writer – at least not in a traditional sense. For one thing, I am not good about the infamous “butt in chair” approach. In fact, I honestly feel like most of my “writing” takes place in my head, far away from a chair or desk, while walking out in nature. I revise stories over and over in my mind plodding down my favorite hiking trails or climbing over conglomerate rock along Lake Superior’s south shore. Only after many such forays – with and without my dogs – can I sit down and finally put words on paper and let the true writing begin.
Early in my writing career, I worried that this approach seemed to work better for me, as opposed to journaling or sitting at my desk. But then I had a chance to listen to Louise Erdrich speak – she graciously opened up her Minneapolis bookstore one winter for a series of free discussions and shared so much. As it turns out, Louise does the same thing, particularly when she hits a trouble spot in her writing. I felt better about my “process” after that. If the amazing Louise Erdrich does it, how unorthodox can it be?
When I get outside and move, my writing brain finds a rhythm. I am able to focus. And because so much of my writing is nature based, getting outside fuels my senses. I feel the wind on my face, smell balsam firs, hear birdsong and lapping water. I drink it all in. For me, it’s a reminder that when writing for children it is so important to create a strong sense of place with lush sensory detail. I make mental notes as I hike about how to bring the outside world into my story.
Getting outside and moving was especially helpful while writing HEADSTRONG HALLIE. Hallie Morse Daggett was a woman who loved the outdoors – even more than I do! I wrote early drafts of that book (in my head and on paper) while on a fellowship with the Tofte Lake Center (TLC) (https://toftelake.org/home). TLC is a beautiful artist retreat on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. While there, I like to think I lived a bit the way Hallie did: in a small cabin surrounded by trees and trails where I split my own wood to keep warm at night. I lived simply among deer, beavers, otters, and eagles. I hiked every day. It energized my story.
So maybe the takeaway from this is not that everyone needs to start hiking like I do, but that it’s okay to have a process that is a little less standard. Some of us are plotters. Some of us are “seat of the pantsers.” Some of us write in a fury, as if powered solely by fast twitch muscles. Some of us linger and mellow and let things age. There is room for all of us in the writing world. We just need to figure out what works best for us. Because, in the long run, writers will write – no matter their quirks. Find what works for you and just do it.
Aimée Bissonette splits her time between her home in Minneapolis, MN and her place on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She writes fiction and nonfiction for kids and many of her picture books are inspired by her love of nature. She is thankful for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who encourages young readers. You can learn more about Aimée and her books at www.aimeebissonette.com.