Sunday, August 4, 2019

Guest Post: Author Ellen Schwartz

This summer I had an opportunity to meet and share my writing with Ellen Schwartz. She helped me to greatly improve my writing. I'm so pleased to be able to introduce Ellen to you...

How/why did you start to write?

I was a special education teacher and then I taught primary grades. My husband and I were living in the Kootenays, and we became passionate about environmental protection and energy conservation. I thought that kids would rather learn about those issues through a story than through a lesson, so I wrote an educational story about energy conservation and renewable energy, called Adventure in Entropia. I sold it to the provincial government, and it was distributed throughout BC. I wrote another educational story, which I sold to the National Film Board. I was hooked and decided to try to write a "regular" story.

How did you become an author?

My first book was based on a true story that involved a friend of mine and her bike, which she called Dusty. I sent it out and it was rejected six times. The seventh publisher, Solstice Books, accepted it. I can still remember holding the first published copy of Dusty, turning the pages and going, "I wrote this!"

Reflect on your writing process

Most story ideas come to me through a character. I see someone interesting on the street or a character pops into my imagination, and I think. Who is this? What is his or her background? What problem is he or she facing? I may live with the character for a long time before a story idea emerges. I make notes about the characters, the problem, the setting. I don't outline, but I do brainstorm possible scenes, which I may or may not use. Once the opening scene is pretty clear in my mind, and I can hear my characters talking, I start writing. I generally write the story chronologically.

I write longhand. When I type the story on the computer, I revise, and that becomes draft two. I do three or four substantive drafts--meaning that I dig deep into the story, adding characters, taking out characters, moving scenes, etc.--and probably 20 "polishing" drafts before I send the manuscript out.

What did you do before writing full-time? Does it feed your writing, how?

After teaching school for four years, I danced professionally for a year and had two children. My husband and I started a communications consulting company, Polestar Communications, and that is how I have earned my living for the last 35 years. We write and edit reports, articles, speeches, educational curriculum, etc. Working as a corporate writer has taken time away from my "real" writing, but on the other hand it has been good training to be a working writer. I write every day, edit other people's work, do interviews, and deal with deadlines. All in all, I think it has served my writing. But I'm happy to be pretty much retired now and able to devote more time to writing my books.

What inspires you to write?

I feel compelled to write. I think it is my love of stories. I have always loved to read, and I get nourishment from books. Story ideas pop into my head and I want to share them. Although I have published 18 books, I feel that each book is a challenge and a learning experience. I try to do a better job each time.

Do you belong to any writing organizations/associations? What do you do for it/them and what does it/they do for you? Would you encourage new authors to join? Why?

I am a member of CWILL-BC (Children's Writers and Illustrators of BC), CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers), Children's Literature Roundtable, The Writers Union of Canada, and the Canadian Children's Book Centre. For CWILL, I organize an annual panel of children's authors and illustrators that gives members of the public a chance to ask questions about getting started in the career. I would definitely encourage new authors to join. The children's book community in Canada is small in number but very collegial and supportive, and it's great to have communities of fellow writers across the country.

Advice for those seeking to write full-time and for new authors...

Two words. Read. Write. Read everything--picture books, chapter books, YA fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels. Write. Keep at it. Don't get discouraged. It's hard to break in, but publishers are always looking for new voices. Also, find a writer's group that will offer honest, constructive criticism.