Liz Garton Scanlon

How did you become a writer?

There was my exhaustive autobiography in 4th grade. My diary-with-a-lock when I was 11. My whirlwind romance with college radio reportage. There was the angst-ridden poetry of my 20s and the corporate copywriting once I had a mortgage. But honestly, it was having children of my own that made me into a children's writer. It was the re-immersion into children's literature, through their eyes, that reminded me how much space there was in that world for curiosity and wonder, surprise and sweetness, creative risk, exploration and surprise. Some people say they write in spite of their kids but I absolutely write in gratitude to mine. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Virginia Wolff for gorgeous, gushing, flowing prose. Emily Dickinson and Uri Shulevitz for potent brevity. Lucille Clifton for honesty. Franciso X. Stork for respecting young readers. Cynthia Rylant for respecting VERY young readers. Mary Ann Hoberman for rhyme and Audrey Vernick for humor. I've learned so much, in person, from Ronald Wallace, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kathi Appelt, Patti Lee Gauch and all my colleagues at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, as well as in the pages of books by Cheryl Klein (The Magic Words), David Bayles and Ted Orland (Art & Fear) and Mary Oliver (A Poetry Handbook). I plan to never stop reading, listening, learning and growing.

When and where do you write?

Big work happens about 4 days a week, either at my standing desk, at my dining room table, or on the lake deck at my favorite coffee shop. But more subtle, generative, curious work happens everywhere and all the time -- while running or waiting, while cooking or facing a sleepless night, via scribbles in my journal, notes on my phone, and babbled thoughts to my husband or kids or anyone who will listen. 

What are you working on now?

I've got two middle-grade novels in revision, and a picture book manuscript just begun. And there's always a poem or two on the side. I like to have more than one project going because then, if I get stuck, I can try something else for awhile.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Yes, most mornings! OK, that's a little bit of an exaggeration but the truth is that I often open my laptop with fear. Or at least trepidation. And it's usually not till I've been at work for 30 or 60 minutes that I find my feet underneath me and start to recognize that I'm walking some sort of path. The key, for me, is just to start. To risk writing something, even if it's terrible. To try.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I love this quote by E.B. White: "You ask, 'Who cares?' Everybody cares. You say, 'It's been written before.' Everything has been written before." To me, this removes the pressure to be somehow, miraculously, original, but it also opens up the possibility that our work might be someday received and even welcomed. It's both practical and hopeful. It helps.

What’s your advice to new writers?

I think it's important to remove some high-horsed mystique from the whole thing, to remember that regular folks write! Young folks and parents, teachers and gardeners, folks with no money and folks with plenty, morning folks and insomniacs. All around regular folks write, by using their own voices to express their deep love and worries for the world. You can be one of them. You can be one of us. There is always room for your story.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many picture books, including the Caldecott Honor book All the World, One Dark BirdKate, Who Tamed the Wind, and Bob, Not Bob, which was co-authored by her pal Audrey Vernick. She also wrote the middle grade novel The Great Good Summer and has another forthcoming. She serves on the faculty of the Vermont Faculty of Fine Arts, is a frequent and popular presenter at conferences and festivals, and lives most of the year with her family in Austin, Texas.