Author's note: Behind the scenes with Kelly Winters
Kelly Winters is the author of "Jacob and the Bee Man," "Jacob's Trouble," and "Darius Quinton Coleman, Boy Genius." In this author's note, she has given us her thoughts on writing, remaining inspired, and keeping bees!
Why do you write? What inspired you to begin writing?
I've always written, ever since I can remember. Even before I learned the alphabet, I would get little notebooks and pencils and pretend that I was writing. When I was about nine years old, I read the book Harriet the Spy about a girl who carries a notebook around and observes people and writes down all the things she sees them doing and saying. I immediately thought, "Yes!" and started doing that too, and never stopped. I still have the first notebooks from when I was a kid. They're hilarious--filled with comments about my brother and our neighbors.
What have you written?
I spent many years doing "bread and butter" writing--I wrote thousands of encyclopedia articles for an educational publisher. I wrote a book called Walking Home: A Woman's Pilgrimage on the Appalachian Trail, about a 2100-mile backpacking trek that changed my life. It was published in 2001 and is out of print, but you can find it from used-book sources. I've also just recently finished a full-length middle-grade book that's based on the Story Shares stories "Jacob and the Bee Man" and "Jacob's Trouble." I'm currently looking for an agent to represent me and hope that this book will be published.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished a full-length book based on the characters in the story "Jacob and the Bee Man." I have two more books for middle-grade readers that I'm working on now.
Do any of your works resonate more strongly with you than others?
They all connect to a deep place inside me. If they didn't resonate strongly with me, I wouldn't write them, so I guess they all give me that same feeling of connection.
Are there authors that you turn to for inspiration and mentoring?
I find inspiration in unusual places. Poems from Mary Oliver and Theodore Roethke are like music that often plays inside me. I'm still inspired by many books that I read when I was a kid, and I love to read current middle-grade and young-adult books, as well as books for adults.
What is your preferred writing environment?
I'm a beekeeper and I love to write outside, on a sunny day, next to my beehive. There's something about all those bees coming and going, so busy and focused, that makes me feel happy and focused too. When it's cold or rainy, then I'm on the couch with a giant mug of tea.
Do you have a standard routine when it comes to approaching writing?
I just sit down and start. If I don't have any ideas I write anyway, whatever comes to mind, sometimes stuff that makes no sense at all. Whatever words or images are in my head. It is amazing, because if you do that, pretty soon the good stuff will bubble up and surprise you.
What tips do you have for overcoming and dealing with writer’s block?
Write so fast that you can't even think. Write anything--lists, random words, any thoughts that are in your head. And don't go too long without writing. Writing is like a river that wants to move. If you don't let the words and ideas come, they'll get stagnant and then you'll have to work hard to clear a channel for them to bubble up again. Also, recognize that there are times when you won't be able to write, and that's OK. Usually these times are when you're going through something difficult in life, like grief. When that happens, it's OK to write about what's bothering you instead of trying to write stories.
What do you feel are the hardest and easiest elements of writing?
The hardest is getting published. It takes a lot of patience, endurance, and humility. The easiest is when a piece of writing is going well, and the characters are doing their thing, and I'm kind of watching them, like a movie, wondering what they're going to do next. They often surprise me.
Do you prefer to work from an outline, or plot as you go? Why?
I usually have a rough idea of where things are going, but I leave plenty of room for the characters to surprise me.
Do you gravitate towards a particular genre when it comes to reading and writing? Are they the same? If you write in more than one genre, how do you balance them?
I still read middle-grade and young-adult fiction. But I also read books for adults, as well as nonfiction. Basically I just love to read. If you leave any book anywhere near me, I'll read it. The only thing I really won't read is books that are filled with violence.
What element most characterizes your writing?
People have told me that what they notice about it is that I use simple language and clear images to convey deep thoughts and emotions. I try to be very clear and visual. I write simply because I want people to think about the story, not about the author.
What kind of books do you want to write?
I hope to write the kind of books that kids will hold in their hearts and remember years later, when they're adults. They might not remember the title or my name, but they'll always remember the story. Then someday when they're adults, they'll go around asking their friends if they remember that book, or looking on the internet, because they've never forgotten it and they want to read it one more time.