Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Pay No Attention to That Writer Behind the Curtain!

One of my favorite speakers at the 2013 SCBWI winter conference was Mo Willems. No surprise, he’s also one of my favorite writers, and illustrators. Among the many witty, wise and irreverent pieces of writing advice he shared was this:

“Be Invisible.”

Hard to believe, but apparently, Mo once received a review that spoke of the writer “trying too hard,” and this stuck with him.  Because you see, the best books – just like the best movies, and the best plays – are the ones that make us forget we’re reading a book, or in a cinema, or a theater, or anywhere we happen to be. They’re the ones that so transport us that we lose any sense of time, or separation of worlds, or of actors acting, or the director’s hand, or even of ourselves.  We are simply there, taking the journey right alongside the characters.

But in order to achieve this state of heightened reality, or suspended disbelief, we also need to lose any sense of The Writer.  Nothing can take you out of a moment more than a writerly injection of some sort, something that says, “Aren’t I clever (or stylish, or daring)?” or even just “I’m here!”

Mo’s advice made me think of a line from The Wizard of Oz – the line uttered by The Great and Powerful Oz himself (or rather, Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, if you’ve read any of the Frank L. Baum books, the bumbling humbug from Kansas who is pretending to BE the wizard) ….

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

What does this mean?  Write well. Write so well that your readers forget you are there, that you become invisible to them and only the characters and the setting and the story exist.

How?

By continuously studying and honing your craft. By reading the very best writing, written by the very best writers, constantly. By editing and re-editing, until every last trace of artifice, effort, gratuitousness or injection of “author” is gone… or at the very least, is invisible.

Writers who achieve that really are wizards.

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