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Top Ten Pieces of Writing Advice From David Robertson

David Robertson writes everything! I recently read an opinion piece he’d written for the CBC. Several weeks ago I attended a workshop where he explained how he writes his graphic novels.  David is the author of a biography of Helen Betty Osborne and in 2017 his children’s picture book When We Were Alone won a Governor General’s Literary Award.  The latest novel in his young adult trilogy The Reckoners just hit bookstands and in 2014 he released an adult novel called The Evolution of AliceListening to writer David Robertson talk about the projects he’s completed and the current projects he has in the works at the recent CANSCAIP Saskatchewan Horizons conference was a little overwhelming. How does he do it all?  And don’t forget he has five children. Then there are all the speaking engagements and school visits and ……… he still has a full-time job besides all of that.  And did I mention I recently started following Dave on social media where he has a prolific presence? 

Dave was part of the Vision and Voice panel at the CANSCAIP conference along with Arthur Slade and Miriam Korner

At the conference, we heard Dave speak three times.  He was part of a Vision and Voice panel, he was interviewed by children’s writer Alice Kuipers and he presented the keynote address.  

Dave gives his keynote address.

We learned a lot about Dave and his family, during those sessions but he also gave us some great advice to help us with our writing. I’ve pulled out things he said in his various presentations at the conference and compiled them into my own top ten list.  

1.  Serious writers work on their writing regularly.  It’s a  habit. They schedule a time to write into every day. They put it on their calendar like it’s an important meeting they must attend. 

2. Writing new stuff should take up about 20% of your time. Editing, revising, going through your works in progress line by line will take about 80% of your time. Your first draft is just a big blob of clay that you will constantly shape and reshape. You will never think you have edited and revised enough, but eventually, the book will have to go to publication.  

3. It can be helpful to establish a quota for yourself.  You might set a goal to write 1250 words a day on a new project and edit two chapters a day of a work in progress. 

4. Read widely. The more kinds of books you read the easier it will be for you to find your own voice. You can integrate the style of the writers you read into your own work. 

5.  When you are determining what you want to write ask yourself  …..What’s been done?  What hasn’t been done? What gaps are there in writing for children that I might fill? 

6. Write across the genres. Writing different kinds of children’s literature- picture books, graphic novels, middle-grade novels, early reader books, autobiographies, poetry- helps you develop all kinds of new skills as a writer.  It gets you out of your comfort zone.

7. Give thought to what you want to accomplish with your work. Always write from a place of passion. What is it you want to do to change the world? 

8.  Don’t forget to be good to yourself. Writing can be mentally and physically exhausting.

9. Although you may have to write in all kinds of places to get your work done, have a familiar home base for your writing. You might want to pick certain music to play, set the mood with a certain kind of lighting, or even wear certain clothes to write. 

10. Stories never die. They come to life as soon as they leave our mouths. The stories you write should encourage kids to tell their own stories. Stories are our life!

Dave is interviewed by Alice Kuipers

This is just my list- but hearing Dave tell the stories that illustrated each of the points he made was so engaging and interesting.  You can order a video that shows him doing that here. 

Other posts………

Writing that Heals

Timing and Luck

Vision and Voice

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Reading Pictures

I was privileged to attend a three-hour graphic novel course last Tuesday night led by award-winning author David Robertson. I had read quite a number of his graphic novels before taking the course but after attending the workshop I wanted to read them all again because I learned so much about how to READ PICTURES.    Each illustration is important and David carefully considers how each will look.  Before a collaborative artist begins to create a page in a graphic novel of David’s, they read the lengthy and detailed notes David has written about each scene on the page. There may not be a single word of text on the page but David makes sure the pictures tell the whole story. When David is writing a book based on real historical events or people he does exhaustive research to make sure each scene in the graphic novel looks historically accurate. 

I was a high school English teacher for many years and taught my students to look for foreshadowing, symbolism, theme, point of view, metaphor and all kinds of other literary devices in novels.  I discovered David uses all these literary techniques too but they are primarily  in the illustrations.  David gave examples from his 7 Generations series of books to show those of us attending his workshop how he carefully structures his graphic novels.  

I learned that sometimes he places images beside one another to compare and contrast them. For example, on one page he has two full-length panels side by side. One is of a husband and one is of his wife. The two have separated and are pursuing completely different life paths.  Because of the way the illustrations are juxtapositioned it is easy to compare and contrast the divergent choices the two have made. 

There is an amulet/necklace that appears again and again in the 7 Generations series.  It serves as a symbol of strength. 

David carefully considers how you will view each scene in a graphic novel. Will you see it from above or below? From the front, from the back? From far away or close up? The point of view is important.

Images can also serve as metaphors.  In one scene a young man holds a  photo of his father in a frame with broken glass because his relationship with his Dad is broken.  

I could go on and on.  I learned SO MUCH about graphic novels from David.  

Enough to know that it would be tough to write a graphic novel.  It is every bit as complicated and detailed an endeavor as writing a more traditional novel.

Enough to know that David Robertson is a very talented writer indeed. 

Enough to know that we can’t just teach students how to read the written word critically, we need to teach them how to ‘read’ visual images critically as well.  

Enough to know that I would encourage you to read David Robertson’s graphic novels too. 

Other posts………

A Graphic Louis Riel

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