Kids + Teens

What Jane Yolen Learned from Writing 365 Children’s Books

In March, Jane Yolen’s 365th book was published: A Bear Sat on My Porch Today. We asked Yolen what lessons she’s learned from writing so many books, and we think you’ll find her thoughts quite delightful. 

Everyone asks: “How did you write 365 books?”

And the simple answer is: One book at a time.

Only it’s not a truthful answer because I am often writing a bunch of different books at a time. Maybe I have two or three picture books cooking, a portion of a novel, a load of children’s poems, plus my poem-a-day project which I send out to over 900 subscribers. Oh yes, and a blog post requested by my publisher and…well, you get it.

A Bear Sat on My Porch Today by Jane Yolen

I also have a low threshold of boredom, and I NEVER have writer’s block.

PS: I love to write. I think of it as talking to my invisible friends all day AND they talk back!

Also, I don’t have enough hours in the day to write all the stories and poems in my head. I am 79 and keep hearing the hummingbird wings of the Time Fairy fluttering at ear level, mistaking her for the Muse.

The above is mostly metaphoric and hyperbolic which we all learned in fourth grade as Not True. But for a writer of pictures, poetry, fantasy and fiction—and as my favorite poet of all time, Emily Dickinson, wrote: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant/Success in Circuit lies.” So I can tell you without fear of contradiction that all writers are liars, even the ones (maybe especially the ones) who swear they are telling the truth. But it’s truth on the slant. We tell beautiful or powerful stories, and write depth-charged poems that somehow get to the truth of things.

I tell my writing students it takes Passion, Patience, and Persistence (plus Vision and Revision) to write a book. Any book—whether big or small. And to write as many as I have? Well, the magic word is BIC. That stands for Butt in Chair or, if that word offends you: Backside, Bohunkus, or Bottom in Chair. And magic really happens along with the hard, hard work.

To show how it works for me, imagine it’s about about five years ago, when I started my 365th book (though I didn’t know that was its number then): A Bear Sat on My Porch Today.

It began in reality. A bear really did park itself on my porch one summer day. Hung around for a bit, then finally lumbered off.

That last part wasn’t interesting. The first part was where the story was. But what was that story?

A Bear Sat on My Porch Today by Jane Yolen

Ah—that’s where the magic comes in. I could have written a tale in prose. I chose bouncing rhyme. I could have written a realistic rendering. I chose talking animals. I could have written it from the homeowner’s point of view. I chose a child’s. I could have left it as the bear’s story alone. I chose to let in a skunk, possum, moose and other New England animals.

And all those choices created the story that I ended up telling. It had a subtext, too—which I didn’t even realize myself until I saw the astonishing and delightful illustrations by Rilla Alexander. That subtext was the innocent inclusiveness of the entire circle of new friends—different sizes, different shapes, different tastes in food all getting together in a rollicking story.

And if I can do it—so can you. One book at a time!

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A Bear Sat on My Porch Today by Jane Yolen

You can find A Bear Sat on My Porch Today here.

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen has written more than 350 books, won numerous awards, and received six honorary doctorates in literature. She lives outside Springfield, Massachusetts, where a bear really did visit her porch.
Jane Yolen

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