Friday, October 24, 2008

You Can Use Your Imagination

Today I'd like to talk about a previously undiscussed section of slush: let's call it the "You Can Use Your Imagination" pile.

This pile can be loosely divided into three categories:
1. Isn't my child imaginative?
2. Wouldn't you like to use your imagination?
3. Wouldn't you like to use your imagination while you're asleep (hint, hint)?

All three of these are maddening enough to get your submission back partially chewed by the editor who read it. But let's start with #3, so I can work my way up to foaming at the mouth.

Wouldn't You Like to Use Your Imagination While You're Asleep (hint, hint)?

Now, pretty much every adult understands the desperation that drives people to try nearly anything to get a child to go to sleep. I understand.

That said, nobody is going to pay good money for your plotless, pointless flight of fancy. Dream sequences don't sell. You have my full invitation to go ahead and tell long, convoluted, nonsensical stories (in which nothing happens) to your children to bore them to sleep. But when you start thinking that people are going to pay you for your long, convoluted, nonsensical stories, you have my full invitation to pull your head out of your butt.

Isn't My Child Imaginative?

Isn't it obnoxious the way other parents think their children are so special when it's obvious that your child is the one who is a glowing paragon of childhood precocity and delight?

Yeah. In other news for the reality-challenged: you can only see unicorns if you believe in them; yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus; and if you clap three times and wish on a star, people will pay you for your child's long, convoluted, nonsensical stories.

Wouldn't You Like to Use Your Imagination?

This is the one that irritates me the most. Why, you ask? I suppose the answer is that quite a large amount of the slush is from people who are writing at children rather than to them, and this is perhaps the most perfect example of that.

Writing a story meant to inform children that they can use their imaginations is like writing a story to inform children they can use their hands. (Wait, these things on the ends of my arms are for something? Wow!) ...Are you kidding me?

Children use their imaginations all the time, and need no provocation whatsoever. Which brings me to a perennial point that cannot be made frequently enough: If you don't remember what it's like to be a child, you don't get to write for them.

You, dumbasses: Have you only just realized that you have an imagination? And now you feel all artsy and free and want to inflict it on defenseless children?
(a) You're really rediscovering your imagination, and
(b) That magical ringing in your ears is the rust falling off.

Look, this is not to deride the lovely mid-life crises of certain people which lead them to visit craft fairs and buy ugly jewelry or take classes in "women's intuition". Just, please, stop cooping yourself up at home where there's the unhealthy temptation to "write" something.


Anonymous said...

This is why I moved on to YA. I am painfully aware of what it's like to be a teenager and so far, it's working for me! My PB attempts would've driven you insane.

Christy Raedeke said...

As someone who lives in a small town teeming with wealthy older parents of only children who think - no KNOW! - that their child is too special for ____ (fill in the blank), I laughed particularly hard at "Isn't My Child Imaginative?"

As usual, you nailed it.

Susan at Stony River said...

Oh, best laugh of the day, I'm sore from it. I've seen so many examples of 1, 2, and 3 in my writer's group.

But God I hope you weren't talking about ME!


Chris Eldin said...


For the record, I don't coop myself up to write. I do it to eat. And eat. and eat....

eluper said...

As a published author, I get pitches all the time. Why? I have no idea. It's not like I have any power to get anyone published. Anyhow, many of these pitches have similarities and here they are:

a) this is an adaptation of a story/play/project my kids/students made up...

b) this idea is so different than anything else on the market that I really need time to sit down face to face with an editor/agent to get them to understand.

c) My book will revolutionize children's literature as we know it.

d) every teacher/parent in the country will be dying to have something like this in their classroom/home. Actually, they will all want multiple copies.

Oh, and the idea usually includes something expensive like accompanying music, puppets, or costumes. that's when I smile, nod and wish them luck. Then, I duck into the men's room.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've always been somewhat confused by the parents i know who make a conscious effort to "teach their children to play pretend."

You have to teach them that? Really?!?!?! Because I've always found that with my kids the hard part is getting them to STOP pretending long enough to put on their shoes!

Maybe there actually IS a subset of kids out there that's imagination impaired? Because there are enough "Bob learns to use his imagination on a rainy day" books in print that there must be SOME audience, right?

Also, once again based only on my kids, how can ANYONE get a coherent story out of a 3-5 year-olds play???? It resembles a fever-dream more than a narrative!

acpaul said...

I've known some adults who were imagination-impaired, so I suppose it's possible but some children are, too. But those children are probably the least likely to read a book, since kid's TV removes from the mind the obligation of thinking.

That said, I don't think that having a four and a five year old gives me any inkling into how to write for their age group.

Morphlyt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morphlyt said...

haven't laughed that much in a long time :) always a pleasure to read your stuff

greetz morph

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of going to a writer's conference and sitting at a breakfast table during the "pitches" day. A man had his 9 year old daughter with him, and I sort of inquired why.

Guess what, the daughter had come up with the "story" the man had written and she was going to pitch it with him. Oh, dear God, how I ached for the editor that was going to have to smile politely at that one.

I can barely handle the rejection of this business, and you're going to inflict that on a nine year old? Child abuse, I say!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

My kids are outside. One of them is "Frodo" and one of them is "Sam" and they are sword-fighting with the trees in the yard. These kids are 6 and 4.

Also, my almost 4-year old's stories lately include blood drinking monsters and evil bad guys.

So, what the heck to do I know writing about PB's? Nothing. But I thought I did.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Anon-- if it makes you feel any better, a child development book I read when my daughter was going through that stage said that four is ACTUALLY the most violent/bloodthirsty age of childhood... even older kids don't like their stories as gorey.....

Something about learning to deal w/ death...

So, at least your son is normal...

My daughter was upset at the lack of violent picture books, so I started reading her more folk and fairy tales...... that helped.

(And don't get me started on the terrible things that happened to Dora and Boots in our bedtime stories at the time!)

Ebony McKenna. said...

I love the way you work up to foaming at the mouth. It's magic.
Keep shaking your fist at the sky. :-D

Wendie O said...

There are kids without imagination. But don't expect their parents to buy those books. (about developing an imagination) Because it was those parents who beat the imagination out of them.

I did a storytime at the library once where we all pretended to be dogs. (easy, you say?) Well, one child just sat there. I tried to encourage her to bark and pretend to be a dog and she was horrified. She finally said, in a very small voice, "I'm not allowed to pretend. I can only do/ say/ think about things that are real."

How sad.
-Wendieold, the grandmother of a child who is a cat and her sister who is a dog -- when she's not being a horse.

Kimbra Kasch said...

OMG my "kids" are 20, 21 and 24 and I still think they are sooo amazingly creative - guess I'm the one that never grew up.

Which way is it to neverland???


Literaticat said...

i find that most parents either believe their child is incredibly gifted (he's in second grade and he's writing a play about emmanuel kant. tell the lady about kant, honey. TELL THE LADY!)


a reluctant reader with no hope of redemption (he just STARES at books! we can't do anything with him! it's so strange because i've tried to get him to read lord of the rings and he's just not interested! he's THREE for god's sake, will we have to put him in a special school?!??!!).

there's never just... a normal kid.

Clerks said...

As an aspiring children's author I really value the way you post some of your views. This is just one of the many entires that I have enjoyed while keeping up with your blog.

Thank you for the giggles and the insightful point of view.

Living Life,

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think one reason there's never just a 'normal' kid is because every child IS different -- each has her own unique talents and her own unique flaws.

Almost like..... children are small people!!!!

No, wait, that can't be true! They're really more like cute and cuddly kittens right?

But with less fur.... and harder to litterbox train!

Deirdre Mundy said...

BTW-- Anon with the bloodthirsty 4-yr-old

Have you tried the "Captain Raptor" books? They're more graphic novel than picture book, but they're about space-traveling, pirate fighting, shoot-em-up DINOSAURS.....

And they're done in a style reminiscent of sci-fi serials of the 30s and 40s...

They were a BIG hit with my little bloodthirsty ones....

none said...

That story of the little girl who's not allowed to pretend just about broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

Dumbasses? Doubtless there are thousands of really bad writers who have the temerity to try to get their work published, and doubtless it would be much easier for editors if they would read blogs like this one in order to recognize their ridiculous selves and immediately stop submitting their bothersome work. In such an ideal world, with self-selecting writers, editors could receive manuscripts and forward them along to the printer without bothering to read them. But until you manage to create such a world, and while you are living in this one, perhaps you should drink from a cup of kindness every now and then rather than calling people names and deriding their ambitions. Just a thought. Though I know you would be depriving your readers of the entertainment value of chortling at the expense of people they imagine not to include themselves.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Point well taken. But while I'm drinking from the cup of kindness, I'm also drinking from the fire hose of inimitable crap, so I've got to save that kindness for the people I'm personally in contact with.

P.S. Most of my readers truly aren't included in the term 'dumbasses'.

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