Carol Baldwin is a non-fiction author who has written great resources for writers and teachers of writing. She’s a professional writing instructor at colleges, conferences, and schools, and her book: Teaching the Story: Fiction writing in grades 4-8 is an excellent example of a book for a new millennium. Filled not just with words on paper, Teaching the Story is available in both print and partial-ebook formats and comes complete with downloadable reproducible hand-outs and activities via a CD program. It’s received rave reviews from middle school teachers and authors alike. Carol is a well-loved member of the SCBWI and is a fixture at the SCBWI Carolina’s annual conference, as well as conferences around the region, where she is often a presenter. The three Gs in her life are gardening, grandchildren, and learning how to golf, and she is finishing up a YA historical novel as well.
So tell us, Carol, you often teach the rest of us about writing. But is there also an author or other publishing professional who has helped and guided you as you have progressed in your career as a writer?
Definitely. The person who has been the most helpful to me is Joyce Hostetter, author of Best Friends Forever, BLUE, COMFORT, and Healing Water. Joyce and I met at a reading and writing conference where we were both presenting. We discovered mutual interests and began collaborating on teacher workshops, professional conferences, and Talking Story, a digital newsletter for librarians, teachers, and home educators. I found a “kindred spirit” as Anne Shirley of Anne of Avonlea once said.
Throughout our friendship and professional association, Joyce has never stopped encouraging me as a writer. When I get down about how long it has taken me to complete my novel, she always reminds me that it is a process and that books have layers—which aren’t written at one time. She has edited and “tweaked” (her favorite word!) my synopsis and contest submissions—and as a result I have learned how to tighten my writing and include the most important details in my story. Her encouragement and support have been priceless. Now as I teach other writers, I realize that I am passing along what I learned from her.
That’s great, Carol! Joyce definitely does have a lot that she can teach all of us. Just reading the brilliant first page of Healing Water will tell you that!
I also think it’s great that you and Joyce have collaborated on the “Talking Story” digital newletter. Several of the recent topics really caught my eye including: “The revision process, poetry, fantasy, and picture books for all ages.” It seems like a very comprehensive list. What a great resource for all of us writers out here in the professional world! I hope that many authors reading this blog post will sign up for Talking Story straight away.
So in addition to publishing Talking Story, and speaking at many SCBWI and other writing and teaching-related conferences, how else would you say you reach back and reach out to other writers to help them learn new skills and move forward in this profession?
As the critique group coordinator for a SCBWI critique group in Charlotte for over 15 years, I have reached out to many writers—both novices and those who are further along their path to publication. I tell everyone to join SCBWI since it is a great source of information and support. In the same way, when I have led workshops at teachers and writers conferences, at NCCAT (North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching), or when I teach writing at my local community college, I pass along what I have learned about writing and the publishing industry.
That’s great, Carol. I know that you have a wonderful reputation of helping many professional writers learn more about the craft! Can you give us a few secret little tips that you usually share with other authors when they ask you for guidance?
Of course! The most consistent bits of advice that I give are:
· Writing involves rewriting. Always.
· Read a lot. Learn from other authors-- in your genre and in other genres.
· Persevere. It’s not easy to get published, but it is possible.
· Start small with the magazine market. Belinda Hurmencetaught me that over 20 years ago and it helped me gain publishing experience and credits.
· Hone your craft.
One thing I’ve noticed about you, Carol, is that you seem to have really established a niche in teaching writing -- providing great presentations at conferences, and doing a lot of speaking in the schools and to teacher groups. I personally attended a presentation you gave a few years ago on “writing for the educational market” and found it extremely helpful, well-resourced, and informative! I went home with a whole packet of things to think about, websites to look up, and topics to pitch. It was great!
I know there are many other children’s and YA authors who would like to get more involved in speaking at conferences and interacting with teachers and librarians and students in the schools to promote their books and to promote the love of reading and writing. Can you give other authors any tips on how to go about finding opportunities to speak in the schools or to teachers, librarians or authors?
Yes. Since my most recent book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing inGrades 4-8 was for the educational market, I learned the importance of attending and presenting at teachers’ conferences. I also saw how teachers LOVE meeting authors! Last year at the fall SCBWI-Carolinas conference I summarized what I learned during the years I spent researching educational conferences, preparing PowerPoints, and delivering interactive workshops. If you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I can send you a pdf of the PowerPoint.
I now teach at Central Piedmont Community College because I called the continuing education department and said I was interested in teaching writing for children. Since then I have added two other classes to my repertoire. All of these teaching opportunities take time and energy and passion. I have taught homeschool and give writing workshops at local libraries. Again, you have to invest time in reaching out to the homeschool community and libraries in your area. But if you love writing and enjoy teaching, they are great opportunities to become known in your community.
Thanks Carol, that’s a great starting point for us. Huge thanks for your willingness to share your PowerPoint presentation on this theme with us for free. That’s a great gift to all those interested in this topic!
Here’s a fun question. I know that writing is an integral part of your life now as an adult. How old were you when you first started writing?
I have been journaling for as long as I can remember and had several pen pals growing up. I think that all of these writing activities trained me for translating thoughts into the written word. My first “published” piece was a short poem I wrote for a magazine my father subscribed to. I was probably 10 or 12 and was so proud of it! My mother, (who at 88 is still one of my biggest fans,) encouraged me as I grew up by saying, “You have a way with words.”
Parents should never underestimate their power to inspire their children.
That’s so true, Carol. Parents, teachers, authors, mentors – we should all inspire the children in our lives to go for their dreams, and to build a love of writing.
Exactly. My dream, ever since I read Cynthia Voigt’s books thirty years ago, was to write fiction for young adults. I loved how her stories showed young people overcoming the challenges in their lives. I still remember scenes out of Dicey’s Song!
Up until about six years ago I felt very comfortable writing nonfiction, but the nagging feeling to try fiction wouldn’t go away. I took the plunge and attempted to write a picture book about a bird sanctuary in Charlotte. The project morphed into a boy’s chapter book, then a middle grade reader for girls, and now Half- Truths is historical fiction for young adults. The story takes place in the south in 1950, when two teenage girls--one black and one white--break racial restrictions, uncover family secrets, and form a friendship which revolutionizes their families. I am in the middle of rewriting the book from both girls’ points of view after receiving that advice from Mary Cate Castellani at last year’s SCBWI Carolinas conference. She suggested that it would open the book to a wider audience; which I hope will prove true! But one thing is for sure, each time I receive a critique I grow as a writer.
The journey you’ve had with that manuscript so far is an excellent example of a point you made earlier, I think, Carol. You said: “Writing involves re-writing. Always.” You are such a good example to us, because it seems like you’re definitely taking your own advice! J
Thanks so much for being here with us today, Carol, and for sharing just the beginning of your wisdom! For those interested in more great writing tips from Carol, check out her blog www.carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com and don’t forget to sign up for the Talking Story newsletter.
Next week we’ll be right back here Saturday morning with an interview from Illustrator/Author and ARA of the SCBWI Carolinas Region, Bonnie Adamson, followed in the weeks to come by interviews with multi-published children’s author Stephanie Greene, a new shooting star in the YA publishing world, Megan Shepard, plus more.
Thanks again, Carol. Write on.