Friday, February 10, 2017

Faculty Voices with Sherri Smith: Writing in the Age of “I Wonder What Comes Next”

Were you like me, and so many other writers, mid-draft in something and feeling pretty good about it (or terrible, but willing to continue because it still felt promising), and then… the election.

I wonder if you’ve felt the sea change?  

Now, maybe you were blindsided.  Maybe you thought, “this is a done deal.”  Maybe you thought your side would win.  Or maybe you knew without a doubt that your side would not win, but you felt the freedom to vote your conscience.  Or maybe you won, and you were hopeful, but still a little shocked.

Regardless, the thing lying on your desk now labeled “Relevant Text” is no longer quite so relevant.  It’s as if you’ve written a manifesto in Standard English and woken up in a world that only speaks Pig Latin.  Now what?  Can I rewrite this?  Should I?  Will Pig Latin last?  What if Pig Latin lasts?  H-oay o-nay!  (Is that even correct?)

You have become irrelevant over night.  

Or, if you are very lucky and prescient and timeless, you’re “this is going no where” work is suddenly the Great American Make America Great Again Novel!  Maybe it’s a clarion call for justice no one knew we needed.  Maybe it’s a treatise on how to reunite a nation half the citizens didn’t realize was divided.  Maybe you will be the next Nobel winner for nailing it, and getting it to market on time!

But, for the rest of us, what now?

Do we scramble to write more sparkly vampires because, hey I hear that was hot a few years ago, or do we stay committed to our newly not-so-relevant works and mine them for new relevance?  As chidren’s writers, how do we deal with our own sudden coming-of-age while still offering honest guidance to the next generation?

Because, as much as the world has changed and continues to change, so are we.  We are no longer looking back in order share what we’ve learned with young people.  We are learning anew, and we need time to absorb this new age of “I Wonder What Comes Next.”  The only thing that has stayed the same are your manuscript (and if you had one, your deadline).  And now your story is wondering, “What’s the attire in this brave new world?”  Brown shoes in a tuxedo country?  

It doesn’t matter because, in this case, the writer makes the clothes.  Listen to your self changing, growing over the next few months.  Tap into the truth of this new coming of age.  Who will we be as a nation?  It’s that new citizen who will be the one picking up the pen, flipping open the keyboard.  That’s the writer you will have become.  And our manuscripts will never be the same.

As Octavia Butler said in her seminal novel, Parable of the Talents:  God is Change.

Welcome to the new religion.


  1. Oh, Sherry. I feel as though your wise words are reaching out directly to me. The election turned my world upside down and changed the epilogue of my book, and deeper changes too. Thank you for helping me process all this and to keep writing.

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