Seeds of Inspiration

Last week I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York and we were so grateful to have Elle Cosimano fill in for me with a fantastic post on ENDINGS. This week we turn our attention to INSPIRATION.
There is a fine line between inspiration and terror. Maybe it is in overcoming our deepest fear when we are truly inspired? In the recent StoryMaster's conference I attended, Donald Maas said,

"What is it that moves readers hearts? What is it that makes characters more real than we actually know? What does that? Emotions. Feelings connect us to characters. In order to create that effect we need to open an emotional landscape for our characters to walk through. What is the feeling that you are most afraid to put on the page? What is scary for you to express? What have you never said to anyone? What hurts the most?"

When I think of what I consider my best, most honest, writing it is often the pieces that were closes to my deepest fears and heartaches. When readers relate to my writing, it is often when I take the biggest risks to share those deepest hurts. And that's when I'm inspired as well. But that kind of inspiration isn't easy. It's putting those deepest emotions right out into a very public world.

Last week was an experience in inspiration (and fear). My Monday started off at a sound studio in Soho. Just getting there for a small town girl from Texas was a bit nerve wracking, but I arrived on time and was interviewed for a bonus track to be included with the audio book for SKINNY. Next, I was off to lunch with marketing and publicity directors. Finally, the day concluded with my presentation and reading to about thirty of Scholastic's editorial, marketing and publicity folks. It was an absolute dream day, and completely inspiring, but also challenging. At lunch, the vice president of publicity suprised me by asking if anything was "off limits" for discussion, and for the first time I realized how public my private was soon going to become.

Current statistics estimate 14% of adolescents in the United States are overweight. This figure has nearly tripled in the last 20 years. Knowing statistics, however, is not the same as living it. For me, there is a much more personal story to tell. I've struggled with obesity my whole life and know first hand the mental and physical impacts--especially in a culture where the media tells our young women every day their value depends on the way they look. About ten years ago, at my top weight of 302 pounds, I made the decision to have gastric bypass surgery. I lost over a hundred pounds and have kept my weight fairly stable since. However, despite all the spin and yoga classes (and there were five last week alone), I’m still not skinny. But I can take spin classes and yoga classes and I can hike and snowshoe and walk through the streets of NY without gasping for breath. The surgery was a positive experience for me, but it wasn't a magic wand. I will always struggle with weight and body image issues. And now, writing and sharing SKINNY has suddenly put all those deep, closely guarded issues into a brillant, and very public, spotlight.

Hopefully, the story of SKINNY will find its way to inspire others with that battle, too. But I also hope it connects to any reader who wrestles with negative thoughts. Maybe those thoughts are saying "you're too stupid" or "too poor" or "too tall" or "too ugly." I just want to whisper in their ear, "Don't believe it. You are so much more."

Hearing how complete strangers connected with the story of SKINNY during my visit to New York was inspirational as a writer at the deepest level. After all, isn't that what we are all hoping to do? Connect? But those seeds of inspiration for writing, and hopefully what ultimately inspires readers, means risk. We have to challenge ourselves to give our characters our deepest held private emotions and then trust it'll be okay.

And that is inspirational.

My editor, Aimee Friedman, and my agent, Sarah Davies


Donna, thank you for sharing that. Ironically, I was just about to go do my "Jane Fonda" workout, eventhough I don't want to. But I reasoned that it's the only workout that's going to help me get back into the shape that I want to be in, i.e. skinny.

I, too, have shared my high school body image nightmare with teens, but in essay form in Chicken Soup for the Soul. However, I was already skinny at 15; I just didn't realize it. (I only weighed 125 pounds and I was 5'2''). But I still thought I was fat. So at 16, I found myself bulimic. And this lasted until I graduated high school. I got the body I wanted, but I didn't realize the price I could have paid.

I will definitely put your book in my queue for my next round of reads. Again, thanks for the reminder. And God bless you.

Linda :)

"Don't believe it. You are so much more."

--That took my breath away.

Isn't it fabulous how your writing can not only help you, but other people as well? It starts out with maybe more of a selfish, "I gotta get this out" bent, and then morphs into public catharsis.

Beautiful post, Donna.

That’s a frightening percentage of adolescents. I was just recently reading about and watching a clip of Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly 3”. I read the comments on the site reacting to the movie. Also frightening as both women and men downgraded (what I consider) blatantly sexist ads. I’m glad “Skinny” is coming into the world—a timely and important topic. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Thanks for sharing your personal connection, Linda. It is so encouraging!

Beth,I completely agree. It definitely starts out with a "I need to get this out." Thank you for your lovely comments.

PB, So true. Those are scary statistics. Thank you for your encouragement.

Digging down, reaching into those most vulnerable places, that takes a lot of courage. I commend you and wish for every success possible when Skinny has its coming out party.

Wow! Brilliant, passionate and meaningful, heart-felt post Donna! I must admit, I've not struggled with my weight until the past 7 years, after necessary medications set me off on a never-ending upward spiral it seems, unless of course you count the rest of my life where the fear of becoming overweight was instilled in me by a mother who believed being over 107 pounds was the root of all evil. Yeah, and I bet you can figure out what that kind of upbringing leads to, 'the need to be skinny at any cost.' Body image is such an important issue. Hats off to you for covering it so eloquently. Can't wait for SKINNY!

I loved Skinny. I had lap band surgery last year (my top weight was 335), so I definitely connected to Ever and her struggle with body image. As someone who works in publishing, I'm glad to see a book like this will be pubbing soon for others who would love to read it and be inspired.

Thank you, Jackie. You're so right. Body image issues are so complex and yet so deeply held.

Angela, your encouragement is so appreciated. Thank you for reading!

Linda, I'm so glad to hear you connected with this story from a perspective of having lived it. I hope SKINNY will find a home with others who have a similar experience.

You are so brave. More than I could ever be. Thank you for writing Skinny, for all of us that aren't and struggle with that inner voice that says we aren't worthwhile.


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