To say Jane Yolen is prolific is an understatement. With over 300 books spanning children’s literature to science fiction to fantasy and poetry, plus more literature awards than I can count, it is no surprise that she deeply loves the craft of writing. Perhaps known to many as the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic, as well as Owl Moon (winner of the 1988 Caldecott Medal with illustrator John Schoenherr), Yolen has a reputation for being a generous mentor for aspiring writers.
Yolen’s love for writing can be felt in page after page of a book I only recently came to own after hearing about it from a writer friend. Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving The Craft delivered to me precisely what it promised. The book’s gleaming red cover has at its center a single slice of watermelon alluding to the advice within. Sweet. Refreshing. Whimsical. Joyful.
This isn’t a traditional step-by-step guide to writing. Of course it covers all the essentials: voice, theme, point-of-view, endings and beginnings, etc…as well as her famous BIC writing advice. Yet all topics are delivered in a way that is pure Yolen. Where else can writers learn about the so-called Boogerman voice? Or get the sense of a writer’s creative thinking style? Her many metaphors, anecdotes, and quirky turns of a phrase entertain and inspire. Her imaginings of famous books written in sparse outline are alone worth the read, as in Moby-Dick = Fishmeal. After all, Jane Yolen is not an outliner, stating that “Outlines know everything about the book, and nothing about the story.” So true. Story is forever boundless.
Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft is a wonderful read. I place this book alongside classics like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Of course there certainly are many other books delivering a far more detailed analysis of the art and craft of writing. Take Joy is slim at less than 200 pages. Still, one would be hard-pressed to find many delivering considerable usefulness in such a light-hearted and compact way.
One point is clear. Jane Yolen repeatedly reminds us through her written musings that it is so important to understand that writing is a way of thinking and existing, and not just an act of doing. A writer doesn’t stop writing simply by putting down the pen or laptop. Life itself, experienced through all the senses, is the 24/7 research providing writers with the nourishment necessary for both writing and the soul.
So in keeping with Jane Yolen’s sage advice, ”Breathe in the world”.