"Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook" by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter


Think about what you’re doing right this second.  You’re reading Spilling Ink.  Why?  Maybe it’s because you want to kill some time before you go to soccer practice.  Maybe it’s because your aunt gave you this book for your birthday and you’re going to see her this Saturday and you know that she’s going to ask you how you liked it.  Or maybe it’s because you really, really want to be an author.  Whatever the reason, you are reading this book because you want something.  In fact, if you think about nearly everything that you do in a day, you can trace it back to a “want”.  The same goes for your character.  As you write your story, always try to think about what your character wants, from the tiniest want to the heart’s desire.
— from “Spilling Ink”

We meet many writers on OFF THE PAGE and speak about the stories they tell us, the ideas they present, even about how they found a publisher.  And from time to time we get into a discussion of work habits: how the writer finds and develops ideas, whether the words flow fast or slow, if they prefer pencil and paper to the word processor.  The answers to these questions vary as much as the books themselves.  But just as a person’s handwriting will be influenced by the method that he or she was taught as a child, writing habits and even a sense of literary style can be nurtured at a young age.

“Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook” is a chatty, well organized how-to book by a pair of authors with dozens of titles in their credits.  Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter are both from Ithaca and both specialize in fiction for young people.  “Spilling Ink” is their first collaboration, and is written with individual bylines.  It concludes with Anne and Ellen interviewing each other about literary interests and working habits. Anne’s work includes “The Salamander Room” (1991), a “Reading Rainbow” Feature Selection.  For Scholastic Inc. she’s penned over forty books in the “Sister Magic” and “The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes” series.

Ellen is creator of the Olivia Kidney books, also “Pish Posh” (2006), “SLOB”.  Her newest novel is “The Kneebone Boy”, which will have its official release on the same day that our OFF THE PAGE program is broadcast. Both authors regularly speak to school classes and workshops. Joining them on OFF THE PAGE will be Mary O’Neill and Matt Fiato, fifth grade students at the MacArthur School in Binghamton.

“Spilling Ink” is filled with useful exercises (Anne and Ellen call them “dares”) to get people writing and polishing their work.  “Take any story idea and write a first sentence for it.  Now try another first sentence…” “Write a scene about a circus, but make the mood dark and grim.”  For their visit to OFF THE PAGE they’ve asked Mary and Matt and everyone listening to write a story based on this premise:

A panicked man runs up to [your character] and hands him/her a box.  “Take good care of this for me!” he says, then runs off.

It’s obvious that “Spilling Ink” – which includes advice on overcoming “writer’s block”,  avoiding plagiarism and dealing with criticism – isn’t just for “young writers”.  Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter join Bill Jaker along with Matt Fiato and Mary O’Neill to share tips about writing and to answer questions.

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