What’s Write about Punk?

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Social media keeps me connected with the authors of the books I fall in love with. They continue to inspire, influence, and remind me why I need to keep on my writing journey.

The annual Hay Festival had its 30th birthday recently. A Facebook page for the event posted a video of Neil Gaiman and he then reposted it. Gaiman attended the festival and was asked what influenced him most. He said:

“It was 1976/1977, I was 15 going on 16. And it was punk. And the idea that in order to do something—you just did it. There was a chart in some fanzine. I remember that it said here’s a chord, here’s another, here’s another—now write a song. And that simplicity…the idea that you didn’t need big complicated things. If you wanted to do something—you did it. You can learn on the job. As an idea has built my life, changed my life, and shaped my life. And I’ve done so many things that I am manifestly unqualified for that I would never have dared to do, if punk hadn’t entered my life back in 1976/1977.”

I was born about 7 years after this, but I knew what he was saying. Punk influenced me in its own way. My dad loved Lou Reed and would play Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane over and over on his electric guitar. Mostly, so that I could bang on an upside-down garbage pail and try to keep the rhythm.

Both the simplicity of the chords (I played guitar) and the need to learn on the job, both hit home. I love learning. That’s why I love teaching and especially writing. If I have an interest in anything, I can explore it. Recently, I wanted to know something about robots, which meant I needed to know something about computer programming. Both of which I have no experience in. But through research, I found myself playing around with basic programming on Scratch. I was able to share the experience with my daughter. Who after finishing with the coding went off excited and inspired. She ended up drawing one of the projects we worked on and messing around with the piano after. It became obvious trying something new inspired creativity.

On March 14th this year, Kate Dicamillo posted about her and her editor’s relationship. She said, “Sometimes, when people ask me about the writer/editor relationship, I explain it by saying that writing a novel is like digging a trench: you keep your head down. You shovel. You hope. You don’t really know what you’re doing. You’re just digging. And then an editor comes in and can see everything from overhead—the patterns that might be lost to you down there in the trenches, the twists and turns of the thing, the direction and purpose of it.”

Then I read how the amazing Kate has received 473 rejections and is a US National Ambassador of Children’s Literature. I can’t help but think to myself: yeah, I can do that. I can keep my head down and dig. I can hope.

She also quoted Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia) in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald. “To write, your heart has to be absolutely tender and you have to have the skin of a rhinoceros.” And so, I proceed, opening my heart onto the pages again and again. Meanwhile, the emailed rejections come in. But I can keep going because Katherine Paterson said I need to have tough skin. And she wrote my favorite book. Bridge to Terabithia, the book that moved me so as a child, is still relevant even today after 40 years because of Paterson’s sincerity.  

So, remember to check in with your favorite authors from time to time. Even if you haven’t met them, they can become part of your writing community. They can continue to inspire long after you finished the pages of their books.

Neil Gaiman:

Kate Dicamillo:

Katerine Paterson:

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