A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Tubby, our cat of eighteen years, passed away on August 22, 2019.
Tubby was my constant writing companion. Each morning at 5:30, he’d wait for me by the bedroom door. As soon as it opened, he led me into the kitchen and parked himself beside the pantry door. He had to be fed before I could turn on the coffee machine. While he was munching away, I would prepare a scrambled egg or a bowl of yogurt. When Tubby finished his morning meal, he waited patiently until I grabbed my coffee cup. He would then guide me past the living room and upstairs to my office where he’d wait by my chair. When I settled in, I would stroke him several times. As I began reviewing a manuscript or tending to other writing duties, he would crawl to a special space under the computer table (and just in front of my feet). In short order, he would curl up and begin a snooze that lasted throughout the morning.
I would talk to him about synonyms and run-on sentences, shout at him when a book project was accepted, ask him for advice about the direction of a manuscript, or complain to him about a rejection. He took it all in stride with his usual air of feline indifference and soft snores. He instinctively knew what his job was, and he accepted his responsibilities without complaint or protest.
He was truly dedicated!
In writing workshops and presentations I am often asked about the “secrets” to writing success. I always mention dedication as one of the most important elements of any writer’s philosophy. Indeed, if we are not dedicated to our craft—to informing, educating, illuminating, entertaining, energizing, or inspiring our readers—then we are shortchanging them. Young readers of any age demand literature that is both powerful and professional. And, there is certainly nothing more professional than putting your whole heart and entire soul into a piece of writing—one that completely captures the imagination and interest of a reader. Anything less is an affront to why we write and what kids need to have in their hands.
Dedication is much more than a commitment to write a book. It also involves the time—day after day, month after month, and year after year—sitting in front of a keyboard generating ideas, crafting words, producing sentences, drawing characters, inventing dialogue, and revising plot lines dozens of times . . . hundreds of times . . . and then doing it all over again with equal measures of enthusiasm and energy.
Dedication should be a passion! Like a job, it’s something that must be done systematically, religiously, and completely. Dedicated writing is not a hobby. It is an obligation to yourself and your craft. It is an embrace of persistence, work, and duty. It is not something we do occasionally, but rather regularly. It’s like brushing your teeth; it has to be done every day, or it is incomplete and insufficient.
I’m currently editing and revising a picture book manuscript geared for youngsters in kindergarten and first grade. It’s about some of the amazing shapes they can see along a forest trail or beside a quiet pond. Right now, there is a total of 194 words in the manuscript. But, I’ve spent almost six months inserting, deleting, modifying, changing, altering, amending, reworking, and improving those 194 words. The manuscript is now in its 24th draft and is likely to go through another half-dozen drafts before I send it out. Each word must be the precise word, each sentence must convey an exact mood, and each thought must be carefully crafted to inspire young readers to joyously investigate their own environments. I’m committed to this process simply because I know readers will demand nothing less.
Dedication . . . constant attention . . . may be one of the most important literary attributes we share with readers. It will surface in our characters, shine with their dialogue, and fascinate with the details. It’s writing our best so our readers can embrace the journey.
Day after day, my cat Tubby shared his dedication.
I miss him terribly.
Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books, including the 2018 CBC/NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2JCeMJZ). He is also the author of the ebook Writing Children’s Books: 701 Creative Prompts for Stories Kids Will Love (https://amzn.to/2FMITxt). [“. . . one of the best guides that I have found with prompts for creative children’s book ideas.” —Amazon 5-star review.]