For Richer or Poorer: Writing Through the Good and Bad Times

Young adult author Carolyn Mackler spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference. In her keynote presentation, she addressed the struggles of living a literary life, and that even when you’ve made it (been published, won awards), you still face new challenges in your career. Despite the breakdowns, one must press on and persevere! The following notes were taken turning her speech:

A Few Thoughts About the Writing Life …

  • Mackler doesn’t feel much connection between her writing success and her home life. There is a disconnect between the two.
  • Mackler always felt like she was not supposed to stand out. If one stands out then they can get shot down.
  • Mackler cannot purge the adolescent voice in her head.
  • Be proud of what you wish for.
  • Be proud of making a commitment to your writing life. Pledge to stick with it when broke, stuck, or insecure.

A Little About Carolyn Mackler’s Journey to Publication…

  • She worked for MS. Magazine and had the honor to work with Gloria Steinem.
  • She did screenplay research for Mike Nichols.
  • Her book Love and Other Four Letter Words sold when she was 25 years old.
  • Her agent Jodi Reamer was an assistant agent when she contacted Carolyn Mackler.

Staying Published has Been a Rocky Road…

  • The path to stay here (to stay published) can be rocky.
  • After Mackler wrote her Printz honor book The Earth My Butt and Other Big Round Things, the words dried up. It was a “mind-screw.” She started to second guess herself.  She would ask herself: “Is this what a printz honor book writer would write?”
  • After the birth of her first child she felt as if she couldn’t do this (writing). She felt like she was done. However, a good friend said to her  “Maybe you can’t have a baby and write a book, but maybe you can have a 2 or 3 year-old and write a book.” This helped her to get through.

On Having a Banned Book…

  • Mackler’s book The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things was banned after it came out and 350 students signed a petition to support her. This story got the attention of the Baltimore Sun. The school got letters from the public and the superintendent of the school that wanted her book banned, got fired.
  • The reason books get banned, but movies can do almost anything is because the novel (in Mackler’s opinion) is more powerful than a movie. The reader is part of the creation of the story because they must imagine and envision it. There is creation in the act of reading.
  • “Your book is intellectual anthrax” – quote from a play by Adam Rote Rapp about a YA book author who’s books are banned.
  • “It’s the books that will never be written, books that will never be read that concerns me.” – Judy Blume on censorship and book banning.

Look to The Future and Be Flexible…

  • It’s important to be flexible, Mackler advises.  You may need to shift gears, scrap manuscripts and go in a new direction.
  • Mackler has felt a lot of pressure due to the trends in YA literature these days. She’s tried a new creative twist in her next book, which is grounded in reality but is not fully contemporary realistic fiction like her previous books.
  • She’s in it for the long haul, and this is some of the tricky stuff you have to deal with. Even as a published author there are difficult decisions to be made.
  • The writing life is always an ebb and flow.

Carolyn Mackler is the author of the popular teen novels, The Earth My Butt and Other Big Round Things (A Printz Honor book), Tangled, Guyaholic, Vegan Virgin Valentine, and Love and Other Four-Letter Words. Carolyn has contributed to magazines including Seventeen, Glamour, CosmoGIRL!, Girls’ Life, Storyworks, and American Girl. In 2008, Carolyn was a judge for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young sons. Visit her online at

One thought on “For Richer or Poorer: Writing Through the Good and Bad Times

  1. Definitely agree that the novel is more powerful than a movie. Maybe it’s also in part because of the time invested in a book – the story unfolds more slowly, more like it would in real life.

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