Barbara Diamond Goldin is the author of 18 published children’s books, including JUST ENOUGH IS PLENTY: A HANUKKAH TALE (National Jewish Book Award) and CAKES AND MIRACLES: A PURIM TALE (Sydney Taylor Book Award), and received the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. She has also written story collections, non-fiction, retellings, and historical fiction. She is Director of the Edwards Public Library in Southampton, Massachusetts, and leads writing workshops and speaks about being a writer around the country. She was recently interviewed by Cheryl Malandrinos.
When did you first get bitten by the writing bug?
I have always loved to write–letters, journals, lists, diaries. I have also always loved to make up stories. When I began to babysit at age 11, I found I had an audience for my tales. Plus, I found a way to get lots of babysitting jobs. I would stop in the middle of the story, at the most exciting part, and tell my charges that if they wanted to hear what happened, they’d have to tell their parents to ask me to babysit again. Later, when I was a teacher, I told stories to rapt audiences of 4 and 5 year olds. It wasn’t until one of my students asked me to repeat a story I had told before, and I realized that I couldn’t remember it, that I started to write the stories down. So I was a storyteller before I became a writer of stories.
Who gave you the most encouragement early on?
My father was a big influence on my writing. He wrote because he enjoyed the process–poems, short stories, and articles. He was the editor of the army newspaper in his unit in World War 11 and kept a scrapbook of all his articles. He continued to write off and on all of his life and shared his poems with our extended family. At his funeral in 2005, my brothers and I read some of Dad’s poems aloud. I was lucky to grow up in a household where writing, art, and music were a happy part of how we spent time together.
Writing tends to be a lonely enterprise. How do you balance your “writing time” with the rest of your life to keep yourself sane?
Ever since I started to write regularly and seriously, I turned to writing groups to help me improve my writing and weather the rejection letters that came my way. I have always been in a writing group, sometimes more than one. I have been in groups where we read our writing aloud and gave feedback to each other. I have been in groups where we actually wrote and then shared what we’d written. I’m grateful that the writing groups I have been a part of have been of the supportive kind, not the competitive, throat cutting kind. We try to lighten up the tougher parts of the writing life, too. One time, early on in one group, we had a contest to see who had the most rejection letters and the winner won a huge bag of M & M’s. That winner (it wasn’t me) went on to sell her first book that year.
I have an attitude about writer’s block. I tell myself I don’t believe in it. This is how I deal with what other people consider writer’s block. I have tricks. If I get stuck, I reread my whole manuscript, or at least the previous chapter or day’s writing. That usually warms me up to get going again. I say to myself, “It doesn’t matter what you write, just write something. You can always revise it.” And so I write something. Sometimes I’ll work on a different project. I usually have a couple going at the same time. Maybe a novel and an op ed piece for a newspaper. Another trick is to read an article about writing in a writer’s magazine. The blank page can be an awful thing to start your writing session with. So I start with something else; like writing a letter or a humorous slice of life piece or reading an inspiring article.
What is your latest project about and how long had you worked on it? Does it take the reader in a different direction than your last published work?
Last summer I finished work on a book about women in the Bible for 10-15 year olds. It was the first time I worked on a book with another author, in this case Jane Yolen. This project took us a long time to complete–five years! Besides the fact that life interfered, (I was in graduate school for three of those years.) it took us a while to figure out how we were going to organize the book, what we were going to say, and who was going to do what sections. Jane is very accustomed to working on books with other people. But I wasn’t. I’m very glad to say we are still friends and I learned much in the process. One thing I had to overcome in the process is the fact that Jane was my mentor and first real writing teacher. It was hard to say, “Jane, I think you should change that,” etc. Believe me, I had to learn to speak up!
I’m on line at www.barbaradiamondgoldin.com