Literature and Life
“For me, writing has its ups and downs. After I had written more than ten books I thought seriously about quitting. I felt I couldn’t take the loneliness anymore. I thought I would rather be anything than a writer. But I’ve finally come to appreciate the freedom of writing. I accept the fact that it’s hard and solitary work. And I worry about running out of ideas or repeating myself. So I’m always looking for new challenges.” Judy Blume might just be the most honest writer in our world. “When I was growing up, I dreamed about becoming a cowgirl, a detective, a spy, a great actress or a ballerina. Not a dentist, like my father, or a homemaker, like my mother— certainly not a writer, although I always loved to read. I didn’t know anything about writers. It never occurred to me they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head.”
I remember once in college being asked my most favorite book, a question I have since been asked annually. In college that day, I answered most honestly. My answer was met with an uncomfortable silence and finally my instructor remarked he did not know that book. He moved on to the next student but then later told me I needed to write a book report on my “unusual and unknown favorite book.” I did so and turned it in the next day. “Out of all of the vast volumes of literature in the world,” he sputtered, “you like a children’s book?” That memory and his disdain is as real today and it was then so you can imagine my delight in learning my favorite book is also one of Judy Blume’s! More on that book, later.
Judy Blume grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She checked her favorite book “Madeline” by Ludwig Bemelmans out from the public library and “I loved it so much I hid it so my mother would not be able to return it to the library. I thought it was the only copy in the world.” I first read “Madeline” at the age of four and loved that the young girls were expected to convey themselves with adult etiquette and manners. At a time when people were still somewhat speaking baby talk to me, this book gave me a sense of the possibility of maturity. It is that very sense of honesty that Judy Blume is known for in her books.
When asked about influences our favorite writers, Blume responds: “Libba Bray, Harper Lee, Stephen King,.. there’s tons. Poet – Emily Dickenson, Edgar Allen Poe, or William Shakespeare, I guess. I don’t read much poetry. Does Jim Morrison count? I have a book of lyrics & poems by him. Singer – How about some bands? Breaking Benjamin, The Doors, and hundreds more. But those are my top 2 at the moment. Book – Rebel Angels; Night; To Kill a Mockingbird… Those are my favorites right now. But that will probably change in a few days.”
Clearly Judy Blume was born a writer. “I made up stories while I bounced a ball against the side of our house. I made up stories playing with paper dolls. And I made them up while I practiced the piano, by pretending to give piano lessons. I even kept a notebook with the names of my pretend students and how they were doing. I always had an active imagination. But I never wrote down any of my stories. And I never told anyone about them. … When I grew up, my need for story telling didn’t go away. So when my own two children started pre-school I began to write and I’ve been writing ever since! My characters live inside my head for a long time before I actually start to write a book about them. Then, they become so real to me I talk about them at the dinner table as if they are real. Some people consider this weird. But my family understands.”
Judy Blume has been the target of those who would censor books and critiqued for her open and honest discussion of life with her young adult readers. She has successfully made the jump from writing for children to writing for adults with over ninety million books sold in over thirty-two languages. She and her third husband live in Key West, Florida. Blume is a two-time cancer survivor.
Her advice for writers is straightforward. “The best books come from someplace deep inside. You don’t write because you want to, but because you have to. Become emotionally involved. If you don’t care about your characters, your readers won’t either. Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being. If you’re that kind of writer, never give up! If you start a story and it isn’t going well, put it aside. (We’re not talking about school assignments here.) You can start as many as you like because you’re writing for yourself. With each story you’ll learn more. One day it will all come together for you, as it did for me with “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” I’d published two books and several short stories before Margaret, but I hadn’t found my voice yet. I hadn’t written from deep inside. With Margaret I found my voice and my audience.”
“No one can teach you exactly how to write. Each person approaches creative writing differently. Every writer has his or her own method. I usually have a character or story idea inside my head for a long time (sometimes years) before I actually begin. I know where I’m starting and where I’m going but I never know what’s going to happen in the middle or if the ending will be what I imagined on the day I began to write. It’s the surprise that makes writing exciting for me. Other writers know everything before they begin. They make detailed outlines or have it all worked out in their heads before they put a word on paper. There is no right way or wrong way. There are a hundred different ways to tell the same story. Whatever works for you is okay.”