July 15, 2013
Many years ago, before I sold my first book to Silhouette, I was watching a talk show (I think it was Oprah but that’s a moot point…) and the guest panel included Jan Eliot, the creator of the Stone Soup comic strip. She told the following little story and it really stuck with me.
Eliot said that early in her career she went to a cartoonists’ convention and was fortunate enough to meet Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, father of Snoopy- aka the world’s coolest Beagle. Schultz asked her about her strip and how things were going, and she answered honestly that she was frustrated that her strip felt stagnant and that her distribution had reached a point where she couldn’t seem to break out and get noticed. Schultz nodded his understanding and told Eliot that he, too, had gone through such a period in his career. His distribution was limited to 45 newspapers and he was frustrated over what to do. Until that point, Snoopy had only been a backdrop, a silent presence accompanying Charlie Brown around the neighborhood. One day Schultz decided to take a risk, and he had Snoopy stand up on two feet and have a thought. Readers loved it and his comic strip took off. Giving Snoopy a unique and special part of the comic strip he hadn’t originally planned was the spark that ignited Peanuts into the sensation it is even all the years after the last new comic strip ran.
Charles Schultz advised Eliot to look at her own work and find her Snoopy, then have Snoopy stand up and have a thought. Eliot took that advice and revived her comic strip.
I, as a struggling unpublished writer, heard that message and took it to heart. What special unique thing did my writing need to make my Snoopy stand up and have a thought? I adopted Snoopy, who I already thought was pretty darned cute, as my muse, as my constant reminder to look for the fresh angle in my writing, the unique twist. In essence, I had to let my voice be heard. I had to stop letting every critique partner and every contest judge silence my voice with rules and “how they’d do it”.
Oh, and some of you have been around long enough to remember that my son gave me a plastic Snoopy to take with me as a good luck charm when I went to RWA National in 2001 as a Golden Heart finalist… and I won! Yes, Snoopy became even more meaningful to me after that! So that is why I have no fewer than 10 Snoopys I’ve collected either taped to the edge of my computer screen or sitting on my desk.
As several of us head off this week to Atlanta and a conference full of writers eager to be the next best seller, this is a good time for a reminder to be true to what you do best. Find your Snoopy and have him stand up and have a thought.