The Creative Process


I have been a big fan of children’s literature ever since I worked for a Children’s Book Order Company in Bath, Maine in the late 1980’s.

I fell in love with well told stories and beautiful art work by writers and illustrators like Barbara Cooney and Maurice Sendak.

Moving back to Minnesota, I was surprised to come across the Kerlan Collection at the Elmer L. Anderson Library on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Kerlan Collection is one of the world’s great children’s literature archives. It contains more than 100,000 children’s books as well as original manuscripts, artwork, galleys,  color proofs, and other production materials for 1,700 authors and illustrators.

The collection is open to everyone.  It becomes a valuable teaching tool for anyone – teachers and students, to authors and illustrators from around the world.

And it’s all secured 83 feet underground (the size of two football fields) to preserve the books and paper.

Manuscripts by some of my favorite children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are and Frog & Toad are Friends can be found there.

The collection was started by Irwin Kerlan, a doctor and graduate of the University of Minnesota, who had a passion for children’s books. He became friends with authors and illustrators asking them to save their manuscript drafts and original art.  A collection of 12,000 early drafts by authors is stored at the Kerlan.

The rough drafts show the creative process in action so it’s a good place for a writer or artist to see the process of revision.

Few writers or artists get it right the first time.  It’s inspiring to see these drafts first hand of those who eventually got it right.

This is something I need to keep in mind when I write: persistence.

Curiosity Never Killed a Writer (or at least Anyone I Knew)

One day I happened to come across a small listing advertising a Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the University of Minnesota where I work. Being a fan of the detective stories, I decided I would go to the exhibit at lunch. It was just a short walk over the bridge to the Elmer L Anderson Library– a place I had never ventured into before.
And why would I? There was nothing interesting on the outside. It was just an ordinary brown brick building.
But I soon learned that the library is home to the world’s largest collection of Sherlock Holmes related material. The exhibit was only a tiny selection of 60,000 collected items that included books, journals, and letters; scrapbooks, audio and visual recordings, and pop culture artifacts like his deer stalker hat, curved pipe and magnifying glass.
How many years have I been at the University of Minnesota and I did not know this?  I left feeling inspired and excited.
It was a happy reminder to keep exploring those unknown corners of my world and that magical places are closer than I think and behind ordinary doors. New adventures like these will certainly open up new writing ideas for me. But I’ll never find them if I don’t keep looking.
Think about the unknown places right in your own neighborhood. Walk a different path, explore a new building, restaurant or park.  Go on your own adventure.

To quote Holmes, “Come Watson, come. The game is afoot.”