We recently sat down with best-selling author Jeff Kinney, writer of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. His dedication to the craft of storytelling has inspired millions of readers, and his first novel inspired the all-new animated adventure, streaming now on Disney+.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Jeff, who has some inspiration for aspiring writers, illustrators, and storytellers:
Q. What inspired you to become an author? What do you love most about writing?
A. I never aspired to be an author. My dream was to become a newspaper cartoonist, like my heroes, Charles Schulz, Gary Larson, and Bill Watterson. But after spending a few years trying to break in, I realized I didn’t have the artistic chops to pull it off. So I decided to pivot and become a cartoon novelist instead. The best thing about writing a story is creating something out of whole cloth, and having it resonate with readers. It’s an incredible privilege to have my work published all around the world, and I always strive to make the next book better than the last.
Q. Can you tell us about the writing and publishing process?
A. Each book starts humbly with a blank screen. I spend a few months trying to generate jokes — usually about 700 per book these days. Next, I start writing the manuscript, which is always the hardest part for me. On the last book, I got stuck on the first line for ten days. My manuscripts take me about a month and a half to write out, and then I start drawing. It takes me about two months to do all my drawings, often spending more than fifteen hours a day at my desk. After that, I’m done. I wait two months, and the book seems to magically appear at bookstores. But of course the “magic” is what publishing is all about — making a story become “real.”
Q. What skills, training, or experience does it take to become a good writer and storyteller?
A. First and foremost, lots of reading. It would be hard to become a good writer without being a good reader first. Then, training. There are lots of classes, writers’ groups, and books that can teach you how to elevate your writing game. And of course trying things out on an audience. It’s important to find out what people respond to, and what they don’t. Lastly, time. It takes time to develop your skills and get good at telling stories in your genre.
Q. How did your storytelling influence the vision for the upcoming film on Disney+?
A. The film is based on my first book, so that was the starting point. But I wanted to tell a better story than what’s in the book. So I had to learn a lot about screenwriting and the craft of telling a good story for film.
Q. What do you believe is the importance of storytelling? Why does society need it?
A. Recently I read a quote from a filmmaker who said we need fiction to teach us the truth. Life is messy without clear life lessons. But movies are different. They are a distillation of emotional truth. The most beneficial aspect of storytelling is that it can teach empathy. And empathy is in short supply these days.
Q. What advice do you have for students who aspire to become a professional writer someday?
A. Take time to develop your craft. In this age of social media, it’s tempting to put the first thing that pops into your head out there for public consumption. But good storytelling takes time. Allow yourself a lot of space to tell stories that are meaningful and impactful, or just plain entertaining.
Q. For teachers who want to inspire their students to become better storytellers, how do you tell a good story?
A. First, you need a hook! Why would someone want to hear this story? Why does the world need your story? If you can answer that question, you might have something. Work on the concept first. A good concept is worth gold.
Q. What is your favorite Disney story and why?
A. Mine was always “The Little Mermaid.” I thought it had everything — love, comedy, and of course, great songs! I think I saw it five times in the theater alone!
Ready to learn more? Check out the Arts & Humanities workshops at our East Campus at Walt Disney World Resort and our West Campus at Disneyland Resort for a discovery of the real-world application of the art, design, and storytelling behind our most popular attractions! Sign up for our e-newsletter to stay up to date on all things Disney Imagination Campus and explore all our academic workshops to see how we inspire imagination-powered learning.