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An Interview with Jeff Kinney

In this 2004 interview with Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, we get some early insight into the first Wimpy Kid book — before the worldwide fame of the beloved Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Question: Greg seems to get into trouble a lot. Do you like him as a person?

Jeff Kinney: That's a great question! While I was writing this book, I struggled with the fact that Greg is really not that likable a person. In most books, the protagonist is someone who is quite likable, but Greg does not have many redeeming qualities. I hoped that, despite this, a reader could still enjoy the story.

But there's always room for a character to grow and learn, so by the end of the book, don't be surprised if you see some changes in Greg.

Question: Which do you like doing more: writing or drawing cartoons?

Jeff Kinney: Both writing and drawing are a struggle for me. I am cursed with being a very slow illustrator, and this book requires at least 1,000 illustrations. So sometimes, the joy of illustrating is a bit diminished by the amount of time that illustrating takes. What I enjoy is seeing the words and illustrations come together on the page. To move the ideas in my head onto a printed (or Web) page is a real joy.

Question: What do you like to do when you're not writing or drawing cartoons?

Jeff Kinney: I love to do my "real" work, which is developing new games and content for Funbrain. I also love to spend time with my sons, Will and Grant, and my wife, Julie. I love to play volleyball, which I do twice a week. And I'm always up for the latest reality show on television.

Question: When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Jeff Kinney: I've always wanted to be a cartoonist, and I've always had an interest in computer programming. So in a sense, I got to be exactly what I hoped to be when I was younger.

Question: Did you keep a journal when you were growing up?

Jeff Kinney: I didn't keep a journal when I was younger, but I wish I had. That would have made writing this book a whole lot easier! But about five years ago, I started keeping a journal. The reason I started a journal was because I was wasting too much time watching television and playing video games, and I wasn't doing anything to pursue my cartooning aspirations. I thought that perhaps if I documented what I did every day, it would "shame" me into spending more time working on my cartoons. Ironically, keeping a journal was what inspired me to create this book. I liked the interplay of words and pictures in my real journal, and I thought it would be fun to create a fictional journal based on my childhood.

I would recommend to any kid out there to keep a journal. Most of my friends can't remember much about their childhood at all, and they wish they could. Even if you only keep a journal for a short while, I guarantee that you'll treasure it for the rest of your life.

Question: Do you have any suggestions for how to write a journal?

Jeff Kinney: Yes. Keep your entries short and sweet, so that you don't feel that you have to write a lot each day. That kind of pressure can become overwhelming, and it can force you to quit. I stopped writing in the "real" journal I kept a few years ago for that very reason – because there was too much pressure to continue.

There's a whole new type of journal out there today – Web logs, or "blogs." I think blogs are fascinating. They allow kids to keep a daily journal that their friends, and even people they've never met, can read on the Internet. What's really unique about blogs is that they allow the writer to reach an audience and to get feedback. Feedback is very important to a writer, because it keeps them going. If I were to start up my personal journal again today, I would consider writing a blog. The downside of a blog is that it's not private. Some people might not like to have their personal thoughts read by the public.

Question: What the hardest thing about being a writer?

Jeff Kinney: The hardest thing about being a writer is being discriminating about what you put down on paper. It's very easy to just write everything that comes into your head, and voila! You have a book. But you might not have a very good book.

I had to force myself to exercise discretion when I wrote Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I realized I was writing too quickly, and a lot of material I was writing wasn't very funny. So I decided that before I started writing the actual book, I was going to come up with 77 "idea pages," and that I'd only include the best ideas in the book. It ended up taking me four years to fill up my 77 idea pages, but it was worth it. I was able to cut out about 80 percent of the material that wasn't worth including, and I still had enough ideas for a book that will be 1,800 pages long on the Web.

Question: What's the best thing about being a writer?

Jeff Kinney: The best thing about being a writer is holding a real, printed book in your hands. When I was in college, I published a book of my cartoons, and I'll never forget the feeling of thumbing through it. I haven't yet published Diary of a Wimpy Kid in print, but when I do, I expect to feel an enormous sense of satisfaction.

It's also very fun to receive attention for your work. In college, I was interviewed by The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, and those interviews were highlights of my life. Second, of course, to this interview for TeacherVision!

Question: Will there be a sequel to Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Jeff Kinney: I have always planned on doing a sequel to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, chronicling Greg's summer. We'll see if that happens. I will only do it if I feel that the material is strong enough to warrant a second book. I don't want to keep writing about these characters if I feel that there's nothing more for them to do.

I've also thought about coming out with a sequel that occurs many years later - possibly in college, or even later. I think it would be fun to revisit the character many years after the first book.

More on: Literature

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