Everyone has an opinion, right? Everyone has advice? Well, I’ve been on this planet for more than a few years, now and I’ve got an idea or ten for ways to make this life a more satisfying ride. Take ’em or leave ’em. They work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you.
Here we go.
10 Tips for a Happier Life
- Believe in something greater than yourself.
- Speak less. Listen more.
- There are givers and there are takers. Be a giver.
- Don’t believe those who tell you you can’t.
- That thing that lights you up? Do that.
- Stop making excuses.
- Be too busy for people who don’t treat you well.
- Forgive. For your sake as well as theirs.
- When you feel crummy, do something nice for someone you don’t know.
- Every now and then, stop staring at screens and stare at the stars. The universe is vast and deep. Consider your place in it and respond accordingly.
Karen Cushman delivered a keynote address during the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference that was brimming with inspiration and wisdom. Here’s a bit of what she shared.
Stand There and Shine
Ms. Cushman began her talk by telling us that every word she writes, every character she creates, every idea she explores, she offers from her heart to her readers. “The function of freedom is to free someone else,” said Toni Morrison. Ms. Cushman believes this is what books and stories do.
She encouraged writers to make up their own rules, or to have no rules. She said to listen to the inaudible voices. Ask questions that might have surprising answers. Ask questions you don’t know the answers to. Be willing to stray from outlines.
Ms. Cushman believes writing creatively requires reading creatively, and that means reading ourselves creativity. The only way to do this, is to shut down the voice of the inner critic and listen to the inner editor instead. The voice of the inner editor gives guidance, not discouragement.
“Sometimes,” Ms. Cushman said, “it is necessary to write. Sometimes to pull weeds.” Slow down and let ideas percolate. As soon as you trust yourself, you’ll know how to write.
She quoted Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
That’s what we need to do, and what we need to let our stories do.
Stand there and shine.
Over a week has passed since I returned from the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. What a week it was, too. Spent the first couple of days shuffling around like a zombie (averaging three hours of sleep per night will do that to a person). The rest of the week was spent in a fevered spell of focused creativity.
Now, it’s time to recap for you some of what I learned at this amazing event.
I need to start by saying, if you write for children, you should join the SCBWI. And you should attend the conferences. They are so worth the time and money. Great organization. Great people.
OK. Recap. Here we go.
Looking Backward to Go Forward
The first morning of the conference, Tony DiTerlizzi, author of The Search for Wondla and co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles, gave a keynote address titled, “Never Abandon Imagination”. Tony is an energetic, entertaining speaker. He shared with us what he was like as a kid, how he didn’t like reading books because they were full of words and he found words boring but how, when a teacher told him to draw a scene from a book, he discovered his life’s passion.
When it comes to writing and illustrating, Tony asks himself, “What would ten year-old Tony want that old Tony can make?”
He showed us a photo of his studio, where he’s surrounded himself with artifacts from his childhood. He keeps these around as he creates, he says, to keep in touch with his ten year-old self. He keeps the good stuff, the bad stuff, and the tough stuff. Then he figures out how 40 year-old Tony can relate to his ten year-old self.
In other words, he looks backward before moving forward.
Update: You can read Tony’s account of his experiences at the SCBWI conference here.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Neil Gaiman’s advice to graduating students on living the life of an artist. Brilliant. Honest. Not to be missed.
Gennifer Choldenko, author of Newberry Honor winning Al Capone Does My Shirts, gave a great keynote address during the Summer 2010 SCBWI Conference. Her talk was full of inspiration and advice for both kidlit authors and writers in general.
Here’s a summary of her key points:
- There will always be a market for stupendous work.
- Suit up and shut up.
- EB White killed off Charlotte; don’t be afraid to dig deep for the truth in your work.
- What you experience while writing, your readers will experience while reading.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times. Eavesdrop. Take notes. People watch.
- Build a world and make it your own.
- Look for the doorway in your story and walk through it.
- If you’re not totally engaged with your work, something is wrong; go back to where you were engaged and start from there.
- Once you have your first draft, reread it to see what you’re avoiding.
- Give yourself space to take risks.
- “Next time, fail better.” Samuel Beckett
- Take care of your writer self.
- Focus on quality, not quantity.
- Push your protagonist to do something the reader would never do.
- Realize critique groups aren’t for everyone.
- Write books worth promoting.
- Revise ruthlessly.
- Trust your gut.
- Rejection happens. Get on with it. Get over it.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Think of the one kid who needs your book.
Throw your heart over the edge and follow.
Pour yourself into your work. The writing is the real thrill.