Are you building walls, or breaking them down?

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Photo: krosseel

I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with a writer friend of mine about…well…about several things relating to writing, but in essence about what it takes to be a “real” writer. In a response to him today, I realized something about myself that I thought others might find useful.

Here’s what I wrote:

Sometimes I think people (myself included) create elaborate mechanisms to prevent us from pursuing our dreams. For me, it was doing corporate work for years on end. And most of the time we do this without even realizing it. “When I make this amount of money, then I’ll finally be able to…” Or, “When I get out of debt, I’ll…” Or, “When I get promoted, I’ll have time to finally…” But the truth is, if we really wanted to achieve our dreams, we’d make time or find the money or whatever. Instead, we make choices that allow us to avoid our fears. On a subconscious level we choose comfort over the unknown.

It’s always easier to see things in the rearview, but writing this response this morning made me see just how many years I spent (not sure I can really call them wasted, as they shaped who I am today) deliberately avoiding my dream of being a writer.

Yes, deliberately. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I would whine to my husband how I wanted to be a writer, but do little to actually move toward that dream. My husband, God bless him, would nix my whining with a short, “If you want to be a writer, write something.” Hard to argue with that. But instead, I’d find some other distraction or get caught up with work and busyness.

I wonder in what ways I’m still building walls to fend off fears. I’m sure they’re there, but they’re harder to see in the now. I’d prefer not to wait until they’re behind me to understand what they were.

Are you building walls to keep yourself from your dream? Or are you breaking them down?


Two Questions to Ask Your Creative Self

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There’s a sticky note on the wall overlooking my desk. On it is written two questions.

Are you a cooperative component?

Or are you keeping yourself out of the game?

I don’t remember now where I heard these questions. Maybe during a TED Talk. Anyway, I keep the questions there to remind me of the role I play (or don’t play) in my creative endeavors. Depending on how I’m doing each day, the questions are either a pat on the back or a kick in the pants.

Wherever you are in your creative journey, I hope find the questions useful, too.

SCBWI Summer Recap 2012: Words of Wisdom and Inspiration from Bryan Collier

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Bryan Collier, amazing author and illustrator, gave a moving and inspiring keynote at this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference. At the end he received a well-deserved standing ovation. Here are some of the gems he shared with us.

You have to drop that idea of what it means to be a romantic artist and do the things of the real world. Do what you have to do to get things done.

Society will tell you your dream doesn’t make sense. But no one knows the gift you embody.

Nurture the seed inside you. Protect it.

The dream is bigger than you dream it. Elmo is known around the world, but started with an awkward kid who made puppets of the arms of his mother’s coats.

Your art will transcend all.

The beauty is in the struggle. Nothing can help you, except the struggle.

The only way to get something is if you dare.

SCBWI Summer 2012 Recap: Stand There and Shine

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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.

SCBWI Summer Conference Recap, Part 6

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It’s hard to believe the SCBWI Summer Conference is already two weeks behind us. What an incredible experience.

If you’ve missed my previous recap posts, here you go:

  • Part 1 (Bruce Coville, Publisher’s Panel, Libba Bray)
  • Part 2 (Laure Halse Anderson, Emma Dryden)
  • Part 3 (Judy Blume, Oceanhouse Media, Jon Scieszka)
  • Part 4 (Norton Juster, Beverly Horowitz, Mary Pope Osborne)
  • Part 5 (Agent’s Panel, Gary Paulsen)

Here are the final two sessions I’ll be recapping. As always, thanks for reading. 🙂

From Bruce Coville’s “At the Intersection of Plot and Character: The Place Where Stories Happen”:

How awesome to get to hear Bruce Coville speak twice at this year’s conference. I took more notes during this session than any other. He had so many practical and inspiring things to say. Here are some of the gems:

  • The sweet spot for a book is in this center between plot and character; compelling characters in amazing plots
  • Every generation wants a good story well told
  • The perfect ending is both a surprise and inevitable, but never a coincidence
  • Character is plot and plot reveals character; how can you care what happens if you don’t who it happens to?
  • Good plotting is the art of choosing details, asking why-why-why until you get to the fresh ideas
  • Ask how rotten you can make life for the character
  • Answer by writing scenes
  • Make your character face a tough choice, moral decision; readers identify with someone forced to make a difficult choice
  • Characters must have an agenda, inconsistencies and exist in a matrix of relationships
  • Plot is weaving a series of actions to bring threads of the story together in a non-random and most satisfactory way; who wants what and why can’t he have it?

Bruce’s advice to writers is to take risks. If you aren’t risking, you’re not writing. Gamble every time you write. If you aren’t at risk of crashing, you haven’t jumped.

From Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Daring the Universe”:

Laurie started off her keynote quoting T.S. Eliot’s Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Art, she said, disturbs the universe, and living our dreams is revolutionary.

She could have stopped right there. I was sold. But she had so much more to say:

  • The artist’s job is to disturb
  • We are world shakers
  • The seed of art in your soul spins and keeps you discontent until you submit
  • If you don’t jump, the wings never come
  • The creative life demands discipline; it’s hard
  • Writing forces you to be alive and being alive can hurt
  • To stop writing is to succumb to despair, death of the spirit
  • Exercise control over self; discipline creates order
  • Be kind to your muse; she deserves love and care

Laurie ended her speech — and the conference — with a call to action: Take the revolution to the next place. Our children need us to tell the story of truth.

Thank you, SCBWI, for another amazing conference. And thank you for all you do to support those of us who create stories for children. Congratulations on 40 years. I wish you 40+ more.

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