When I grew up, we didn't go back to school until after Labor Day. Now, school starts in August and here in Florida that means slogging through a fat layer of heat and humidity to get to bus stop and classes. So in honor of students everywhere who are trying to shake off summer and switch on their learning brains, here's my Start-of-School Survival Guide for Creative Types:
1. Journal and draw, every day if you can. Put all that stuff you can't talk about (good and bad) into words or art nobody but you needs to see.
2. Find new authors to read, new protagonists to relate to, new books to add to your favorites' list. Books are not only great escapes, they're great companions.
3. Dream a dream and then live it. Start a novel or picture book, enter a contest, submit to an art show, a magazine or other publication. Write book reviews on sites like Goodreads or Teenreads. Volunteer to write or create art for a cause you're passionate about.
4. If you don't have a mentor, try to find one. Someone who believes in your work, encourages you and challenges you to reach for the stars.
5. Find your tribe. They're out there, other creative minds who think and dream like you. If you already have a tribe, keep an eye out for artists wandering the halls alone. We artists spend so much time in our heads, it's sometimes hard to connect to the world. But without doubt, we need to.
6. Read, watch and listen to artists of every discipline. Discover new visual artists, musicians, dancers and writers. Don't analyze, just enjoy them and trust your subconscious to absorb and process what it needs.
That's all my heat-zapped brain can provide at the moment. Except to say, someday the memories you create this year will show up in your art. You may even become a MG or YA writer or illustrator. Then you'll search your brain for every scrap of memory from your middle grade and high school years to provide believable characters and plot.
My husband and I visited the Florida State Fair for Valentine's Day. It was a beautiful, blue skied-day, cool but not cold. The kind of day that calls you outside. First, we strolled through Cracker Country, a permanent village made up of historic Florida buildings.
Next, we toured the farm exhibits. The baby goats were hard to resist.
Then the smell from the food carts lured us to the midway.
Last stop, the exhibition hall, where we stepped into the middle of a crew setting up for a mayonnaise commercial in a circus exhibit. Yep, mayonnaise and circuses. Who knew?
It was just the kind of day I needed to recharge my muse batteries. We all have dry spells, when the creative well is empty. One of the best ways I've heard to refill the well is to have fun, do something different, get away from your normal life. If you're frustrated by writer's or artist's block, you can't find the solution to that problem spot in your drawing, can't find the end of your story or worse, you've run out of ideas for new work, your brain needs a break. Get away. Take a walk somewhere interesting. Go to a concert, a circus, a fair. Even reading a great book can give your brain the vacation it needs to recharge. The trick is to completely forget the work that tied your mind in a knot. It'll unwind when you stop trying so hard.
Today's art is inspired by the circus exhibit. It's my first attempt at drawing a fantasy creature from the book I'm working on. And the book isn't a fantasy. Ponder that!
For Christmas, Teddie, the much adored leader of my critique group, The Skyway Writers, gave each member a beautiful, red-beaded bracelet. Now, I wear it every time I write. It makes me feel connected to my talented peers as I sit at my lonely desk, trying to find the right words to tell a story only I can tell. I love starting the year with a positive new tradition.
I announced at the end of last month that I planned to steer this blog in a new direction. My focus will be encouraging teen readers, writers and artists. There's no better way to start than by celebrating great books. This week, one of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, won the John Newbery award for the second time with her latest book, Flora and Ulysses. Have you read it? I haven't and I'm eager to get my hands on it. I've loved all her other books so I know what to expect. That's the thing about favorite authors. They don't disappoint.
I'm not a person who handles creative productivity slumps well. So, with my latest novel project stalled, I turned to a picture book I'd written. The text could be improved but what it really needed was art. After a week of uninspired drawing, I headed to the library for resource material and came home empty handed. How is it that two local libraries lack books on Louisiana?
I'm trying really hard not to panic about the absence of my artist self. She'll come back. She has to come back. Art's been a vital part of my life since toddlerhood. I can't imagine my life without it. I thought back to those early years when horses ruled my drawing. Eventually, I added dogs and people to my portfolio. An idea surfaced. Why not go back to the subjects I loved to draw the most, horses and dogs, find the joy art used to bring me before it became a job.
I immediately knew the story I would write about a very special dog who grew up with a horse trainer. But I also knew I needed support. I've tried to go it alone the last few months and it just doesn't work for me. The January news from Florida SCBWI mentioned the Dummy Book Challenge, a guided sixteen-week process from story idea to finished dummy at kidlitart . I signed up before doubt interfered. Then I emailed Rob, the leader of my old picture book group, asking if they had room for one more. I'm waiting on their reply. Next step, gathering photos of my subject, who is now deceased. I don't have many but I know the ones I have will make me smile and I'm hoping . . . praying, that they make my fingers itch for a pencil and paper.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Baggott, Asher & Bode
Rear in Gear
Kate DiCamillo on Writing