This year, I'm focusing LikeWise posts on opportunities for teen artists, writers and readers to showcase their talents. I'm starting with The Scholastic Art and Writing Scholarships. Established in 1923, it gives senior high students access to over $3.5 million in scholarships from local institutions and $10,000 individual scholarships at the national level. Silver medal awardees can earn $1000, and selected works will be featured in the National Catalog and The Best Teen Writing anthology.
Students from grade 7 through 12 can apply for awards in twenty-two diverse categories, from comic art and sculpture to flash fiction and novel writing. Anyone enrolled in a North American educational system can apply, including home schoolers and those attending American or Canadian schools abroad. Students are encouraged to explore topics freely. No work will be excluded because of content.
Contest deadlines vary by region and there's a handy form to determine your deadline on the website. When I typed in my zip code, it said the deadline in my area for the 2016 awards was December of last year. But the contest for 2017 opens for everyone in September. That gives you plenty of time to dream up a new project or polish one you've already created. In the meantime, check out previous winners on their website and get inspired on their blog. And if that's not enough to stoke your artistic fire, check out this video of the 2015 award ceremony. Wow, oh, wow. They really know how to honor.
New Year, New Resolve
I love learning. School learning, book learning, workshops, hand-me-down knowledge, if you're teaching something I'm passionate about, the loading dock in my brain is eager to receive it. Studying craft is vitally important to developing my art and no matter how accomplished I get, I never want to stop growing.
But all that learning can interfere with the creative process, especially if you're a perfectionist like me. When the voices in your head won't let you write a sentence without nagging . . .
Do you really need that adjective?
Shouldn't there be a comma there?
You're using the word just again?
When you doubt the book before the first draft of the first chapter is written . . .
Hasn't this story already been penned by someone who did it brilliantly?
My version will never live up to theirs.
When messages about syntax, character arcs and pacing interfere with the creative stream, it's time to pack all that learning in a box and shove it behind a locked door in your brain.
I've been reading books on writing by James Scott Bell (yes, yes, more learning). He talks about the single most powerful element in good fiction being the joy the writer brings to telling the story. That jolted my artistic heart. I thought about all the books I love, about how from the first word, I feel I'm sitting with a powerful storyteller. Their joy in writing that tale sings from the pages.
After reading Bell's words, memories rose of getting so lost while drawing or painting, the world around me disappeared and I'd lose track of time. The first couple years of writing, my stories came like that. Creativity erupted whenever a quiet moment occurred and was stoppered only long enough to take care of life. Then I learned HOW TO WRITE and HOW MUCH I DIDN'T KNOW. All that learning slowly smothered my creativity.
So my one and only new year's resolution is to rediscover the joy in my art. It's not easy shutting out lessons once you've learned them. But I'm hoping to do that and if you're feeling stifled, I encourage you to do the same. You can invite those critical voices back when you finish the first draft. They'll be more than happy to help you polish and shine. That's the best part about learning, it's there when you need it.
Creativity Takes on the Holidays
This time of year life seems to speed up. There are so many scribbles on the calendar, it's hard to keep track, and 2016 urges our brains to charge ahead. Between festivities, gift-giving and gatherings, we creatives struggle to balance work and play.
If you have a project due, like a book publishers are waiting on, you're probably huddled in a hidey hole, curtains drawn, ears stuffed with cotton and a towel crammed under the door to drown out holiday music and the smell of baking cookies. You finish a day's worth of edits and crawl out of your cave, then dress for the party you wouldn't dare miss, if only your head wasn't filled with plot. But as your significant other shows off his eye-popping Christmas sweater, your brain sneaks back to story. And there it is, the perfect twist for that boring scene you couldn't figure out! Your fingers itch to type. You can't wait to get home to your computer. But
. . . you glance at your beloved, now singing off-key carols with friends and family.
They laugh and roll their eyes at your unfocused look. But they get it. They understand the creative process commandeers our brains, and they love us anyway. So you stay at the party. Life is not all about art, even when there are deadlines. And tomorrow, bright and early, it's you and the cave and the book.
If you DON'T have a publisher breathing over your shoulder, set your work aside and enjoy the holidays. Creativity needs down time. It's fueled by the life we engage in, including manic shopping with strangers wearing bells and blinking sweaters, and making a mess of your kitchen with people you love. January 2nd, when the confetti is swept aside and a new year stretches before us, we'll pull up our story files, set a canvas on the easel and create.
Whatever holiday you celebrate, focus on love. It flows more freely this time of year, so open your heart, give and receive, store the good feelings to fuel your next year.
Then There Be Dragons
In author Terry Pratchett's Disc World series, dragons are real, as long as people believe in them. The stronger the belief, the more magnificent the dragon. In the series' first book, The Color of Magic, the main character is high above the ground, escaping on someone else's imagined dragon when he realizes doubting the dragon's existence could mean a long fall to the ground.
An article I wrote called Never Stop Believing was recently published in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin magazine. It was about perseverance and fighting doubt in your work. I don't think I've ever met an artist or writer who hasn't faced doubt. For some, it's a constant companion. Writers experience it when their first drafts are criticized by peers, their polished work rejected by agents and editors, and their published work picked on by negative reviewers.
Yet, we keep on creating. It's who we are. Art grows inside of us and begs to be fulfilled. So we write our stories and craft our artworks and we try to believe they're worthy. That's where the dragons come in. I love the idea of a mighty beast as metaphor for our belief. The stronger our faith in our work, the more powerful the dragon. And it isn't just about our work, it's about believing in who we are, right now, no matter what we look like or what we've accomplished or how we compare to others. If we don't believe in ourselves, we cripple our abilities and potential.
Imagine you're nestled behind a dragon's wings, flying high over your town. You've just finished your latest art or story and it's good, maybe better than good. You can't wait to show it to others. Some love it and some don't. You downplay the praise and focus on the criticism. Your dragon starts to fade and you're falling fast towards the ground.
If we rely on others to confirm our art is worthy, we abandon the creative spirit inside of us. That spirit needs our faith to keep it flying high. So envision your dragon and feed it often. Grow it into something powerful and beautiful, just like you.
Likewise # 10: NaNo Fever
NaNoWriMo starts Sunday, so this is prep time for all you people itching to start a novel. The Young Writer's Program offers a novel workbook, author pep talks and venues to connect to other teen writers.
NaNo launched in 1999 and last year 325,142 participated. Since it's beginning over 250 NaNo novels have been published, including Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and Marissa Meyer's Cinder.
Here's how it works. You go to their website, fill out a profile, hang out with other writers and commit to trying to write 50,000 words in a month. At the end of November, you stop. Not everybody makes the goal, so don't feel bad if you don't. There are badges that reward your best efforts. Display them with pride!
Fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. The great thing is, no one expects them to be brilliant. You just write the story straight from your head. It will probably be a mess. Like most first drafts, it might make you wince when you read it. But it might also be the beginning of a good book.
NaNoWriMo is a fast, fun way to prove you have a novel in you. It doesn't guarantee it will be a novel worth publishing. The value of the words you write depend on you learning to write them well. So if you start NaNo as a beginning writer, don't expect to create a blockbuster novel. Use it as a learning experience. Most authors start by writing books no one will ever read. Why not do that with a legion of new writer friends? And for experienced writers who are using NaNo to bring a third or fourth book into the world, who knows? It could be the next Eleanor and Park.
Summer's almost over. Is that groaning I hear? No more sleeping in or freedom to plan your days. But heading back to school isn't all bad. There's shopping for new gear and clothes, reconnecting with friends you haven't seen since June, making new friends, feeding your brain and sharing your creative passion. In my county, school starts next Tuesday. You have one last week to hit the beaches, malls and movies with friends before your minds are called to greater challenges.
Picturing the school year ahead, I focused today's LikeWise on a plethora of links. Plethora. Sorry, I love saying some words, even if it's just in my head. You can check the links out all at once or peek at them whenever you feel the urge.
First up is Study.com's 40 Best Websites for Teen Writers. This is an awesome list, including communities and courses (some of them free), grammar and reference, creativity boosters and publishing advice.
For inspiration, visit The Academy of Achievement's Arts Page. You can match your personality with the world's most respected achievers, watch podcasts and browse a list of recommended books.
Teen Ink's Art and Photography Resource Page offers art, photography and museums links. Their site also features links for:
And a General Resource Page. Besides art, photography and writing sites, you'll find environment, reference materials, volunteer opportunities and a fantastic summer camp and courses list, so you can daydream about next summer.
Finally, here's a list of teen blogs for artists, writers and readers:
The Metropolitan Museum of Arts Teen Blog
The Whit Blog from The Whitney Museum
Contemporary Austin's Teen Blog
YA Author's Cafe
The YA Blogosphere, a directory of YA book related blogs.
Enjoy the last days of summer! And it's okay to admit you're a tiny bit excited about going back to school.
Cross-pollinating with Art
I've been thinking a lot lately about art. Not any one art, all art, and how one creative process inspires another. When I studied painting in college, students were urged to explore mediums and other arts: dance, music, theater. Artists collaborate all the time. Theater and dance productions call for artists to do make-up, costume and set design, as well as actors and dancers. Musicians make choreographed videos and help create album covers. Visual artists stage events, using music, performance and video to express their concepts.
But writing is different. Unless, you're writing a picture book or graphic novel, your writing will most likely be represented by words on a page. Yes, an artist will create a cover, but authors aren't majorly involved in that process. I've been a visual artist all my life. Does that sound weird? It's true. I believe I was born with the urge to make marks on paper that expressed what I couldn't say in words. My writing grew from that art. My paintings were always telling stories. Just look at Toto. He's sick of following Dorothy through OZ. He's grabbed the ruby slipper and he's headed toward a tropical paradise with the wicked witch in pursuit.
For me, I think every work of art begins with a story. Seven years ago, a series of drawings begged to be a book and I've been writing ever since. Even though I don't illustrate my stories (mostly because young adult novels aren't usually illustrated), I visualize them. And I wonder, besides standard illustrations and creating imagery with words, how can I use my visual art skills in my books?
Other artists have asked that question too. I'm in awe of author/illustrator Brian Selznick who produces cinematic experiences with image and text in books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. And David Weisner, whose images are so powerful, he needs no words to tell picture book stories like Flotsam. At this stage in my life, I'm most interested in creating pictures with words. But I'm glad the artist in me asks questions that prompt my brain to think outside the box of traditional storytelling.
I hope the questions inspire you to unlock the gates in your brain. Pollinate your chosen passion with other art.
Likewise #7: Make It Fun
My husband is a geek to the nth degree. He watches lots of internet content, including YouTube, and he's been urging me to include YouTube's Make community in a LikeWise post. I had plenty of other sites to feature and put his request on the back burner until this month. Now, I'm sorry I waited. Yesterday, when I looked up the Make channel, I found this cool summer camp.
I wanted to be a camper after I saw this video! Maker Camp offers "the best of summer camp with sure-fire projects." As you can see by the video, it kicked off in early July and if you go to their site, you'll find a list of the fantastic projects you've missed. Yes, missed. If I had listened to my husband and checked out this idea months ago, I'd have posted this at the beginning of summer and you wouldn't have missed making masks, costumes, and instruments.
You can still watch the videos introducing each project and make them yourselves. And thankfully, there are a couple weeks left of camp. I'm posting LikeWise early this month so you don't miss another project. You may not relate to them all, but try them anyway. Put your own spin on each project and share them with the Maker community.
"And who are Makers?" you ask. They're creative people, young and old, who set their imaginations loose on technology. Check out this mythical swamp creature:
There are Maker Faires all over the world for participants to showcase their work, meet other Makers and share ideas. Find one near you on their website. Expand your definition of playing with technology this summer.
Oh yeah, I owe my husband something. Hon, you were right. Makers are awesome.
When I think of summer, I picture grass and sky and the perfect tree. It's a wise old tree, broad at the base for my back to lean against, and sturdy limbs low to the ground, so it's easily climbed. Tiny sparrows hop among the leaves and in the blue sky beyond, odd-shaped clouds stream past. It's the ideal daydreaming spot.
And daydreaming should be at the top of your list this summer. Yeah, yeah, squeeze in all the other important stuff: sleeping late, beach time, hanging out with friends. But leave room for mind drifting.
Think about it. How many times have you been accused of daydreaming when others want your attention focused on class, homework or listening? Do you ever wish for uninterrupted time to let your mind wander? Well, here it is. There are no teachers. No textbooks. What you have is hours of unscheduled down time. So give your mind permission to roam. Find the strangest cloud. Or an unbelievable insect with iridescent eyes and impossibly thin gossamer wings. Imagine the smallest things big and the biggest things small. Imagine another world or this world in another way. Just imagine.
Writers and artists rely on their ability to unlock their brains and set their imagination free. It's not always easy to do that. Life fills up with other things, like school, parents, even friends. One day, if you choose a career in the arts, you'll be paid to spend your time daydreaming. But for now, you have summer.
The Thrill of Facing Blank
A blank page, a white canvas, a lump of clay. Artists experience a unique thrill when faced with a new project. I've never tried to analyze it, but for me I think it's a mix of exploring the unknown and anticipation of what may grow from words, paint and clay. And hope. I want it to be successful. I hope it will come closer to being the type of work I admire.
I just finished a book I've been working on for over a year. I'm a little low on creative energy and still sweeping the last story from my brain. You develop a relationship with each project. Bond with it, commit to working through good times and bad. It can be hard to let go. But I had an idea for a new story so I scratched out a beginning. Then my brain kicked in and started asking the main characters questions. Who are you? What do you want? What's standing in your way and what will you do about it? The answers will fill blank pages and hopefully, another book will be born.
As a visual artist, I face a blank canvas with photographs, sketches or props as guide. I have a vision of what I hope to create and I can't wait to translate it on canvas. I've done very little sculpting and crude ceramic work but I love a lump of clay. What will it be? A pot, a figure, or an abstracted thought? From our minds to our fingers to the medium, we express. What do you want to say to the world? Stretch a new canvas, create a new document, buy a new batch of clay. Start a fresh project today.
If you're wondering why there's a photo of my dog Teddy illustrating this post, it's simple. When we adopted him two months ago, he was a blank slate. He's getting to know us. We're getting to know him, asking questions as we go and eager to grow this relationship. Sort of like his hair. He had next to none when we met him. Now he has chocolate brown spots that shine in the sun like fudge. He's a work of art, for sure
Just so you know, I'm not ashamed of using Teddy as a metaphor and since it's pretty much The Year of Teddy at our house and he doesn't mind being photographed, you'll probably see a lot of his mug.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor