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.
LikeWise began in January of this year, as a search for online venues that connect teen artists, writers and readers with like-minded souls. For my final post of 2015, I'm reviewing what I found.
The most impressive sites were created by fans of authors John Green and J.K Rowling. Nerdfighters and The Harry Potter Alliance connect readers like never before. They've built a legion of reader activists who use their love of story to fuel positive changes, like sending a plane load of supplies to hurricane survivors, forcing corporate giants to practice fair trade, and battling ogres who threaten net neutrality. The Nerdfighters site offers seemingly endless opportunities to connect with all creative types. And The Harry Potter Alliance continues to reach out to the reader community. Next March, they'll present The Granger Leadership Academy, where teams will help attendees develop hero skills. So readers, if you haven't checked them out, what are you waiting for?
Sites for writers and visual artists are harder to find. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is by far the most notable. It offers young novelists support and a discussion forum. Since the focus is on penning an entire novel in November, I'm not sure how long the connections and support last beyond that month. But it's certainly a place to meet teen writers and those relationships could grow beyond the event. For artists, The Art Assignment is a a fun, interactive project hosted by John Green's wife, Sarah. Guest artists present challenges and creative fans post their results on YouTube. It's ongoing, so you can participate when time allows and when it doesn't, pop in to keep up with the projects of your new online friends.
In August, I presented a Plethora of Artistic Links, including contests and opportunities to submit writing and art for publication. When I couldn't find more venues for artists and writers to connect, I drifted toward sites for creative minds: The Maker Movement, inventors, young and old, using technology to fabricate wondrous things; Imagination Foundation, collaborators who create with cardboard, and TED, the place to view and hear people with big ideas. They're fascinating places that feed the mind and fuel creativity.
To be sure, I'm not the most experienced researcher, or the most patient. While fantastic websites may have escaped my feeble fingers, I was thrilled to find an abundance of regional programs, many of them offered through libraries and museums. Nothing beats physical connections. What's important is finding people you trust to share your work with. Whether it's in person or online, I wish you rewarding relationships in 2016.
I said a sad goodbye to the Christmas tree, lights and decorations last weekend. The world always seems a little bleak after the holidays. It isn't just the loss of tinsel and cheerful displays. Spirits also take a dive. Is it because we've lost that sense of anticipation? I don't know about you, but I need something to look forward to, something that makes my insides tingle every time I think of it.
Valentine's Day doesn't do it for me. I have nothing on my writing agenda this year. No exciting conferences, no contests, not even any goals. I'm thinking I better change that. Setting one goal with one date attached can make a difference. If I commit to a children's writer's conference in June, then I'll want to present the best version of my current novel there. That's motivation to polish my messy story. So revision happens. And that little tingle in my belly keeps me typing.
The conference isn't on my calender yet, but I do have a new goal for this blog. While writing November's post, Finding Your Creative Path, I recognized how important it is to find like-minded souls and mentors who support and encourage your passion. The sooner, the better. So I'm adding a second monthly post called LikeWise, featuring venues that connect teen artists, writers and readers.
Last year, I challenged myself to create a sketch for each post. But it held up publication. So this year, I only promise to share sketches IF they happen before I'm done with my post. Don't hold your breath. However, I will be sharing gorgeous art from my set of illustrator biographies published by Peacock Press/Bantam Books in the 1970s. The one above is by Nancy Ekholm Burkert from Hans Christian Andersen's book, The Fir Tree. The text for the illustration was: " . . . a hare would often come . . ."
I hope your 2015 calender is filling up with dates and goals that make your insides tingle. If not, this is a good day to find some.
I'm feeling pretty positive about this new year. Good things are afoot, starting this weekend with my second Writer's in Paradise conference at Eckerd College. The campus is nestled at the southern tip of Pinellas County, surrounded by beautiful, gulf waters. My best friend from high school is attending from New Mexico and we hope to channel some energy from our past. Novelist, David Yoo is leading the young adult workshops which will take up my mornings for the next eight days. During lunch breaks, my friend (who is doing the nonfiction track) and I plan to find a sunny spot near the water, picnic and compare notes. In the afternoons, we'll attend presentations by the illustrious: Dennis Lehanne, Ann Patchett, Andre Dubus and more. I can't wait!
In the fall, I was thrilled to be accepted into a fantatsic, critique group of middle grade and young adult novelists. At first, I fretted over the drive and time commitment. The group is based in the county south of mine with two members living in the county south of that. They alternate meetings between the two counties, one every other week. Critique days, I'm on the road for almost three hours. Add that to four hours of critique and the day is almost gone. But after two meetings, I knew the time and drive were justified by the rewards. These talented authors have encouraged my efforts and offered superior, critical feedback. On top of that, I get to read and learn from their stellar chapters! I'm still pinching myself. For the last three years, I've hoped to find a group of this caliber and had almost given up. When I did find it, I worried about fitting in. I'm the least experienced writer by far. They not only make me feel welcome but have graciously shown respect for my feedback and work.
Three of my new critique partners are attending the SCBWI conference in Miami this weekend. I'm looking forward to hearing about their experience and sharing my notes from Eckerd at our next meeting. If you aren't a member of a critique group, the new year is a good time to look for one. Writers need support and agents and editors will thank you for work screened by your peers. If you've been searching for a group and haven't found the right fit, don't give up! Keep perfecting your craft and gather where other writers gather. Speaking of gathering, January is a good time to check out the year's writers' conferences and workshops. Our skills are never too sharp and they're great places to network. Many critique groups started from conference friendships.
Is it really three days into 2012 already? Time is so sneaky. I meant to make resolutions but somehow they haven't solidified. Author, Julianna Baggott shared her enlightened goals on her blog, Baggott, Asher, and Bode . One of her resoultions was to revisit her vows every week and renew them. I don't think I'm disciplined enough to do that. I don't even like to look back at year's end to examine how many I achieved.
2011 battered the world. Oppressed nations erupted, Mother Nature attacked, and here in the U.S., discontent grew in the downtrodden masses. As the presidential election looms, candidates point fingers, fueling hate and further splintering a government that badly needs to unite. Despite the turmoil, I sense optimism for this new year. Is it just lingering holiday euphoria? Or upbeat predictions tossed from experts on TV? I hope not.
My writing suffered serious setbacks last year. Two novels stalled, resisting my best efforts to revive them. Three picture book projects await art and the artist in me is AWOL. I've always worked through dry spells in my art and writing with positive results, until now. By the end of 2011, I was feeling pretty desperate, so I could definitely use hope. My budget allows for no writing education or motivational conferences this year. But I have supportive friends and family, some of them writers who understand this process. And there's already a bright dot on the calender, my first published story, due in Highlights, May 2012. I'll look for inspiration where I can find it, including books . . . thank you, God for libraries! Maybe my first resloution will be learning to trust the dry spell will end.
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