I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. Every year seems to go by faster. I'm thrilled to have tapped into my writing muse at this stage in life. But stories are piling up in my head, begging to be told, and books take years to grow from idea to something readers can enjoy. It's hard not to panic.
So I can't help wishing I'd had a guide when I was younger. Someone who steered my education towards writing and illustrating books. Stories have always been in me, just like art. But the art was respected and the stories were hushed.
From first grade on, teachers encouraged my artistic efforts. We moved often and I was insecure. But wherever I went, I could rely on my art. Drawing allowed me to express what I couldn't say in words and connected me with the people who saw it. Then high school ended and there was no one offering advise about the next step in my life. Since I'd always loved school, an art degree seemed like a good idea.
No way was I prepared for the collegiate art world.
I remember staring at a graduate student's display of rubber ducks in a plastic pond and thinking, this is art? Still, I tried to get with the program. I experimented with mediums, painted scenes on household objects, slathered glue on canvases, dragged a rotting fence panel, lampshades and salvaged bits of architecture into my studio at school. My efforts provoked deep discussions and coveted As from professors.
With a bachelor's degree in hand, I contemplated graduate school. But I longed to paint narrative scenes and that was considered archaic. So I took a deep breath, left academics behind and faced the real world. I submitted works to galleries, hung around at openings, wine glass in hand, talking art theory with other artists. I hated every minute. Don't get me wrong. I respect fine artists. We need their art, just as we need the art that inspires clothing, architecture and movies. And I'm grateful for my education but . . .
I'm a storyteller. Plain and simple. And after many years of painting narrative scenes and portraits, I finally listened to the writer voice in my head. I will honor that voice until I can honor it no more.
My advice to teens is this: Ask yourself who you are. Make a list of all the things you love and the things you love to do. Journal and draw to connect with what's deep inside you. If you have a mentor, share what you've learned about yourself. Then explore your options before you make college or career choices. Not that you can't change careers or college majors (and don't be afraid to if you've entered a program that's a poor fit). But getting it right in the beginning offers a lifetime to create the work you were meant to create.
In the meantime, I wish you a delicious Thanksgiving. My sketch for today is the scruffy, plastic draft horse that sits on my desk. He has a most important job: holding my special writing bracelet. But he doesn't have a name. And who knows he might have a story one day, so I better fix that!
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.
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Kate DiCamillo on Writing