I, like most adults, spend a lot of time telling the children in my life (my own and my students) to 'Be themselves'. We stress the importance of this in every day life. The choices you make need to be your own and trying to be someone else will never lead you where you want to go. I wonder, however, if this is entirely true. Yes, you need to be yourself, love yourself, respect yourself, and accept yourself. We aren't self-contained little worlds, though, so it stands to reason that the people around us influence us and make us want to emulate them. Big sisters, little sisters, friends, moms, dads, activists: we have reason to want to be like some of the people that inspire us. So yes, we want to be ourselves, but we also need to decide who influences the selves we shape.
The other aspect of the 'Be yourself' philosphy that can get a bit confusing is that you are an ever changing thing. We are influenced, molded, and changed by the experiences we have and the people we let in to our lives. As a writer, I think the influence of others is vitally important. I cannot be the self I was at 20, nor would you want me to be. Who I am is, undoubtably, a part of the experiences and people in my life that have shaped me. This comes across in my writing. I want to be Robert Munsch, Mem Fox, Margie Palatini, and Kevin Henkes; but I'm not. I am charmed and influenced by them, but I am also charmed and influenced by Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and J.K. Rowling. The same 'me' that loves romantic suspense novels can't stand a sad ending or the unknown. So, how do you (I) reconcile all of this into the writer I want to be? I hope you weren't looking for an answer because the truth is, I don't have one.
It's the question that haunts me constantly when I try to think of how I want to establish myself as an author. Actually, if I'm being completely honest, it's the question that haunts me as a person. As my children get older, I think more and more about who I am, who I want to be, who I want them to be, and what matters to me. I haven't narrowed all of this down yet, but I do know that I want authenticity. To me, that means feeling good about what I write, what I say, and what I do. I don't always feel that way and when something I've said, written, or done sits wrong with me, I am open enough to accept that, to self-reflect, and to re-evaluate. I suppose that's all we can do as authors, parents, and people. So maybe, being 'yourself' is being true to what feels right and good to who you are at any given moment in time.
I tell my girls that when they are in a social situation at school that if they don't agree with the choices others are making, they will feel it. We call it instinct and I think it's present from very early on. Being yourself involves trusting that instinct, even when it's hard to face what it's telling you. For this week's quote of the week, in my classroom, I chose Winston Churchill's words: Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. It takes courage not only to be yourself, but to be willing to take the journey to find out who that self really is. At the moment, I'm pretty sure that journey is endless.
It's interesting to note that getting an agent is just the beginning of your writing journey. You work hard to get your writing out, try to learn from rejections, and improve your craft. Then, the unthinkable happens and an agent sees something in your writing (which is like seeing something in you) - something that makes them take a chance. So you think: "I have arrived." The truth is, however, that you've only just begun.
Once you sign with your agent, edit your work, and get it ready, the waiting begins. As I've mentioned, I'm not an overly patient person, but I am trying and this journey is definitely improving my skills in this area. What I've found though, is that, in addition to becoming a stronger, more active writer, getting an agent has opened my eyes to so much more.
This morning I had an engaging back and forth, via Twitter, with an author who has a new book coming out. Not long ago, Sharon Draper, author of the beautiful 'Out of My Mind', thanked me, via Twitter, for a review I did on her book. I've connected with a number of different people in this world that I did not know existed before I met my agent at a writers' conference. To keep in the loop, and because I kept hearing about it, I started following people, including Carly Watters, on Twitter. By doing this, I was exposed to this huge world full of people just like me, that are in love with the written word.
Of course, I don't actually know these people, but their words and thoughts resonate with me and make me feel like part of a community. It's a long road to getting your book published and it's nice to know that I'm not walking it alone. I like the comfort of hearing about the experiences others have had and are having. I like the posts about writers that are struggling with their characters, plot lines, or word count. The questions that other writers ask, make me think and question my own writing.
It's all part of a process and, to be truthful, there's no way of knowing that you'll make it for sure. However, whatever the outcome, meeting Carly, having her take a chance, connecting with other writers, exploring all of the reading and writing tips and links that I've found since that conference, have made me a better writer. Writing is part of who I am, so in a sense, it has also made me a stronger person.
This is a world that I did not know existed six months ago. It's like buying a new car; once you buy it, you suddenly see them everywhere. Now that I'm a part of this unique writing world, I realize how many people are on this journey. It makes me grateful to be one of them.
When I begin to write a children's story, I immediately think in rhyme. Of the many stories I have, completed and not, only one of them is free verse. When I met my agent and she showed interest in one of my stories, she said that rhyme could be hit or miss. Most of what I've been reading about writing and publishing has said the same thing. Last week, I reached out on Twitter to ask, 'rhyme or no rhyme'? The response I received was one I expected: no rhyme. It's complicated to get the rhythm correct and tell the story in a meaningful way. However, when it's done properly, it's beautiful and amazing.
I started thinking about my favourite children's stories and I have no idea why rhyme is always my go-to. Some of my absolute favourite authors are Kevin Henkes, Mem Fox, and Robert Munsch. They weave wonderful tales without relying on a rhyme pattern. However, I also adore Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman. These are two awesome examples of fun and effective rhyme.
If I take a good look at the stories I love, my influences are not based in rhyme. Which makes me wonder why it's always my first way of storytelling. I'm guessing that it has something to do with the fact that my mom rhymed everything. She ran a daycare and all of the kids had rhyming nicknames. If you called out to ask her where she was, she'd reply "in my skin, when I jump out, you can jump in." She had a rhyme for everything. I'm guessing that this is far more ingrained in my head than I had realized.
It's important to push outside your comfort zone if you want to grow. This applies not only to writing, but to life. It's not one of my strengths. I like my comfort zone very much. But I also like the idea of knowing that I can push past it successfully. That I can take a risk in my writing and make it more powerful. It's what I'd ask of my students and my own children.
When I think of how I want to tell a story, I only know that I want it to leave a lasting impression. I want a child, or adult, to love reading it aloud. I think that, because my natural inclination is to rhyme, I have to find a middle ground. Margie Palatini does an amazing job of this in books such as: Bedhead, Sweet Tooth, Moosetache, and Oink. (www.margiepalatini.com) She is a perfect example of how an author can use rhyme, free verse or a blend of the two, seemlessly, to create a rhythmic tale. Her words, rhyming or not, flow so easily and make you not only love the story, but remember it. Not an easy task.
Not easy, but it is the task I will embark upon next. I'm working through a new children's story idea. If I let myself, I could probably write something solid with a nice rhyme pattern. However, since I can't keep the door of my comfort zone locked indefinitely, I will work on pushing myself out that door. If I keep at it, maybe unlocking the door will lead me to a world that is filled with authors I admire and respect and adore. Maybe one day, my books will sit beside theirs on a shelf (not an alphabetical shelf, obviously).
What are your favourite books and authors? Do the books rhyme? Do you find yourself drawn to a certain children's book author? What is it about their writing that pulls you in?
Sometimes, writers have nothing to write. You can call it writer's block, but sometimes, it's just a matter of having nothing to put on paper (or screen). Fortunately, being a writer, you can come up with a long-winded way to share that you have nothing to say.
See, I just did a whole paragraph on how this blog is, technically, about nothing. The beauty of words. So, since I had nothing of particular importance or consequence to say this week, I thought I would try a Top Ten List (not laminated, of course, because I often change my mind). Once I decided to do a top ten, I started wondering what the list should be about.
I won't give you the top ten list of my ideas for top ten lists. Instead, I'll skip ahead and tell you that I've decided, as part of my attempt to establish an online presence as an author, that my list will just be about me. Don't be disappointed. If you've come to this site, you have some reason to want to know about me; hopefully it'll one day list my top ten children's books that I've written, but for now, it'll give you a clearer idea of who I am.
Top ten things that make me happy
10. Having my counter tops clean. This may seem random, but my counter tops are rarely visible. They have homework, planners, piles of books, papers, treats, lunch kits, and many other things on top of them. There are these moments, each week, where I get them cleared off and it's really enjoyable to look at the open space. I now take pictures when I do it, so I can remember what it looks like.
9. Re-reading the mushy, cheesy, adorably-sweet, romantic moments in all of my favourite books. I go back and just re-read these parts. No matter how many times I read the part where he realizes he loves her and says the perfect thing, I get that little flip-flop in my belly.
8. Finding Dawson's Creek re-runs on T.V. I actually have all of the seasons on DVD but that makes watching it seem intentional. This way, I can say I was just flipping channels and happened upon it.
7. Winning at a game-any game. In particular a game I'm playing against my husband. He wins at everything. I win at nothing. But every now and then, the unthinkable happens (and it doesn't matter that it might be during a game of Sorry) and I win. That's a good moment.
6. Doing absolutely nothing with the people I love. It's not that I want to do nothing, because I actually am not very good at doing nothing. However, I really enjoy just being in the same room with the people I love. They don't have to pay attention to me; they just have to be there.
5. Being on time. This rarely happens, unless you include work. I show up on time for work. But that's about it. Sad, because I do think that being on time for things is important and respectful. The ability to pull this off on a regular basis elludes me. Our friends now invite us over and expect us on "Holford Time" (about a half hour late).
4. The moment on a T.V. show when your favourite characters FINALLY get together. Love that. Truly love it. (See Mer & Derek above)
3. Snuggling in bed with my whole family when it's raining outside. I hate the rain. It makes me morose. But there's something about laying in bed, together, snuggled up, cozy and warm, listening to the rain beat down on the house and not having to go out in it.
2. Writing. I have to put it on here because it's silly not to point out that it is one of the things, and definitely in the top ten, that bring me inexplicable happiness. On the flip side, it also brings nerves, self-doubt, and uncertainty. But mostly, it brings me happiness. Especially when I write a story that my girls love.
1. The people in my life. I am reminded, daily, through a number of actions and words, how lucky I am to be surrounded by people that get me, accept me, support me, love me, and take me as I am, even when I'm not always easy to take.