While playing the game of Life with my oldest daughter yesterday, she said the simplest and sweetest of things and it reminded me that, sometimes, you just have to let it go, let things work themselves out, and believe.
She was beating me mercilessly, as usual. I had four children, lost my job twice, got sued, and went on a $35,000 vacation. She, in turn, had bought a mansion, found treasure, and got a book deal. She wasn't gloating though, so she clearly takes after me more than her dad.
When she landed on the "You signed a book deal, collect $200,000", I commented, in passing, "I wish that would happen to me."
While collecting her money, she says, "It will. But for real, not just in a game. You'll see."
Just like that. Now, I do hope that one day my book, which is on sub, gets picked up and has success. It's a fun story. However, I in no way think that I'll become rich in any way. From what I've learned about the book/publishing industry, you write for the same reason you teach: because you love it. Which is fine; more than fine.
What struck me is the simplicity of her statement and her conviction. When we're young, we believe in fairy tales, happily ever after, and ourselves. Sometimes, we lose that along the way. As the truth about fairy tales and reality, we let go of that blind faith in things we cannot see. I don't consider myself a jaded person. I believe in people, that good things happen and that good triumphs in the end.
But I can't tell you how good it made me feel to know my daughter believes in me, even when I forget to. That simple show of faith reminded me that, in the real world, believing in something (like yourself) can't be measured by time, accolades, or even your definition of success. Believing in yourself, and in turn, in your writing, needs to be a constant. It's what keeps you moving forward. I read an excellent quote the other day:
“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”– Margaret Shepard
This could not be more true. We need people in our lives that will remind us of this when we forget. I feel grateful to the people I have in my life that do this for me.
It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that being a parent and being a writer have quite a bit in common. I can honestly say I am no expert at either but each shapes me in similar ways. Here are some of the shared traits I've noticed between the two:
1. Both roles take commitment, effort, energy, and love. Every day. Consistently.
2. They inspire happiness, sadness, joy, sorrow, laughter, and curiosity.
3. They can both wear you out without meaning to.
4. They require patience and an open mind.
5. You are going to make mistakes. You have to get over it, go back, and do better.
6. You may have to enlist the help of others; this is okay.
7. Sometimes, in both, the things you say won't be what you mean and sometimes the things you mean won't be what you say.
8. You are always learning. You are never done. You never know everything.
9. You always have more to give; it may not seem like it some days, but it's there, inside you.
10. You are ridiculously protective of both your child and your manuscript.
11. You have to be willing to accept flaws; nothing and no one is perfect.
12. They both require focus. Sometimes so much that you feel like your eyes will cross.
13. They can cause lack of sleep.
14. These roles both fill something inside you that nothing else could.
15. In both of these roles, letting go, even a little bit at a time, is not easy, but often necessary.
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 takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
Wading into the publishing world is much like getting into cold water. You move slowly, one step at a time, uncertain that you should continue. You take another step, willing to prove you can be courageous, but shaking a little inside.
I'm hoping, that by the time I am totally submerged, I will have acclimated to my surroundings. Since last November, when I signed with my agent, Carly Watters , I have read dozens upon dozens of articles, blogs, digests, tweets, and online posts. I have read about how the industry works, what expectations most authors have, what expecations agents and editors have, things that you are encouraged to do and things that are frowned upon by industry professionals. I have lapped up every article that offers advice and suggestions and tried to decide what fits me. My own agent has a very powerful blog that offers great tips and insights. Another trick I've learned is to follow people on Twitter, that the people I follow, follow.Do you follow that?
For instance, my agency, PS Literacy, follows Rachelle Gardner, another agent. So I often click on links to her blog and read that (http://www.rachellegardner.com). This week, I read a post that spoke to the very heart of what I've been struggling with for a little while (or maybe forever). She talked about self-promotion and the natural inclination, for most people, to dislike it. I am in this camp: I want to write, I want to share what I write, I believe in what I write, but when I draw attention to my own writing, I feel like I am an attention seeker. Then, I feel that if I'm going to draw people to my writing, I had better say something important or they will be wondering why I took their time.
What her blog pointed out, however, was that I am not promoting ME, but more, my writing. She said that if we look at self-promotion in a business-like way, we are not saying "Look at me! Look at me!", but instead, here is something powerful (she makes the comparison to a product you have to offer) that I want to share with you. By promoting your book, you are saying, I think sharing this with you will enhance your life.
This is truly valuable advice for a burgeoning writer, especially in the world of social media. Everything I have read advises authors to build platforms, to connect with would-be audiences. I believe it was this blog that also pointed out that even very famous authors don't sell books just by writing them. You have to promote what you do to draw people in. If you have created something worthwhile, you will keep them hooked. Even when they're hooked, however, you have to continue to promote.
Even though, in the end, it will be a children's book that I want to promote, it is still me that represents it. So, Gardner is correct in saying it's the product you're pushing, but who is behind it, also has an impact. Which is where my thoughts have been focused this week. In my classroom, and in my own home, I believe in the philosophy that 'character is defined by who you are when no one is watching'. But let's be honest, when no one is watching, I'm likely not the best version of myself. What I have to consider though, as I wade deeper into this world, is who will the audience see when they look at me?
I am very interested in writing different genres. Currently, my agent is submitting my children's book. That was written by the part of me that is silly, rhymes a lot, and loves a good fairytale. However, the Young Adult Fiction, that I'm editing and reworking, was written by my angst-ridden, inner fifteen year old. Then there's the commercial fiction/romance novel I am working on right now; it is being written by the adult me that has seen the sadder part of life and the strength that is revealed when people are pushed to their limits.
So who do I reveal? My husband certainly can't handle three of me, even if it's only public representations of me. I'm working to establish myself as a Children's Book Author first, so should I only tweet about things kid related? What if my lonely, inner-teen shows herself and posts something? Or if the adult version of me shows up and tweets or posts about romance and love and marriage. Of course, all of this is about my online presence. If there's ever a time where I have to promote my book (and, because essentially they're linked, myself) in person, there's no way to escape the different versions of me.
They all come out whenever they feel like it, often stepping over each other, and on each other, many times in a day. In addition to my mini princess, grumpy teen, and frazzled wife, I'm also harboring a nagger, a pleaser, a worrier, a goofball, and an uncoordinated, wanna-be graceful dreamer. So, when the day finally comes that I have to do something and share myself with the world, all of my 'me-s' are going to show up and I'm betting there's going to be a competition to take credit for the book I've written.
This is why I have already informed my best friend that she will accompany me to any such event, as she knows how to reign all those sides of me in and keep me focused on the one thing they all have in common: I am a writer and I want to share that with you.