All the things all at once
There are so many things happening around me right now that are out of my control that it feels impossible to sit still and encapsulate how I feel about that fact. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with #yesallwomen and I want to weigh in but I'm not sure how to summarize all of my feelings so I basically just read the hashtags all week. Because yes, I think, all women, but I also think, all people. We all have a fundamental stake in being good people. To others and to ourselves. Every day, we should be the kind of person we would want our kids to be proud of, be the kind of person we want them to be. And if you don't have kids, then be the kind of person you'd want to be friends with. The kind of person that you would count on. One of my favourite quotes (ever) is "The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday." We get a blank slate every day to right wrongs, make better choices, be better people. Women and men. Kids and Adults. All of us.
Something else weighing heavy in my mind is the politics surrounding teaching right now. It's horrible. It's horrible to watch and horrible to be part of. When you become a teacher, you want to work with kids. You want to make someone's life, day, next ten minutes just a little better. You want to see them succeed, get over the hurdles, and achieve their potential. There are a lot of deterrents in that path. There are crowded classrooms, higher needs, budget cuts, and mountains of curriculum. That's not what bugs me though. And no, it's not the wage either. What bothers me is the overall shift I'm seeing that makes me think that people are devaluing teachers. Not all, maybe not even most, but some. Margaret Mead says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I love this quote and find it quite true. The flip side of it though is that a small group of people committed to making you see the negative can actually create change too. When I was growing up, I loved a lot of my teachers. There is an undeniable bond, for most people, between themselves and a least one teacher in their memory. While we were on strike today, we talked about who that one teacher for us was. For some it was their home economics teacher. Others, it was their Language Arts teacher. For me, it was my high school drama teacher. Whoever it was, it is very likely that you had a teacher touch your life in a positive way. Teachers shape us, spend time with us, watch us grow, notice when we surpass our own expectations, applaud us, push us back up when we fall. When I was little, we studied community helpers: police officers, firemen, doctors, and teachers. They were people you could trust. People that wanted to impact someone else's life in a positive way. We still matter because your kids will always matter. They are the next generation that will make choices based on the core values that we instill in them, together.
The last thing that is on my mind is the Book Expo of America. I'm an odd person in that I am intensely jealous of all the wonderful people that I "know" who are there now, walking the aisles with Rainbow Rowell, Neil Patrick Harris, Jeff Kinney, and so many more. I wish I were there. But then I think, what would I do if I were there? Most likely, I would freak a little at the thought of talking to these people. I'd be ultra nervous and quite certain that every wrong word ever invented would come out of my mouth at exactly the wrong time. I would laugh too loud and babble incessantly. Someone who was brave enough to say that yes, they were actually with me, would smile politely and yank on my sweater sleeve, trying to save the poor person I'm talking to. This is why my interaction is better online. The delete button doesn't work in real life. Which brings us full circle-- #yesallwomen, #yesallpeople because the delete button is not an option and we don't know what word or gesture, attitude or comment will impact the person around us, or how. We all matter. It's important that we not only remember that, but teach it to the next generation-- to your children, your friend's child. Manners still matter, thoughtfulness isn't out of date, thinking before you speak never goes out of style. And you really don't understand someone until you've walked in their shoes. So instead, walk beside them, without judgement, and just do your best to keep moving forward.
Sorry if this was just straight up rambling, but I did warn you in the title that it was #allthethings
Top ten of 2013
I like lists. I like making them, looking at them, and checking them off. Here's a list of ten (writing related) things that happened to me this year that mattered:
10: I received over one dozen partial and/or full requests from agents since May (I am still waiting to hear back from 5 for one manuscript and 1 for another manuscript)
9: I had my blogs read by real authors like Ellen Potter and Tanya Lloyd Kyi.
8: I sat in a room with Diana Gabaldon, Michael Slade, and Jack Whyte for an entire evening. I didn't say much but I nodded like a fool and didn't hide in the bathroom.
7: I connected with an amazing group of fellow writers via Twitter, such as Brenda Drake, Jessa Russo, Rachel Pudelek, Roselle Kaes, Lauren Spieller and so many more I'm probably forgetting but not because they aren't awesome.
6: Rainbow Rowell and Jill Shalvis tweeted me and The Bloggess followed me. All three events made me inexplicably happy.
5: I read Elenor and Park. It matters. It made me want to be better.
4: I met this truly awesome agent that I won't name. She might not be my agent, but she became my friend, which is pretty cool all by itself. Turns out agents are real people.
3: I found critique partners and new friends, Tara and Kelli, that will go beyond writing and be part of what makes 2014 special.
2: My story, A Not So Lonely Christmas, was published in Foreward Lit's anthology, Holiday Spice
1: I self published Forever Christmas via Amazon
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.
Who do I want to be?
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.
A different version of myself
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.