Reading, Reading, Reading (And a Dare)

Happy New Year’s, y’all!

And before you give me that look (because it’s January 9th), you should know that technically, it’s still the Christmas season. I just came back from my church and all the greenery is still up, all the manger scene men, women, sheep, and camels and the Baby Jesus are still hanging out. So really, I’m not late at all.

But I have been busy, reading books, coming up with a word for the year, thinking, thinking, thinking. And writing, too. I know. I’m surprised, too.

download (2)Oh, goodness, I love Bob Goff’s books! So when I saw that he had a daily devotional, I didn’t have to think about that choice, I just clicked. It’s called Live in Grace-Walk in Love and yes, it’s Christian-based but if you know anything about Bob Goff, you know he’s love-based. He’s a consummate storyteller and he uses these skills to make his points; I could grab a quote from each day but here’s one from Day 6 that moved me as a writer but I think it works for anyone who has big dreams and might be frustrated in the journey to accomplish them:

Go change the world from where you are, while you’re moving toward where you wish you were.

And then because I am a writer, I had a delightful time, hanging out with Julie Hedlund this year for the 12 Days of Christmas for Writers. That’s come and gone but lots of inspiration and fun, a good way to end a year and start a new year. (Pssst! If you’re a picture book writer, go see all that she offers!) And she read from Jane Yolen’s book, Take Joy. 

takejWell, I clicked on that, too, because I love Jane Yolen (and not just because she raved about the voice in my first page in a manuscript years ago). I clicked because I liked what Jane said in the very beginning: write because it brings you joy.

Speaking of Jane Yolen, she’ll be at our SCBWI Southern Breeze conference in March,along with daughter Heidi Stemple. So if you love Jane and Heidi (and really, the entire faculty at wik’20 is stellar!) and you’re somewhere around the Southeast, then come join us in Birmingham on March 13th and 14th. I will be very happy to introduce you to Jane and Heidi because we’re this close. Or we will be by the time the conference is over. If I’m not arrested for stalking.

AND one more book I have to mention is Make Your Bed. 

So when I was thinking, thinking, thinking about 2020, I kept coming back to “20 Hard Things You Need To Do to Be Happy” by Mark Chernoff.  (I told y’all, I was busy! In a sitting-around-reading-stuff-on-the-web sort of way.) And specifically, I kept thinking, thinking, thinking about Number 1:

You need to take small chances every day.

Now, I realize that taking a small chance is not exactly going to help change the world, but the more I thought, the more I began to figure that maybe taking a small chance might in fact, change my world.

I wondered if taking a small chance every day would move me past fear and into action. Because here’s the thing: when your world is rocked by crises or losses or major setbacks, you may be numb at first. But eventually, fear settles in your soul as you begin to realize that there’s so very little in this life we control. Love and faith and friends and family help--they help a lot!–but sometimes, we can be caught in the “playing it safe” zone because we’re so afraid of what may happen.

And so the word “dare” began to form in my mind. Dare to do something that you might not have done before. And not something big; I didn’t need to take a trip around the world. I just needed to maybe go to a movie by myself.

Which I haven’t quite done yet. But I did go into a restaurant and sat down to eat by myself. “Yes, table for one,” I said. And you know what? It was empowering! I know it’s a small thing, but honestly, I haven’t sat down in a restaurant to eat alone since my working days, before I had kids.

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the WorldSo though I don’t usually do a word for the year, I chose DARE so that I’d keep that first hard thing foremost in my mind. I mean, even I can remember a word. Which leads me to Make Your Bedthe last book on the list.

Admiral William H. McRaven gave a speech at the University of Texas–you might’ve seen it, it went viral–and this book is a longer version of that speech. It won’t take you long to read it but he talks about changing the world, and gives ten lessons from his days as a Navy Seal that tells you exactly how you might change the world. One of them is taking risks. And in his book, he cites the British Special Air Services motto: “Who dares, wins.”

Now I will never take the kinds of risks a Navy Seal does; I won’t win any special medals for bravery. But if I don’t risk putting my writing out there, I’ll never know what might be possible in my life, how I might change the world of a child or adult who reads something I’ve written. And perhaps he or she might go on to change the world in some way.

It could happen, but only if I dare.

(Yikes! I’ve gone way past my usual ramble and I forgot to mention my Muffin post! So if you want to change the way you revise, take a look at “Writing Lessons Learned From Love It or List It.” And maybe you’ll start 2020 pulling out an old manuscript and giving it one more chance. Come on, I dare you.)



What I Saw and How I Learned (At Springmingle!)

So, remember a post or two back when I asked about SCBWI?

Several people commented about the SCBWI conferences and the value thereof. And this is the post in which I’ll share my very own personal observations and such about the conference I just attended. To wit, Springmingle ’10, sponsored by Southern Breeze.  (You know, that sounds awfully impressive. And I’m not gonna lie. Springmingle ’10 kinda was.)

From keynote speaker and prolific author, Jane Yolen, I learned that the truth about children’s publishing may not always be rainbows and puppy dogs, but it’s worth enduring. I found that she (thankfully) has a great sense of humor (see Cathy-on-a-Stick’s latest adventure). And I’ll keep her wonderful comment from my First Page critique for a rainy, rejection day. (Okay, you might as well know that I’ve written her comment down and it’s posted over my computer. Because c’mon,  it’s Jane Yolen.) I put one of Jane’s recently released books on my “To Buy List”: My Father Knows the Names of Things because when Jane read it, I got a little flekempt.

From Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, I learned alot about revising and character development.  And I also learned that when speakers give handouts,  I remember more. Here’s a revision technique straight from the handout that’s helpful for any writer: Cut as many adverbs, telling uses of the word “feel” or “felt,” and non-“said” dialogue tags as you possibly can. “I felt like I learned something there,” I whined pitifully.

Josh Adams, agent, from Adams Literary Agency, filled us in on the agent side of children’s publishing, sharing lots of agent secrets. I learned that yeah, you need an agent. And that yeah, it’s not easy.  I could share those tips ’cause they’re not so secret.

From my manuscript critique, I learned that Jessica Alexander (from Peachtree Publishers) made a most excellent point about my main character.  I also learned that  a major rewrite is now in my immediate future.

From Meredith Mundy, senior editor at Sterling Publishers, I learned that when you (and by you, I really mean me) win the opportunity to sit next to someone (and by someone, I mean Meredith)  in the children’s writing business, you can’t get any luckier (and by luckier, I mean Meredith was gracious and generous and put up with a lot from, um, me) than Meredith Mundy. Oh, and I also learned from Meredith that Sterling is always looking for humor. (Wheee!)

And finally, I learned that you really can’t beat  SCBWI for writer value. Not to mention that whole “making new friends” value.