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Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

A Bad Case of the Hypotheticals

Authors + Illustrators, publishingLindsay WardComment

They'll always be a reason not to do the work. Not to write. Not to draw. Not to read. Trust me, I get it. With two boys under the age of 3, my stack of books to be read is epic. I feel like there is never enough time in the day and I find myself wishing I could do more of a lot of things. But the trick is to make it count, right?

I happen to work some unusual hours seeing as my husband and I both work from home and we've decided to stay at home with our boys, splitting work shifts while the other watches the kids. It's a bit crazy, and every day is different, but it works for us. My first two hours of work happen first thing, from 5-7am. And I have to make them count. If there's one thing having kids taught me it's that procrastination is simply NOT an option. I literally don't have time to waste time because at the end of those first two hours, my eight-month-old will want to eat, and he doesn't really care that I need five more minutes to finish up. Or that I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to because I spent the first hour wasting time online.

So how do we make time to get the work done? Create books? Write? Draw? Read? If you're just starting out, unpublished, and trying to get your foot in the door, you probably have a day job. So there goes a vast amount of time you could be dedicating to your writing or drawing. The good news is, that day job can actually help you tremendously. I haven't had a day job for a long time now, but I did when I first started out. Before I was published, I worked at a children's book store in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Shout out to Terri and The Children's Book Shop!) It was a great experience and I learned a ton about the picture book market. I had the chance to read the latest books and see what contemporary authors and illustrators were doing in the business. It also got me out of my own head sometimes, which as a creative, can be imperative.

I worked five days a week, then I'd go home, eat dinner, and sit down in my make-shift studio space, and work again. But this time on writing or illustrations for my portfolio. I spent three years sending out postcard mailers, every three months, to any art director whose address I could find. Years went by and I never heard anything. It was a tough time, filled with a lot of self-doubt and a bad case of the hypotheticals.

It's really easy to get caught up in playing out all the scenarios that can happen. I'm super type A, which means I generally overthink things to death. As I sat at my drawing table night after night, I would obsess over getting published, breaking through, or meeting the right art director who'd finally give me a shot. Here's the thing though-- I had to give myself a shot first. If I didn't believe I was talented enough to publish a book, then how could I expect anyone else to?

Unfortunately, the kidlit industry, is a one in a million. Literally. Not everyone gets to do this. So many things have to line up. It's like fate. Or a romantic comedy (although at times it feels like a tragedy). But at the end of the day, you either do the work or you don't. All the stars could align and you finally get your shot, but if you don't have the work done and haven't put in the time, it won't matter, and the opportunity will pass you by. It's easy to say you'll get around to it someday. But let's be honest, you won't. You have to make time for your craft. Ideally everyday, and if not everyday, regularly in a schedule that works for you. Even if it's just an hour a week you carve out for yourself to write or draw, take it! It's a start, and hopefully that one hour will become important enough to you, that you'll make time for another hour, and another hour, until you find you've created enough time for yourself to follow your dream and really make a go of it.

I tend to get caught up in the hypotheticals particularly when I'm in the midst of a submission. After all this time, I still do it, even though I know better. I worry over if anyone will like my work or the dummy I've spent months fine tuning. Will it sell? Will it ever see the light of day? Or will it just end up in a drawer? If it does sell, who will buy it? Will I be working with a new publisher? Which then brings on a whole new list of worries: Will we work well together? Will our visions for the book align? The list goes on and on. Thus, a bad case of the hypotheticals.

But none of that really matters at the end of the day. Because it's about the work. Once it's out there, you've done your job. And whatever the result, you have to be okay with that. Trust what you've put out there. And if it's not that one that makes it, try again. And again. And again. This industry is a numbers game. Be your biggest advocate. Pick yourself up and keep going.

Even now, I'm still not used to rejections. I think it's safe to say that none of us are. But with each one, you can get a bit tougher, a bit stronger. Be open minded. Listen to constructive criticism about your work, and then discard the stuff that doesn't resonate with you. I find that the criticism that I get the most upset over, or react the strongest to, is usually the one thing I need to address. At the end of the day it's your work, and you have to do what feels right for you and your book.

Ideally, when I go out on a submission, I always want to sell the book, obviously. I try not to worry about how I will feel if it doesn't sell. Which is tough, because I've put months of work into something that may never make it on a book shelf. I recently went out on submission with a new project, that I knew was a long shot, considering the concept. But it made me laugh every time I worked on it, so I wanted to try it out in the marketplace. Unfortunately, although I had a lot of editors think it was funny too, it ultimately wasn't the right fit for anyone. And that's okay. I can't control what other people think about my work. Nor can you. But you have to keep trying.

So I still get up every morning and do the work. I write about what I think is funny. Or what my hilarious (I know, I'm biased) two-year-old said the other day. And I keep going. Because I love this job. It truly is the best job in the world.

So keep going. Keep writing. Keep drawing. And keep those hypotheticals at bay. Get up each day, and put in the time. Because dreams need nourishment and only you can provide that for yourself.