When I was young, my books were well loved—sometimes doing double duty in building-block towers, other times, as a source of past-bedtime sneak-reading under the covers, one word at a time, dimly lit by the glow-in-the-dark eye of my owl puppet.
When I was old enough to write, my stories were mighty similar to those recently read by owl light. After my mom went back to college, my seaweed poem somehow ended up in a gallery window next to her artwork. It was the first time unfamiliar people could read what I wrote. I still remember that thrill plus the unexpected feeling of vulnerability.
Writing is like that. Actually all creativity is—whether it’s art, dance, music, science, math—you need to be both brave and vulnerable to create something new. Otherwise, you stick with what’s safe and you (and others around you) eventually leave or go nuts with boredom.
Kindness and Good Advice
Over twenty years ago, after reading Jane Yolen's Touch Magic, I wrote her an enthusiastic fan letter, enclosed some enthusiastic picture book manuscripts, and sent it to her publisher with a request to forward it.
Amazingly, they did that, and even more amazingly, Ms. Yolen wrote back . . . from Scotland . . . diplomatically suggesting that I might like to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators . . ..
I did, and still am a member. The SCBWI taught me how much I didn't know about writing and illustrating for children, how badly I wanted to learn, and inspired me to share what knowledge I had. It provided a whole world of encouragement for staying open, vulnerable—creative!
I'm shy in crowds but co-created/ran three SCBWI events with author/illustrator Carol Heyer—and even spoke in front of nearly 200 people without crying at a Writers' Day conference. My illustrations were published with the help of longtime rep, now retired, Ann Remen-Willis: five non-fiction trade books, countless educational books, and many illustrations in Ladybug, Spider, and Highlights magazines.
Okay, children’s illustration—check! I want to do more, but bravery's already there. Writing’s been my last holdout. Fear and necessity squeezed writing into the spaces between freelance work and family. I’ve only had three children's poems published. Lots was written, but almost no submitting.
It’s taken decades of experimentation, revisions, and critique group friends’ advice to write at what I’m hoping is at a professional level in a way that resonates with children. I love writing, even the frustrating parts. It unscrambles my brain, makes me laugh, and fills my heart.
Now that I’m semi-retired, I get to write. And submit. I’m no longer closeted. I'm coming out.
Hopefully, it won’t take anyone else as long as it took me. If you’re wondering, please know it doesn't matter who you are or what your initial skills are. Keep at it. Keep learning. Read new books, Read aloud. Keep being as brave as possible. Surround yourself with encouraging, funny, and open people. Listen to your own inner voice. Listen to real children. Volunteer at a school or do your own bit with sharing and be ready for surprises, chance, and change. It's never boring and it just might be what fills your heart.