Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Do It

So many of the posts about fear have been interesting and thoughtful. In thinking about the issue, most of my fears about writing come down to the question of is it good enough. The initial fear of is it good enough to attract the interest of an editor is replaced by is it good enough to pass through an acquisitions process, and then if that happens, is it good enough to be a book. Unlike other aspects of my life where I have repeated chances to improve something, once a book is published, that is the book.

I find myself being aware of these fears and going ahead and doing the work. The moving forward isn't an absence of the fear so much as an acknowledgment of the fear and a decision to just do it. I've heard writers of over one hundred books describe the fear that they won't have anything to say or the work won't be any good so I don't expect the fear to disappear.

As others have said, the fear of a story not being good enough provides a motivation to make it better, and each piece can continue to be improved over and over. At some point, we let it go and when it becomes a book, we live with it in that form even though we know it could be better.

So over and over, I greet the fear, sit down and go to work.


Thoughts on Art and Fear

Several years ago, I attended a lecture given by Janet Stevens at the Kerlan Collection, an incredible collection of children's book manuscripts and illustrations at the University of Minnesota. http://special.lib.umn.edu/clrc/. Her first slide was a photo of the book: Art and Fear, Observation on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland. Her talk revealed her own personal fears and dreams of making "real" art, beyond the picture book. She showed courage in revealing her vulnerability and ended up touching everyone in the room in some way that was very moving. Personally, I disagreed with her about the idea of making "real" art outside of picture books, since I consider what I do as an illustrator of picture books as extremely real, but that is another topic.

In the introduction of Art and Fear, the author's write: This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.

"Free will", "choice" and committing to the future and finding one's own work are all part of maturing as an artist and what stirs fear in me. When I sit down to write or stand at my wall to paint, my biggest fear is that I will not find my "true" voice and let it sing strong and clear before I die. Yes, death is the final silence, and though I have been painting for more than thirty years and writing stories for nearly a decade now, it the fear of not finding my true voice, whatever that is, before I die, that eats at me most. I love the gift of another's manuscript and being able to live with it for many months and eventually reveal painted images that enhance or illuminate the words. I also consider the act of illustrating another's words as "finding my own work", even though I am constantly asked "Why don't you do your own work?"

When I do sit down to write my own stories with the intention of making the pictures for them, that is when I wonder if I am saying anything worthwhile? This causes fear to take over and silence me. Then I remember "play". Play is so essential to my life-- it causes accidents and enjoyment and banishes the fears for awhile. Play allows me to be in the moment of moving the pen or brush with courage and blind faith that something worthwhile will emerge-- even if it is just the act of playing. Time is another factor that banishes fear for me-- I need time to make mistakes, wander without pressure, and play until something catches and doesn't let me go.


Choosing the Biggest Fear Among Many

My fellow potatoes have described many fears that ring familiar with me, but perhaps none more than the fear that the “well has run dry” and I have used up all my good story ideas. The other fears – Are my characters believable and sympathetic? Is my plot contrived? Do I even have a plot? Am I just wasting my time? -- are manageable, to me, through the act of writing and revision. But the entire structure of a story rests on the original premise, the germ of an idea that must be unique enough to warrant the months of work it will take to develop it. That’s why, among certain writer friends of mine, when someone shares a great idea the rest of us congratulate him/her and then, inevitably, one of us utters the caveat: “If you don’t do something with it [the idea}, I will!” Though you cannot copyright ideas, and none of us would ever really “steal” someone else’s idea, it points out the value of such a rare and precious commodity. Luckily, I have enough “gems” to last me several years of writing (at the snail’s pace of my own production), but I am always on the lookout for new ideas to stash away for future use, hedging against the fear that someday the well will run dry….