Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Make Big Plans

On my computer I have three different signs, and I'm adding a fourth this weekend. To my left, I have the sentence, "I have 12 stories published by age 56." Since I'm 51 I'm a little worried about this, but still, it's a good goal to shoot for. In the middle of my computer frame I have a note from my aunt that says, "Follow that light." We had a discussion last time we were together about finding what brings us true joy, and even if the light is faint, to be true to it above all else. On the right side of my computer I have the words, "I have a Caldecott." I know that you're not supposed to say that wish out loud, but it is a wish and I need to remember it and write for it in the hopes that one of my illustrators hits a home run. I don't want to bury that dream under superstition. My fourth sign, that I will put on my computer once I finish this blog, is "Make big plans." The words popped into my head last week and they haven't left (everything else seems to have!). I don't know what this means, but it sounds very hopeful.

My daily goals are a little less pie in the sky. I need to work on the syllabus for my children's lit. class. I need to review illustrations for one of my books and turn in my comments by Monday. I need to respond to the students in my Humanities class, and I need to turn in papers to be copied for my class. All are doable. Some are more overwhelming than others. Most will be done in the next week.

My goals for the next few weeks are to come up with some new story ideas, or revise some old ones. I guess that's not too bad for someone who is not the biggest fan of planning.

Goals, Vague and Specific

When I was in college, it seemed I had forever ahead of me, and my goal to become a published author was just "sometime in the future." But the older I got, the faster time flew. I began setting goals by decades--still vague enough that I had an entire ten years to accomplish them. At 40, I decided to be published sometime in my 40s, and I achieved that goal. Then I set the goal for my first "solo" book to be in my 50s--I achieved that goal. I also found that I was not satisfied by simply achieving those vague goals. I needed to keep writing, but those "sometime in the next decade" goals were not specific enough.

These days as I am facing the reality of mortality during my father's fast decline, I am back to baby steps--specific goals set for a few days at a time, squeezing writing in as I can, but with the primary focus on making the most of the time left with my father. I am also bolstered by John's words about being brave and not simply being satisfied with what I've done in the past. Now I must push myself to take chances and try something new and different.


On Your Mark; Get Set; Go! (Semicolons, commas or periods?

What you see here is an illustration by Salvador Dalí of Don Quixote de La Mancha translated by Peter Motteux. Poet David R. Wagoner gave me the book when he learned that I was writing about Dalí.What an honor!

That precious gift is forcing me to finish the Dalí biography by next spring. I also want to revise Late She Came to Know, the novel I had talked about here.

While working on both, I will study how to use the mechanics of writing--punctuation, capitals, italics, sentence structure, paragraph length, white spaces--to show the mood of a scene. All this time I have been concentrating on word choices. I won't stop. But it's time to pay attention to those commas.


Taped to the inside of my dresser is a handwritten note dated November 13, 1993. It reads: I will produce a quality children's book. Over twelve years later, after the publication of The Best Pet of All, I made the addition: I did produce a quality children's book! I've kept that note inside my dresser to remind myself that it's good to have goals and that dreams do come true, even if the road to their realization is long.
Like Christy, most of my goals are the short range ones. Currently my goal each day is to finish the sketch for another two-page spread for my current picture book project, with the goal of having a revised dummy to send to my editor by the end of the month. When I think of all the work I need to do in order to complete the final artwork by spring, I panic. But can I finish one sketch today? Yes, that's doable. And when even that seems insurmountable, I turn to smaller goals: I will finish the sketch of this one character before lunch. Small step by small step I'm inching toward my goal: the completion of the first book where I am both author and illustrator.


Goals: the long and short view

Many years ago at a family party a friend of my mother's asked me my “five-year-plan.” I bristled. Was this a party or an interview? I assumed the phrase originated in a self-help book, but a little Google-action showed me it dates back to the Soviet Union and China in the mid-to-late 1920s. While web surfing I found sites offering templates for creating personal five-year-plans, and many more sites with strategies for setting and working toward goals in all areas of life.

I did realize my childhood dream of becoming a children's book author-illustrator, yet most days I am not aware of my distant goals. I'm only aware of the flashlight beam illuminating the near spot on the path so I can put one foot in front of the other. Do I know where my path is leading? Not really. I hope when this project concludes there will be another one ahead. My graphic design teacher scolded me for just accepting jobs that fell in my lap. He said I should steer my career.

I'm great at meeting imposed deadlines. That is one reason I take writing classes or join writers groups. It's important to switch from this mode of pleasing others to looking at what I want and then break that down into tasks I do for myself. I can look to one example where I did this with happy results. My second author/illustrator project, Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building will publish with Lee & Low in fall 2012. I set the goal of submitting this project for consideration on the pub date of my first author/illustrator book. I chose to put aside other ideas in development and focus solely on this. Those other half-baked projects still call to me now—a MG novel, a biography, concept picture books, poetry, and more. The ideas bump into each other and compete. I need to stand back and get a distant view. Where do I want to go? Uh-oh, I might just have to develop a five-year-plan! Which project should be the next to develop? For those of you who entertain multiple ideas at one time, how do you decide?

Here's a couple interesting bits I found in my web explorations:

A creativity coach's web site (http://seedfiddle.com/) introduced the concept of Kaizen (Kai=change; Zen=good). “Kaizen, also known as 'continuous improvement,' is a long-term approach to success that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve quality and achieve significant goals. Said simply, it is all about the power of small steps.”

Another site offered a helpful mnemonic, SMART goals:

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound


Writing to Win

This is my youngest daughter and I this past
Saturday night, moments after she and her teammates won the Oregon 3A State Volleyball
tournament. From the moment the season started, even before the first day of
practice, she told me she wanted to win state. That goal was one shared by her
teammates, only three of which had even been on varsity the previous year. And
things looked good for the first 6 weeks of the season. But then our middle
hitter blew out her knee, sidelining her for the rest of the season. The team
didn’t have a replacement for her, our school is small, so they just
reconfigured the line-up. They missed their middle hitter, but they made do,
and they still thought they could win state. They were undefeated in league
play, and had a 28-2 record going into the quarterfinal, which they took easily
in three games.
But our semi-final game on Friday night, our girls
played the worst game of their season. They couldn’t serve, couldn’t hit,
couldn’t pass. It’s easy to win when everything is working, but when it isn’t,
well…then you need to dig deeper. And they did. I don’t know how, but they managed
to eke out a win. I think I was prouder of them for that win than any other
game this season. And when they stepped on the court for the championship game
on Saturday night, I could feel it. They knew they could do it, and they played
like it. Minutes after this photo was
taken, my kid got a gold medal around her neck.
How could a team just have a goal of winning state
like that? Because that’s the best you can do, and they wanted to be the best.
What if their goal had been to have a better than .500 season? Or to finish top
3 in their league? Decent goals, but really, what would be the point? Don’t you
have to dream as big as possible? Why NOT have a goal of that gold medal draped
around your neck?
My husband pointed out that during the semi-final
game, a game we needed to win in order to make the finals, our girls were
playing “to not lose”, instead of playing “to win.” And I realized writing is
the same. I start each book with a goal. But is my goal big enough? Am I simply
writing to “not lose” instead of writing “to win”? Each time I start a book,
shouldn’t I have the loftiest goal in mind? I mean, if my goal for my book is
simply to have my friends like it, or to make the shelf of my local bookstore, or
to get a dozen fan letters, what’s the point? Like my daughter, why aim for
anything else BUT the state title? For me, why not admit yeah, I’d love a best-seller or a Printz or a Newbery? If I don’t have that level of goal in mind
when I write, what’s the point?
There are seven volleyball teams that drove home
from Eugene today without the state title. They’ll all try again next year, and
someone else will win. Just like each year, there are hundreds of authors who
don’t get the big awards, myself included. But each new book I write, I’m back
in the running. I’m writing to win. And, like a state volleyball tournament, it’s
exciting, because you never know when you might just meet your goal. My
daughter, and her dreams, taught me that.