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For the last eight years, I have worked for a small Seattle book publisher called Chin Music Press.
I've done everything from fact checking and copy editing to developmental- and line-editing, from setting up book tours to reading through the slush pile (a task I actually enjoyed).
But during all that time, my name never appeared on the cover of a book.
That changed this September with the release of my first title, Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A picture book, it's both biography and anthology of a much-loved Japanese children's poet, whose work has yet to be introduced to English-language readers.
Becoming an author, I learned, is a humbling experience. I had to endure the red-penciling of my not-so-flawless prose (something I used to dish out myself), and the frustration of waiting for each cog in the publishing machine to take its spin—editing, illustrating, book designing, leveling, printing, marketing, reviewing, even mailing—as deadlines came and went.
The experience opened my eyes to the anxiety authors feel as they lose more and more control over their creation, something that had not really dawned on me despite my years working in publishing.
As a staff member at a publisher, I had dealt with authors who continued to rework small details of their text until the bitter end, who agonized over each cover illustration, or who fretted over how their book page appeared on Amazon. Indeed, the degree to which authors continued "meddling" in their books sometimes affected how well we worked with them.
But being on the author side of the equation taught me just how important it is to give up control, regardless of the anxiety it might cause. That was particularly true of my interactions with Are You an Echo? illustrator Toshikado Hajiri.
When it came time to decide which cover to use, I requested multiple cover sketches, asking for one thing after another to be changed. But I couldn't get satisfied.
Finally, since I was unsure of how to proceed, I asked our book designer Dan Shafer for advice. He recommended limiting how much I was trying to steer the illustrator. Illustrators, he said, do their best work when they have freedom to react to the text in their own way.
Ultimately, I left Toshi to his own devices and he ended up producing a glorious painting of Misuzu and her daughter at sunset.
We went with that.
During my time at Chin Music, there have been many occasions when interactions between writer and editor, or writer and designer have produced unexpected results.
Current author A. V. Crofts tells of her own positive experience of letting go how she thought the cover of her book should look. In another of our titles, Todd Shimoda's Oh! a Mystery of Mono no Aware, book designer Josh Powell brilliantly conceived of the idea of printing the entire book (both text and illustrations) in shades of black-and-white except for the very end.
Photo credit below.
Though initially intended to reduce the cost of the book, his solution resulted in a final explosion of color that dramatically enhanced the conclusion.
Writing is often thought to be a solo activity where one can wield total control over ones craft.
Oddly enough, its twin, publishing—the business of connecting writers to readers—is more of a team sport, requiring the combined input of different players with different skills and sensibilities.
So, as an author, don't try to control everything in your book. Find really good people to join your team. Then let your editor, illustrator, designer, or translator bring something of him or herself to the process.
The result may surprise you.
interior illustration from the book
Photo of Misuzu, Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko's Work.
Wednesday morning was difficult for many, including me and the other three writers staying at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods this week. Just after 9 am that day, to help clear our minds, we embarked on a one-hour hike through the trail just behind the center...
As we wound through the old, towering trees, climbing up and down the small inclines along the trail, we tried to steer our conversation away from politics. We also stopped to enjoy the scenery when it inspired us, especially taking notice of scattered rays of light streaming through the trees. It was exactly what we needed that morning, and exactly why I think we all came to the writing center -- to disconnect from our everyday lives, reconnect with our inner selves, and re-ignite our creativity and dare I say faith -- faith not only in the creative process but, as it turns out, in humanity as well.
The trees along the trails and the accompanying inspiration reminded me of the picture book Deer Dancer by Mary Lyn Ray and Lauren Stringer, which I brought with me to the writing center in hopes that I would find a good place and time to blog about it. There couldn't be a better place and time than here and now.
There's a place I go that's
green and grass,
a place I thought that no one knew --
As you can see from the very poetic, opening lines of the book, the main character has a special place she likes to go for solitude -- a place not unlike the trail we hiked on Wednesday. And, as we found inspiration in the light shining through the trees on the trail, the little girl finds inspiration from a chance encounter with a deer...
I stayed still
as he came nearer, nearer
until he was so close
I could almost have touched him.
He looked at me. I looked at him.
As the book continues, we follow the girl to her ballet class and then back out to the special place where she first saw the deer. The deer returns, and the girl watches the way it lowers its antlers, grazes, and leaps and turns around her. Remembering how her dance teacher had told her to "hold your head as if you're wearing antlers," "listen with your cheekbones," and "look with the eyes in your shoulders," the girl responds to the deer's movements over and over. When the deer finally leaves, the girl realizes she had gotten lost in the inspiration the deer provided and found her own dance. The creative process had prevailed!
I hope that this week and in the coming weeks and months we can all find inspiration, and that we can re-ignite our faith -- faith not only in the creative process but, as it turns out, in humanity as well.
“Writing rules. Everything else sucks. Writing is a big sandbox and it’s full of Tonka Trucks and plastic Godzillas.”
Have you experienced that creative space? It’s when your writing feels most fluid and free.
You become so emotionally attached to the imaginative world that, at the end of the day, you struggle to return to reality. You might look up and realize starving people are in your kitchen. And you might think, who are these hungry people?
They’re not the characters you’ve played with all day.
I’ve been there with my four kids and husband who have all wondered, more than once, how writing can be so engrossing that I melted a pan of food to the burner of my stove.
But there are other times when writing is a total suck pond. You’ve probably experienced that too. It’s when you can’t decide if you want to slap the smile off a smarmy character or toss her from a moving car – I chose a moving truck myself. From there, you admit it isn’t just the characters. The plot is unwieldy. The rising action lacks motivation and falls flat. The tone is all wrong. You stop writing.
I’ve been there, too. About a year ago, I was so mired in muck that I feared I’d never finish another novel. The first draft can be, as Cynthia Leitich Smith reminds me, “Drafty.”
Those drafty drafts bring out the worst fear in all of us. Although I made myself sit down to write, it was a tortuous experience. Then I realized this is not writing fear I suffer, it’s the fear that I’ve lost it; I’m no longer good enough.
This is thick as mud fear arrives every time I start something new or go back to revise a work that’s in that drafty stage.
The only cure is to sit down to write every day—or almost every day. But I’m here to tell you that, after spending too much time in the suck pond, the creative sandbox doesn’t always fill easily.
The sandbox is especially evasive when I’m writing about oppression and other soul-wrenching issues which are typical of YA literature. Rising out of the suck pond becomes a serious struggle.
That’s when we need consciously seek inspiration.
I’ve been working on a novel about suffocating hate and xenophobia, and so I can speak from the bottom of the suck pond. Writing comes so slowly because I really don’t like what some of my characters are doing. It’s seriously depressing being inside some of their heads.
Every day that I work on this novel I have to trick myself into beginning. I have gathered an arsenal to make this happen.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the newly christened guru of creativity, is no slouch with ideas for creative life in her book Big Magic (Riverhead, 2015). She cautions, “Don’t abandon your creativity the moment things stop being easy or rewarding—because that’s the moment when interesting begins.”
As always, Julia recommends long walks and writers’ dates—both good reminders that we can’t find creative inspiration if we’re always staring at a blank screen.
These are good ways to clear my head before and after a day of writing about the wicked side of the world. I’ve been rewarding myself for writing with artist dates.
Julia’s artist dates are permission to visit museums, beaches, art galleries, the zoo—where I recently witnessed giraffes wrapping their necks around one another to flirt.
Julia also advises, “Keep writing. If you keep writing, you will have a breakthrough.”
Through Julia’s suggestions, writers are more likely to create details that come from the observed world. In turn, the details layer and enrich characters, making it possible to write of human goodness even in the lowest moments.
Mary Karr’s, The Art of Memoir (Harper, 2015), helps writers look back into the history of our own crazy lives which are a great source of specific detail. In my life, parents warned the girls I attended Catholic school with not to hang with those wild Bonness girls (my maiden name), said as one word by mothers who must have believed the very mention of our names would taint their daughters. Karr gets that our lives are the stuff that makes stories come alive. I’ve developed some greatly cool friendship scenes around the close wildness of growing up one of seven sisters.
My cache of magic writing has been pulled together from my experience of consistently sinking into the suck pond. I had an editor once tell me my writing had serious potential. So I made a poster that says, “Serious potential happening here.” Of course I colored outside the lines when I filled in the letters to hang it above my computer.
Sometimes I play with poetry while I write. Different forms help resolve a variety of issues. A sestina is a great tool to learn more about developing characters, often providing an “a-ha!” moment in which a character takes charge of a sudden turn. Sonnets help me figure out what my character loves and hates. Found poetry and erasure poetry help uncover the details of a character’s private world. So I play with poetry a lot when I’m writing. It can trick me into that place of fluid writing.
No matter where we turn for creative inspiration, it’s good to remember that serious potential is happening every time we excavate the world of our craft. So dig into that suck pond. If you stay at it long enough, you’ll find that sandbox overflowing with imagination.
I've moved into indie publishing lately, where it is entirely my choice which books I release into the world. So, I've been thinking about branding.
One thing it has taken me a while to realize is that just because you don't write the most popular thing and you get some bad reviews because of it, doesn't mean you need to change anything.
My second novel, Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury, 2001), is my favorite of my published books. Its review average on Amazon and Goodreads was never great, which initially made me feel like there was no place in the world for what I most love to write.
However, as the years have gone by, I've gotten many fan letters for that book from both kids and adult women who tell me it's one of their favorite books and they've read it many times. It took me all those years for the fan mail to trickle in before it finally dawned on me that it is the most beloved of all my books, as far as I can tell.
My brand is: cozy romantic fantasy about a couple in healthy relationship with lots of details about food, clothes, and domestic life, and bits of humor. The fantasy backdrop is more in the "courtly politics" vein rather than physical action, although there is a little of that.
The characters are always somewhat on the fringe of society, your lovable outcasts and weirdos, and if I've done my job, you keep reading because you find the characters delightful and you want to know what happens to them and see them find a place in the world.
Betsy the Cat
They are the kind of books you might read when you're sick or having a bad day; where the characters are friends, the world is home, and you can trust that your heart won't get ripped out of your chest.
A lot of readers like having their heart ripped out of their chest. They give me reviews that say they wanted more action, more magic, more highs and lows. It's always tempting to listen to the bad reviews instead of the good.
And sometimes I love reading stuff that is epic, sweeping, dark. But when I try to write it feels like when I wear my disco dress with the fluttery sleeves. I love that dress but it just isn't me the way my plain 1960s navy blue librarian dress is.
Other people might even like the disco dress better, but it doesn't matter, I still would be happier living in the librarian dress.
As a reader, too, the cozy reads are the ones that fall apart on my shelf, because I pick them up again and again. So I realize now that it is more important to keep writing books that are the most me, and retain those readers who appreciate them too, than it is to try and chase the next big fantasy bestseller.
with pencil, pen or quill, from a picture, if you will, on a napkin, in the dark, at the ocean, on a walk, at a desk, from my dreams, at a keyboard, near a stream: the Muse attacks and I succumb, writing words one by one.
It may start anywhere, anytime without invitation. A spark leaps across one brain cell to another and I must write. I must capture the word/phrase/sentence on paper or in a text file so I can hold it hostage before this elusive gift evaporates.
During school visits, I tell my student audiences; this idea-generating stage of writing comes from something I refer to as the Cosmic Goo, a Nether-World place where ideas wait to be used.
Cosmic Goo (it's a technical term)
Once an idea has introduced itself, I enter the pre-writing phase, where I begin to translate images into slightly more tangible things, words. I want to see, touch, taste them; more importantly, I want to hear them.
I read all my work aloud, from rough draft to finished products, particularly important for picture book or poems. By doing this, I can test their word rhythms. I want to pair every idea with its perfect word mate; doubly important if the draft insists upon being rhymed.
Rhymed or in prose, rhythm is key. If I can't hear the intrinsic word melodies that rhythm produces then neither will my readers.
A stop in word rhythm will slow or stop the reader's flow, and potentially keep them from reading more.
For revising and editing most of my manuscripts, I proceed in two ways: I work a piece to the ground or I abandon it...for a night, a week, a year, or even completely. Separation has definite advantages.
Often, I will go to sleep ruminating on an irksome line, paragraph or scene and awake with its solution, or at least with the way to proceed. In contrast, a longer incubation period allows me to discover that not all pieces deserve to survive. I have learned to use the delete key.
Grandchildren (at a younger age) featured with blessings.
However, if a piece does deserve serious revision, then it deserves the best I can provide.
Good revision is much like good parenting: it starts from your heart.
You invest time in the improvement of your words or art; you encourage and nudge them to shine to become their best; last, you send them on their way and step back.
Will the words and illustrations you love ring true in the Big World?
Will your hard work pay off?
Like adult kids on their own, books mutate from your plans. A few make the New York Times Best Sellers List. Many speak to the hearts of librarians and teachers.
If you are lucky, truly lucky, your book will touch the one child it needed to help, the one who will fall asleep with your work tucked in her or his arms.
That's the beauty and importance of writing and illustrating books for children.
“I write. I teach. I color in or outside the lines. I spoil kids and grandkids....
"Poetry gives voice to our silent songs."
Author/illustrator/storyteller/recovering-teacher/poet, Linda Boyden has written six and illustrated five picture books:
This week I've caught myself for two minutes here, five minutes there, reading a scene from my manuscript in progress.
Not to edit it. Not because I'm nervous about what my new editor will say (that won't kick in for another couple of weeks).
Not because I don't have other things to do. I'm busy teaching and writing speeches.
This week I'm reaching for my work in progress because it comforts me. It's tangible proof that I'm working steadily to the best of my ability to offer something positive to this world, to its future.
I feel a need for tangible proof right now. I'm holding myself accountable and weighing my efforts.
Of late, several writers and illustrators have thoughtfully spoken with me about navigating the dialogue around the current U.S. presidential election.
Here are my thoughts:
First, engage in nurturing self-care. As creative people, we must be courageous and empathetic. That makes us vulnerable. As a creative community, we must take emotional and mental health seriously.
Especially for diverse writers--more so for those who're also women, the landscape is precarious and allies too often undependable.
So, again, please take care of yourself and each other.
That said, no, you don't have to surrender your freedom of political speech for your career. If you believe that your democracy is at stake, your community is at stake, know that publishing as an industry is not going to punish you for saying so.
As for the gatekeepers and the general public, yes, it's possible that you may not sell a copy or, for that matter, two hundred copies of your book, if you speak out. It's possible you may not be invited to a particular event or win a particular award because a given individual disagrees with you.
In a traditional partisan contest, with its typical rhetoric, it may be worth weighing whether to raise your voice or let your books do the talking, especially in cases where those particular books could save kids' lives.
But, my friends, I seriously doubt any of that's in play this time.
You know, in case you were worried about the position of a mint company on gender.
We are neck deep in the surreal.
So, don't be too hard on yourself if you're triggered or baffled or or disheartened or outraged. Everyone I talk to keeps apologizing for having feelings. Of course you have feelings!
My suggestion: Participate in a way that preserves, reflects and/or affirms your creative life. If what's best for you is to be quiet and go vote, okay. That's fine. If you want to engage on Twitter and then go vote, that's an option, too. But regardless, focus on your own work.
Continue to craft great books for children and teenagers. Maybe not this minute or this week, if you're not up to it. But when you're ready.
This is the world we're giving to future generations, and those of you who create (produce, champion and connect) literature for young readers are among my heroes. Hang in there.
Indigenous People's Day YA Collection from Lee & Low. Peek: "This Young Adult collection highlights indigenous cultures and the issues they face. These paperback and hardcover books for both on-grade level and struggling readers are sure to engage and offer a range of complexity to meet all students' needs."
What if there was a way to build in opportunities to reflect, in writing, about my teaching right in the place where the lesson plans reside? And what if that place could also offer daily inspiration and opportunities to set positive intentions for the week ahead?
The ability to improve the health of another person or to save their life requires great skill, knowledge, and dedication. The impact that this work has goes above and beyond your average career, extending to the families and friends of patients. We were interested to discover what motivates the people who play a vital role in the health and quality of life of hundreds of people every year.
Has the wisdom of time and life positively affected my ability to write flawed characters? Or is it the other way around?
I muse about this during an early summer morning’s coffee and writing time.
In much younger days, a painful flaw in a friend’s makeup would end the friendship. I could not tolerate – or truthfully, did not know how to negotiate the waters of – imperfection.
I don’t mean to imply that some relationships, whether romantic or friendship, never change beyond repair, or don’t have some Shakespearean-level fatal flaws. Some people come and go in our lives, as we come and go in theirs.
In retrospect, I believe flaws frightened me. You can guess at the multiple reasons, but there it was: a problem, a serious bump, a major difference in opinion or belief used to pose a threat to the relationship itself. I did not have the courage to stay for discussion, argument, confrontation. I did not believe in my own value in such a confrontation.
I did not know the inherent beauty of flaws.
I could spend time regretting the relationships that I left behind – the ones, that is, that could have benefited from conversation that pushed each of us to accommodate the other’s differences and flaws. But instead I devoted effort to accepting my own and others’ flaws, and developing the capacity to, more times than not, gently nudge myself past the historically embedded impulse to head the other direction. In life, I’ve learned that flaws, disappointments, failures are part of the tapestry.
Appreciating, although not always loving, has made for a better life story.
So as a writer, you’d think that I’d “get” the need to make my characters imperfect, create their flaws with a more complete understanding that this is part of what makes them human, engaging, and even universal.
But it’s always a struggle. I want to idealize them. In first drafts, or even in the daydreams that happen before the first drafts, deeper imperfections, the roiling internal conflicts that make us human, are absent.
I steer myself deliberately into the “deep” later on. And more often than not, it will take repeated efforts to comb away my idealizing vision of a girl, her family, her friends, until they all become flawed.
Not fatally, but naturally. Like most of us.
Decades ago, when I read and fell in love with so many magnificent middle grade novels, I participated in an online “chat” (no visuals in those days, just typed questions and responses) with Katherine Paterson. As a new-ish writer for children, I typed in a question:
How did you create a character with so many flaws that we still fall in love with by the end of the first page?
Ms. Paterson’s answer was simply stated, but profound. The typed words appeared on my screen:
Because I love her.
I knew how important these words were, and also knew that it might take me years of practice to fully understand.
In fact, as I’ve worked on multiple revisions of my middle grade novel in verse, it has seemed that I created the love by creating flaws. As I made everything and everyone less perfect, I grew fonder and fonder of them, and of the story.
We know the flaws of being human make for better characters, and a deeper story. They also probably make for a better life.
Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.
Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.
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It's been four years since my first children's book came out. One thing I've learned since then: to pay more attention to the people and things around me.
EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE can be a source of wonder and inspiration: a snippet of conversation, a secret smile, even someone's shoes. Ask yourself questions about the people and things you see around you, invent reasons why people look or act the way they do, what happened to them, why they chose to wear that particular piece of clothing today.
A photo posted by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkygirl) on Dec 6, 2015 at 6:32am PST
Now that I illustrate as well as write, I also try to pay more attention to physical details when I observe the world around me: what people REALLY look like, for instance, to help me add authentic or unusual details next time I draw a young girl or stay-at-home parent or businessman or older person or person of colour, etc.. My goal: to increase the breadth and depth of my internal visual library, the one I access when I'm doing a sketch without a physical reference right in front of me.
A photo posted by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkygirl) on Dec 17, 2015 at 8:03am PST
And this doesn't just apply to observing people. I've always preferred drawing characters much more than backgrounds. I used to hate drawing backgrounds, which is why I rarely drew them in my comics early on. Now I'm trying to get better at it and lo and behold, I find the more I practice, the more comfortable I become. Go figure, eh? I've been drawing a lot of TREES lately. I draw big trees, little trees, scary trees, alien trees, saplings etc. Experimenting with different ways of drawing foliage as well. NO, I don't have any book projects where I have to draw trees right now....but I know I will someday, so why not get better at something I don't enjoy doing? And it's working. I'll post more on this topic in the future.
So go forth and pay attention, all! Your creative inner lives will be enriched as a result, I promise.
She received an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.
We all reach a point when writing doesn’t feel very fun. Maybe because we’ve read too many rejection letters. Or maybe because we’ve revised so much we can’t recognize our story. Or maybe because we’re under a deadline and the pressure to finish takes away all the enjoyment.
But remember why we started doing this? It wasn’t because we wanted to get rich quick. (Ha!) Or because it was the only job we could do. Or because anyone was making us write. It was because it was fun.
The art of creating story was fun. We became writers because we like telling stories—we like making up details, researching history and narrating events. All of that was fun.
Six years ago, I got serious about becoming a writer and applied to an MFA program. When I got a call from the admissions office saying, “Hey – we’re doing this intensive picture book semester and we have room for one more student. Would you like to try it?”
I thought, That could be fun. And I soon found myself immersed.
Six months of reading almost nothing but picture books. Dozens of picture books. Hundreds of picture books. Rhyming ones, silly ones, concept books, fairy tales. Biographies, bedtime stories, wordless books and—poetry.
The thing about sitting down at the library and reading through a knee-high stack of poetry books is that after reading a dozen, two dozen, I started to see really fast what makes a certain one good. I really liked the ones that were centered around a theme, with varied types of poetry and bonus little nonfiction facts sprinkled on top.
I should try to do that, I thought. Being enrolled in a class that expected me to produce many picture book drafts in a short period of time didn’t let me dwell on whether it was a good idea or not. It just demanded that I try it out. That I play with it.
And I did. It was fun to research shark breeds and learn about sharks I’d never heard of before. (Hello, cookie-cutter shark!)
I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching sharks swim and thinking about their rhythm and shape and how that would feed into a poem. It was fun to learn new stuff. And it was really fun to try my hand at writing all different types of poems.
To challenge myself to make sure the next one didn’t rhyme or the next one was a concrete poem or the next one was a haiku. Not all of the experimenting worked. But every bit of it was fun.
As writers we need to remember what drew us to this field to begin with and do whatever we can to find the fun again. Here are 4 quick ways you can find the fun in writing this week:
Be a spy. Go outside and find an animal or a plant and just sit and watch it for 10 minutes, writing down whatever comes to mind. See if you can take that and shape it into a poem when the time is up.
Play a game. Find a Mad Libs. Caption a funny photo.
Have fun with first lines. Opening sentences can be really fun to make up. Write a list of ten of them and then send the list out to your critique group. Let them vote on one that you’ll turn into a short story.
Write something that is completely out of your comfort zone. If you normally write YA contemporary, try writing a scene of a middle grade historical novel. Write the end of a story. Write in second person. Do something new and fresh that shakes it up a little in your routine.
It’s worth it to take a break from the WIP and play a little. Remembering what’s fun about writing will improve your energy level on your current project.
But that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it’s fun.
My grandmother used to tell me that I was dizzy-dolly-daydream. She said it quite a lot and I began to wonder if this was a good thing, so I finally asked her what it meant.
She said that me being in my own funny little world was a bit frustrating for her; however, she thought that that dreamers were important. The important bit made me feel ten feet tall but with little idea of what she was on about since most of my mental meanderings were to do with going to Sweety Land where I could eat everything in sight or jumping into a puddle which took me to the seaside or rescuing a sad donkey/mouse/rabbit from certain doom.
A real donkey being rescued! Don't worry - he was fine and happy
Then Granny being the pragmatic woman she was, added, 'But you do need to do something with your dreams, dear.' Thanks, Granny.
Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages. Terry Pratchett
We can range free in our daydreams, slip the surly bonds of earth and all that, though we are strangely constrained by some inner logic in our night-dreams and nightmares. Whatever they are - daydreams, night-dreams, nightmares - maybe the stuff that dreams are made of can make a story ... and turn the insubstantial into substance. You must have had dreams you remember? I have had dreams in which I'm falling off a tall building, only to land on a squashy car (I've had this at least three times) and the embarrassing dream in which I find myself swimming in a public pool with no costume on (please do not analyse). I have also had dreams which rehearse an important event and woken with a sense of security about what's to come (quite useful but uncontrollable).
It was all a dream ...
I have also dreamed of the dead. I have done this twice. In my dreams I talked to those lost ones, forgetting that they were dead until waking when the memory of loss returned with the most crushing sadness. So my dreams are rubbish for plotting but they have on occasion been wonderful for feeling.
And then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again. Caliban, The Tempest, Shakespeare
Back to Granny. When I was about eight I had an incredible experience. I so loved being with Granny at her house and I would frequently dream about being there. One night, I dreamed about my bedroom in that house - the perfumey scent, the sunshine on the bed, the creaking wardrobe door. I woke up and for a glorious few seconds Iwasthere - in that bed, in my granny's house and my happiness was like sunshine. It lasted no time and I woke up again, confused and with a terrible weight of disappointment and a fierce yearning to be back there. Sometimes, I think that this it is what being a ghost might feel like - a tremendous yearning to get back to life. I haven't knowingly used this experience in my work but I recognise it in other stories.
Don't let her in, you fool
Like Cathy's ghost in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch: instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in—let me in!"
Set on the wild and windy moors, Bronte’s Victorian classic has lots of dream-like qualities. There are several occasions when characters are guided by their dreams. The character Lockwood has an unsettling dream about a brawl at an endless church sermon while staying at Wuthering Heights, while Catherine accepts a marriage proposal from Edgar after connecting a dream about going to heaven with their union.
‘I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.’ the Housekeeper
There are those books which deal directly with dreams like one of my favourites, 'Marianne Dreams' by Catherine Storr.
Ill and bored with having to stay in bed, Marianne picks up a pencil and starts doodling - a house, a garden, a boy at the window. That night she has an extraordinary dream whereby she is transported into her own picture, and as she explores further she soon realises she is not alone. The boy at the window is called Mark, and his every movement is guarded by the menacing stone watchers that surround the solitary house. This story is creepy, disturbing and I realised that it echoed one of my own childhood nightmares where a witch lived in the house next door and I had to devise lots of ways to escape her attentions.
Soooooo atmospheric and dreamlike in quality
How about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?
As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus (I've waited a long time to reveal that nugget of knowledge), Harry is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a villain.
I love a spooky door
And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:
I cannot write about dreams without referring to Alice in Wonderlandby the peerlessLewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.
‘Yes, that’s it! Said the Hatter with a sigh, it’s always tea time.’
Then there's, Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein
With a head full of an evening’s talk of reanimation and galvanism, Mary Godwin did not sleep well: “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie?.I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out?” She realized she had found her “ghost story.” “What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
In June of 2003, suburban Arizona mother Stephenie Meyer woke up from an intense dream in which two young lovers were lying together in a meadow, discussing why their love could never work. On her website, Meyers says, “One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
His horror classic also sprang into existence because of its writer’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.
"In the small hours of the morning," says Mrs Stevenson, "I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I woke him. He said angrily, 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ..."
Stuart Little by E.B. White:
One of the most memorable and beloved characters from children’s literature entered into E.B. White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later. From there, the tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse became a classic.
Years ago, a friend told me that getting published was the easy part. It was staying published that was difficult.
I laughed a little. I died inside.
I was still trying to get published the first time, let alone a second or third time, and I wasn’t having a whole lot of success.
But perseverance won, and eventually I did get published. And because I was one of those annoying overachievers, I’d already written first drafts of the second and third books in my trilogy by the time I turned in my first book, which meant that I had some free time.
I wrote another — unrelated — book, revised it a bit, shared it with a few critique partners and my agent, and when I had another stretch of free time, I went back to it to make the manuscript shine.
But something was wrong. There were huge parts of the book that I loved, but I knew it had problems, and I wasn’t sure how to fix them. I knew the book wasn’t strong enough to give to my publisher, so I put it aside to wait for a spark of brilliance to tell me how to fix it.
That book is still waiting. I had to move on. So I finished writing my first series (again), and I wrote another new book. I gave it to critique partners. I gave it to my agent. I revised the snot out of it. And I thought it was ready, so I gave it to my publisher. They said they didn’t think this was the very best followup to my first series.
I started thinking about that thing my friend had said years before. I started wondering if maybe she was right. I’d been published! People liked my book! But I’d put one new book aside because I knew it wasn’t ready, and I’d had to put the other new book aside because my career wasn’t ready.
But because I had no desire to starve to death and a very strong desire to keep my career in motion, I wrote yet another new thing (while finishing working on my first trilogy). All the necessary people liked it and approved it, and that book became my second series. (For those wondering if that pattern continued, it did not. There were no books between that one and what will be my third series.)
I’m sharing all this because I think a lot of writers believe that once you’re published, you can hand in new books and a couple of years later, they appear on shelves. Not true! New books must go through the same rigorous acquisitions process as the first one, but this time with sales records of your previous books as a key factor in what the publisher decides to do.
I know a lot of authors who’ve written new things after they’ve been published, and for one reason another, had to trunk them. Maybe they knew from the start it wasn’t ready. Maybe their agent said it wasn’t ready. Maybe their publisher said it wasn’t ready.
And you know, there’s no shame in that. Trunked manuscripts — no matter what stage of your career they were written — are still useful creatures. There are no wasted words in writing, even if those words never make it to the bookshelves. All that experiences goes into the next new thing, which will be even stronger than the last ones.
We all have trunked manuscripts. Lots come before getting published the first time, but they happen after, too. For a lot of writers.
And it’s totally okay. Just keep writing. Keep looking forward. (And hopefully one day, you can resurrect the trunked manuscripts you particularly love. That is my plan!)
Do you remember when you first fell in love with stories?
When I was a young boy—before I fell in love with reading,
before I sat in front of the TV for hours watching movies—I loved sitting in
the kitchen on Sunday mornings listening to my grandfather tell stories about
his life growing up in a tiny village on the outskirts of Warsaw.
It wasn’t just his stories that drew me into the
Rejection, reviews, competition, disappointment, deadlines, and doubt. There is no shortage of adversity in the writing life, making the ability to bounce back one of the greatest skills a writer can foster. And it can be fostered.
Because resilience is not a genetic or personality trait, but a process which can be learned and practiced. Overcoming the challenges that exist in our writing lives often feels difficult because it is difficult.
But not impossible.
And if you don’t believe me—Jennifer Mann—perhaps you’d believe another Jennifer?
“There are those writing days where I feel more alive than I can almost handle. And then there are the days of all out despair where I worry I’ll never have success again. If I have patience with myself, I get that exhilarating feeling all over again, and it keeps me going.”
“A big part of surviving in this business is managing my own negative emotions. That means I protect my mind and my heart fiercely. I do whatever I need to do to stay in a healthy place, because I've realized that I'm no good to anyone when I've let a bad review or my own natural writing insecurities get the better of me.”
“Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.”
“We can’t get better or grow if there is no reason to. Obstacles, like critique, rejection, time constraints, tech failures, family obligations, power outages, chocolate shortages, give us a reason to change how we do things, and every time we do something differently, we grow.”
“I remind myself that it is just a book. Sure, authors can impact, and maybe even save, lives when their stories reach the right person at the right time, but possibly not as many lives as, say, heart surgeons or the inventors of airbags... and I sometimes need the reminder to just get over myself and put things in perspective!”
They say you can't wait around for inspiration to strike before you start writing or creating, but one of my big problems is trying to get away from inspiration. Maybe it's living in Albuquerque, or I read too much, or have too many creative friends, but sometimes it's all I can do to not have any new ideas. A while back I wrote a post listing my main literary influences and inspirations. The list still holds true today and I enjoyed going over it before writing today. Making a list of your own in your art journal could include:
Blogs you enjoy reading.
Heroic historical figures.
Friends and family.
Besides listing your primary movers-and-shakers, you might like to explore questions about how you work with inspiration, for instance, when you're feeling down and defeated, how do you bring yourself back up? What kinds of activities or happenings actually un-inspire you? How can you detach yourself from their toxicity? Tip of the Day: I'm a big fan of altars, especially the small, unassuming sort you make at home without really trying, such as a windowsill where you keep, say, a collection of stones and shells from a favorite beach, or a shelf filled with childhood memorabilia. Even the way you set up your art and journaling supplies can be considered a kind of altar to your creativity. In that spirit, why not set aside a few art journal pages to create a visual altar, a place where you can visit whenever the well seems a bit dry. Design and color it in a way that makes you want to return again and again for further inspiration! Add a Comment