New Year’s Resolutions 2019

After trying and failing multiple times to find time for our annual New Year’s resolution setting (we were too pooped, or had plans every night), Andy and I finally set aside a special breakfast date to get it done. It was, as always, really fun to look back and look forward.

As is our pattern, we killed it on some resolutions and really sucked on others, though we gave ourselves partial checks on goals that we at least attempted to some degree. And, to be fair, though it doesn’t look like our “Communication and Bearing Burdens” category fared well, we have been working really hard on improving our communication skills, so I feel pretty good about giving us a check there overall.

I’m really excited for the Come Follow Me program at church this year (not to mention, two hour church! Wahoo!); it’s only been a few weeks, but we have been diligent about preparing lessons every Sunday, and we have felt the blessings in our family. I think this program will help us improve in places we fell short last year.

As far as personal goals, the one I worked on the most was writing the draft of my first YA novel. I finished it early in the morning on December 31! I never EVER in a million years thought that I could, would, should write a novel. In fact, when I first started writing children’s books, I swore up and down that I would never write anything beyond picture books. Novels seemed too complex, too long, too impossible to even attempt writing. But, after I read The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas in he summer of 2017, I was inspired and felt prompted to try. Even though it’s just a draft and needs a TON of work, I’m really proud of myself for finishing it.

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Here are our family goals for 2019:

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Here are our personal resolutions:

In addition to writing goals, I’m really excited about my sleeping one. I’m determined to get so much sleep that the bags under my eyes go away! HA…hopefully that’s even possible.

This goal isn’t purely aesthetic, I have finally learned that I cannot, in fact, function without sleep. Postpartum depression has forced me to really understand that my emotional health is directly tied to how much I sleep. So, I’m really going to try to sleep more even if means I can’t meet the other goals I set for myself. So far, I have been doing a little better, but I still have a ways go to!

This year, Carter told me some of his goals as well. He came up with all of them himself, in this order, and I love them:

  1. Give toys to kids who don’t have toys.
  2. Take guitar lessons.
  3. Share toys more.
  4. Read with mommy more.
  5. Give packages to people.
  6. Play with more people at home (invite more people over to our house).
  7. Listen to people when they’re talking.
  8. Swim (with people).

I feel like this will be a year of changes and miracles. I’m excited for 2019!

Hold Fast to Dreams (Or, How to Pursue Writing while Juggling Young Kids and a Full-Time Job)

Dreams
Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Filled with snow.

Though I’ve always loved reading, I did not grow up with dreams of becoming a writer. Those dreams came as I explored my commitment to education, equity, youth, stories, and social change. Writing, like most things I’ve pursued with passion, sits at the intersection of these pillars. I believe that writing stories is one way I can make a difference in the world. And what else are we here for, but to make a difference in this world that sorely needs change? Continue reading “Hold Fast to Dreams (Or, How to Pursue Writing while Juggling Young Kids and a Full-Time Job)”

New Year’s Resolutions 2018

I have long contended that the person who sets goals and who strives to attain such is the master of his own fate. – Carlos E. Asay

I love new beginnings and New Year’s resolutions.  Every year, Andy and I reflect back on our personal and family goals and make new ones each year. We write family goals on a little chalkboard and personal goals on paper underneath. We display them all year so we can attempt to keep ourselves on track. Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions 2018”

Starting My Publishing Journey

Remember oh, early December, when I wrote this post on diversity in children’s books? I made a commitment to publish books for children of color and committed to publishing something myself if I didn’t have something in the works by June.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

BWAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!

I take it back. Clearly, I had no idea what I was talking about when I made that commitment. Since then, I have taken a few little steps into the world of children’s publishing. I started out by researching publishers online, visiting many publishing websites, blogs and boards. I attempted to draft unsolicited query letters to publishers only to realize that perhaps I should be looking for an agent first. This led me into a brief phase during which I thought I would try my hand at illustrating my own stories. That was short-lived. I talked with a publisher who gave me good advice. Namely, learn more about the craft. Work on your writing.

So, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended a conference last weekend at Asilomar. I chatted with beginning writers – like me! – published writers, agents and editors. I was inspired! I was uplifted! I was filled with passion and fire!

And, I am overwhelmed but undaunted by the long road ahead. Key lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far:

Children’s Writing is an Art Form
Writing children’s books is an art. To the untrained eye, a picture book seems like a collection of simple words and a simpler story line. Anyone could do that, I am ashamed to admit I mistakenly believed. Underscore ashamed and the past tense form of believe. I’ve been schooled. There is a world of intentionally executed pacing and page turns, theme, voice, perspective, word choice, rhythm, flow, sound and character development that lives in every book. I never imagined that some picture book writers take years revising their stories to perfection.

It reminds me of teaching. Teaching is an art form. It is possible to recognize a masterful teacher; but, to the untrained eye, it is not always possible to see the thousands of choices s/he is making throughout a class period. Lesson planning and pedagogy aside, there are the relationships built, intentional pacing of the space, specific word choice and signals, teacher stink-eye, phrasing of questions and follow-up and a million other details that make teachers artists.

Great picture books are complex, layered stories told in less than 1000 words. Humanity’s lessons written in 32-40 page stories that a five year old can understand. A writer has to say much with little; it is no easy feat. Children’s book writers take tremendous pride in their art and I am humbled. I want to learn. I want to become a master artist. And it won’t happen overnight.

A sketch from my brief stint as an aspiring author/illustrator.

Empathy and Impact
Stories change lives. They change they way we look at others and the world. One of my favorite memories from teaching English is the day my students read their personal narratives to the class. They shared and learned personal stories with tremendous vulnerability and began to see each other – and themselves – differently as a result.

At the Asilomar conference, author Deborah Underwood shared an example of an everyday story that makes an impact on our perceptions. She contrasted the striking difference of emotions we might feel between two versions of the same experience: being stuck for miles behind a driver going 15 mph on a windy road vs. being stuck for miles behind a driver going 15 mph on a windy road knowing the driver is rushing his sick cat to the vet but is driving slowly because the cat gets carsick with increased speed. Our frustration is curbed and we feel greater compassion and patience when we know the driver’s story.

Stories build empathy and challenge assumptions. As such, they have the ability to create lasting change. Stories shared with the rising generation can shape their ideas of truth and possibility. They can create connections and break down barriers. Stories are tools for equity. Understanding this fuels my desire to write and publish. Writing is not a side-gig hobby I’m dabbling in because of a quaint, momentary inspiration I had after giving birth to Carter. Stories can change lives, can change public opinion, can change the world. So, I will write stories until I learn to write stories.

Perseverance
In an industry where a Newbery Award winning author has ten years of rejection letters from pages upon pages of editors and agents (I’ve seen the pictures and it ain’t pretty!) I’m beginning to understand the sheer grit and determination it will take to reach my goals. It ain’t gonna be pretty but I’m not going to give up. That is all.

(Someone remind me that I wrote this when I’m ready to throw in the towel after 32392834792835601 rejection letters, please.)

Another sketch. Sticking to writing. Maybe I’ll put these on a t-shirt for myself.

Revisiting My Goals
So, it has become painfully clear that this whole, if I don’t-find-someone-who-will-publish-my stories-by-June business is laughably, woefully uninformed. I’ve also realized that I don’t want to self publish. So, my ultimate goal is still to be published. Several times over. But, methinks I need to give myself a lllllllllllllooooooooooooootttttttttttttttt more time. Preferably before I turn grey?

My revised goals for this year:

  • Continue to improve my writing. Form a critique group that meets regularly, take classes, read books. Write a lot, revise a lot. Write some more.
  • Finish at least four stories by the end of summer
  • Submit queries to at least 20 agents by December
  • Don’t lose hope when the rejections come in! Keep submitting and writing.

Closing words that inspired me from the conference:

Crazy and stupid are not the same thing. – LeUyen Pham

There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. – Oscar Levant