On fear, and how writing is like a guitar

Fear is funny. Not funny, really. Maddening, frustrating, debilitating.
Ortega acoustic electric mini bassAfter a busy month or so, I hadn’t had time to practice my bass guitar at all. I wanted to. I missed it. So I took it out of the case and sat it next to my chair so it would be easy to grab whenever I had a few free minutes. And from there it mocked me. I was afraid to pick it up. Afraid I’d forgotten everything. Afraid I would suck.
Writing is like that, too. I think the writers who advise others to “write every day” do so for this reason most of all. The longer we go without doing something the more room there is for doubt and excuses, so we go even longer without doing it. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of.
Sometimes, the missing doing the thing becomes greater than the fear and overcomes it. Other times, we force ourselves past the fear. We have been here before and can see it for what it is.
I finally picked up the guitar today. I can still play. In fact, I think I played better today than I have in months. It felt joyous, both the ability to make music and the letting go of the fear.
Soon, my schedule will allow me to get back to writing again, too. And I am not afraid. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
What goals are you avoiding because of fear? Perhaps it’s time to begin.
Begin

2017 in review, and a sneak peek at 2018 goals

2017

If you’ve followed my blog for a long time (or know me at all), you probably know I can be a little obsessive about setting goals and doing annual performance reviews. So, as 2017 comes to a close, I thought I should reflect on what I’ve accomplished the past year and think about what 2018 might bring.
2017
One of my main goals for 2017 was to get more comfortable speaking in public.  It’s a good thing I was able to do that, since (and probably because) I got a lot of practice! Here’s a quick summary:

  • 24 keynotes, assemblies, presentations, or workshops for young people,
  • 17 Skype visits,
  • 7 presentations for adults,
  • 6 bookstore appearances,
  • 2 roundtable critique sessions,
  • 1 radio interview, and
  • an 8-week improv class.

The success I feel here isn’t so much from the quantity, but from the quality. First, it’s gotten MUCH easier for me. I can do these talks in stride now and don’t stress out for a whole day prior and then need a whole day after to decompress. That’s a big win! Also, the improv class was oddly terrifying to think about, but so much fun and such a great experience in practice. So, I’m really glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I also had some success with major writing goals and projects:

  • TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! was released in June, and I put a lot of time put into promotion, including developing promotional materials like curriculum guides and swag, and creating new presentations around it.
  • We’re just now putting the final touches on the second book in the series, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: HISTORIES AND MYSTERIES, which we researched, drafted, revised, copyedited, and sourced photos for all in the past year. This one is so good, I can’t wait to see it out in the world next June!
  • We have the outline for the third TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE book just about wrapped up, too, so 2018 will see a lot of work (and fun!) on that front.
  • I wrote a brand-new picture book from scratch, revised it, and it went out on submission! I’m hopeful this one will find a home in 2018.
  • I revised my MG nonfiction project and sent it back out on submission. Alas, it looks like this one will need yet another fresh approach, which is also on the schedule for 2018. I’m mulling over a couple of ideas about how to proceed.
  • I worked on revising two other picture books, one fiction and one nonfiction, but neither one is quite ready yet. More work to come on both of those in the year ahead, and hopefully they’ll be ready to send out soon.
  • I started researching a new picture book biography. I’m really excited about this one, and the research so far has only fueled my interest further. I hope I can complete a first draft in the coming year.
  • I had a new idea for another nonfiction picture book and have started researching that one as well. This one is still in the idea phase and will take some noodling to get just the right approach, so for now I’ll keep researching and thinking and see what happens.

2018
As you can see from the above, I’ll have my work cut out for me in 2018 with one new book to promote, one under contract to write, (at least) two picture books to finish revising, the MG nonfiction to re-envision, and the two new picture books to research and draft. Phew — that’s a lot of big goals. Wish me luck! =D

Cycles, balance, and making plans

[Note: This was originally published on Emu’s Debuts, but it seemed to resonate with people, so I decided to reblog it here in case you missed it. Sorry if you’re seeing it twice!]
Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.

The Creativity Cycle
The Creativity Cycle

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SCBWI conferences: so many kinds of awesome

I’m finally starting to be able to come down from the high that was last weekend’s SCBWI Western Washington’s Writing and Illustrating for Children conference. After an extended period of not enough sleep, too much forced extroversion, and total detail overwhelm, I expected to be exhausted, but instead I was completely energized. It was so many kinds of awesome for me. I actually broke into tears driving home (the good kind, to be sure), and I’ve been walking around with a silly grin on my face ever since.

First of all, just being in the same room with that many people who care about the same thing I do is a gift. I’ve felt that at every writer’s conference I’ve ever been to, and that in itself is reason enough to go. As a recovering pleaser, I guess I’m still a total sucker for validation.
More than that, though, was the shift in my own reality. I had three  goals for this conference:

  1. Try to relax and enjoy the moment. I have a strong perfectionist streak and can be a total control freak sometimes, but this year I was able to (mostly) just let go and make the best of it.
  2. Connect with people rather than their roles. I have always felt self-conscious around the faculty—those gatekeepers and success stories whom I so admire and respect—but this year I felt like I could’ve brought all of them home to my messy house for beer and burgers (probably more of a testament to their humility and grace than any personal growth on my part!).
  3. Get more comfortable speaking to a crowd. I have always been terrified of public speaking, but this year it was not only easy, it was actually fun!

I’ve wished and worked for these qualities all my life, and they finally chose to manifest themselves last weekend. I feel like Laini Taylor’s Magpie Windwitch, stuffing my most noxious demons into a fine glass bottle and pounding the cork in tight—banishing them to darkness where they can no longer exercise their evil powers.
So, the trick now is to go back to the solitary work of writing and revising without the task list spreadsheet, inexorable deadline, or golden “boss” pin. I can’t delegate anything away to my more competent friends, no one will be stopping me in the hall to thank me for my efforts, and there will be no standing ovation when it’s done. But I still have more goals to achieve (and more demons to banish), so it’s back to work I go with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.
How about you: did you have pre-conference goals, do you feel like you achieved them, and what’s up next on your to-do list?

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