Twoubled Tweeter

Are there any picture books about global pandemics? If not, there are about to be. It’s bound to happen–what with all these writers who are self distancing and quarantine-ing themselves at home. Plenty of time to write, right?

Well, there should be, anyway. But that’s not what I’m seeing on Twitter (where I recently learned that writers of all genres seem to “hang out”). I’m seeing an awful lot of singing from balconies, cat memes, political discussion, mental health advice, and people who SHOULD NOT be dancing on camera. And stress. And worry. And anxiety.

Many of us writers are doing anything but writing. In the face of unprecedented circumstances, so many are following this mantra:

When in trouble, when in doubt…

RUN IN CIRCLES, SCREAM AND SHOUT!

Or eat lots of candy, or clean out your closet, or let your kid have lots of video game time, or drink wine before 5 (ok, fine–before 4). I’m here to say this: It’s OK.

Now, to those writers who are suddenly filled with motivation and ideas, more power to ya. If you’re a picture book writer who is reading your books to kids on the internet, thank you! If you’re a young adult novelist who just got the best plot idea ever about love during global tragedy, WRITE ON!

But if you’re feeling swirly and not that productive, it’s ok. I really believe most people are doing the best they can. If you can manage to do something constructive with your newly stuck-at-home kids, then do it. If you get around to showering, hooray! Maybe you’re winning at Iron Chef Pantry. If you’re stressed out and panicky and aren’t sleeping so much, be nice to yourself. And be nice to everyone else, too. We’re not trained for pandemics.

If you’re someone who can’t stay home for work reasons, bless you. If you are at home, reach out to someone! If you’re on Twitter, be the positive voice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get another snack and stare thoughtfully into my computer screen–you know, like writers do.

Research Resurgence

I’m learning more and more about the importance of research for writers. Since my main project right now is historical non-fiction for children, it’s essential to get the facts straight. Since my brain leans to the “artsy” side (and I’m 48, and apparently that’s when you can’t remember hardly any damned thing…), I find I MUST write down things I want to remember. This results in lists, notecards, notebooks, computer notes, post-its, etc. We do what we must.

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When I did my original research using family papers and other texts, I used old-school note cards, just like I did in high school and college. Thank goodness I bothered, because I got a question this week regarding one of the facts in my manuscript. It was about a reference to the main character’s interactions with her grandmother and how her grandmother made delicious doughnuts. I nearly applauded (to no-one) when I was able to go right to my handy mini file box and pull out just the reference I needed.

The main type of research that is a must for writers is reading. It sounds simple, but my writing improves when I spend time in book stores and libraries finding materials that are comparable to the genre in which I’m working. I spent some time last night in a bookstore reading children’s books–a good stack of them.

I read about early air travel, women’s rights, famous politicians, a kind bean (yes, a bean), and finally, Helen Keller.

This beautiful book by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares (published by Disney-Hyperion) represented so much of what I’d like my writing to be. The illustrations were captivating and descriptive and truly conveyed emotions. The manuscript gave a detailed account of Helen’s amazing life, including her relationships with her parents, her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and others throughout her life. It was inspiring–a real gift to children and adults alike. Thank you, Doreen and Matt!

Reading Helen’s Big World encouraged me to really consider the importance of research. It is not only important to get the facts straight for legal and historical reasons, but also for the purpose of getting the incredible truth out there. Accurately portraying Helen Keller’s (and so many other historical people’s) life opens minds and hearts to possibility. In the case of Helen, it’s possible to overcome challenges. It’s possible to learn. It’s possible to impact others. It’s possible to know beauty, regardless of your circumstances.

Children (and adults!) need these messages, and I want to be that kind of messenger–that’s why I write children’s books.

Next week, I’m working research into my routine. We’re fortunate to have a fantastic local library, and I plan to camp out there to read another stack of excellent works. Here’s to research!

The Conference Conundrum

Well, now I’ve done it.

I registered for the NESCBWI conference in May. If you’re not a children’s book writer, that stands for New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s an awesome organization of which I’m proud and grateful to be a member. My membership gets me resources, training, networking opportunities, and just lots of knowledge about the writing and publishing business.

My favorite part of belonging to an organization is getting to know the people. I’ve been part of a six week writing class and several day-long workshops and meetings for writers. The material has always been useful and applicable, but I’ve learned a ton from the other participants.

But here’s the conundrum part:

attending a conference for writers when you haven’t been “recognized” as a writer.

It can feel like the worst case of impostor syndrome–as if a “real” writer will come and rip off your cloak to reveal the scarlet U which declares UNPUBLISHED! I mean, it’s not as if we have to trudge down the hotel hallways (these things are often in hotels) shouting like literary lepers: “UNPUBLISHED, UNPUBLISHED, UNPUBLISHED!” so that the real writers don’t accidentally catch our lack of luck and experience.

It just feels that way.

So I will hold my breath and jump in. I ordered more business cards. I’m brushing up some projects. I’m talking aloud to no one in my car to practice pitches for completed manuscripts, just in case THE agent or publisher asks, “So what’s your current project?” I’m thinking of things to wear that say¬†You can definitely picture me at a school visit or a book signing wearing this.

I mostly spend time practicing not looking like these awkward apples…

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I’m looking forward to some learning and networking and maybe a little adventure. I’ll let you know how it goes!