Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…. Craft enables art.  There’s luck in art.  And there’s the gift.  You can’t earn that. But you can learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii


Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!


PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Writing with an elephant

Contrary to popular belief, there is only one way to eat an elephant.  Though I’m sure your elephant looks vastly different than mine, whether it be in size, shape, or schedule, the fact remains.  Some days, I feel like I have a dozen elephants on my plate, but the one I’ll focus on today, you guessed it, is my writing.  The problem I struggle with being that I find myself ravenous for knowledge, education and community, is that I’m overwhelmed with options… and at the same time, feel completely out of the loop.  How do I get into the loop?!? Where do I start?!?  Where can I find more hours in my day? I’ll tell you what I’ve done so far, and I’m open to suggestions.

WEBINARS- I started out with a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and that was great for opening my eyes and introducing me to current industry standards.  I know I’ve mentioned before that I participated in and enjoyed WD webinars that were pertinent to Picture Book writers, and a couple of general webinars for aspiring authors of every variety.  I have also recently begun participating in Kid Lit College, my first webinar is in two weeks, on Picture Books & Page Turns.  I can’t wait.

BOOKS- I’m old fashioned. I love to hold an actual book in my hands and I’ve started to develop a small reference section of my home library.  Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, which I’ve mentioned in earlier posts was the first and continues to be the most informative.  I plan to continue to fill my tool box, even if I must borrow.  What’s your favorite?

BLOGS- This is a whole other world for me, from reading to writing. Mary Kole, Tara Lazar & Vivian Kirkfield are some of the big-name bloggers that I’m following now. I’m also quietly learning from men and women who are finding their own success and still blazing their own trail.  I read every book review and author interview that comes across my radar, hoping to find nuggets of knowledge and learn about new releases.   My writing here started out as an exercise for me to push myself to use a different side of my writing brain. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am when my own site is found (and followed!) by someone in the Kid Lit world.  In one of the blogs I mentioned above, I read that “networking is like a slow dance.” So, I’ll continue my weekly posts, follow others, and reach out with comments when the opportunities arise.  I’d like to think that this site is creating blossoms for me, that will one day result in delicious fruit that resembles relationships, opportunities and real-world experiences.

BETA-READERS- A concept that I’ve remained wary of until very recently, beta-readers are a group of trusted and informed individuals, who read over a project and offer honest feedback.  It was fear that made me wary, and once I realized that I knew that I needed to pursue this opportunity.  I’ve reached out to a few women, each of whom offers a different set of experiences and expertise, and if they agree to be so generous with their time and energy, once I finish my revisions, that’s where my book goes next.

CRITIQUE GROUPS- If you’re looking for a birthday gift for me, I’d like one of these please! I’m kidding, kind of… I know that one day (hopefully soon) I’ll find my place but I’m not there yet.  If networking is a slow dance, developing the trust and rapport it takes to be a part of a critique group must be something along the lines of a crawl.

SCBWI- The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.  A club for people just like me! I’ve been in touch with my local chapter, and plan to get involved soon… but as I explained in a recent email to the chapter president, ‘real-life and “real”-work continue to get in the way.’ I’m going to find a way to make it happen this summer, right now I have my sights set on the June meeting.

All of the things I mentioned, and probably dozens more are wonderful opportunities providing a wealth of information and experience.  How do I fit it all in? How do I continue writing, and learning, and networking, all while working, wife-ing, and mom-ing? How can I squeeze more out of my already jam-packed schedule? Getting back to the elephant I mentioned earlier; the only way to eat it is one bite at a time. Which led me here, posting early on a Sunday and squeezing in a few informative posts before anyone wakes up.  I’m going to find a way to more seamlessly fit some part of this into each day.   It’s all a bit foreign to me though, and I imagine it will continue to be so for quite some time.  But I’ll stay the course, one bite, one post, one webinar at a time, and as always, I’m open to suggestions!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!