A couple of weeks ago I started this post:
I used to tell my students all the time that yes, they could think of something to write. Of course they could. They had so many great ideas in their heads just waiting to burst out onto the page. I’d encourage and challenge and push: You can do it.
I know that writing isn’t easy. I knew it then and I know it now. I know that writers write, and that in order to follow your dreams you have to actually get up and go after them. When you love something, you just do it.
Until you feel a tiny bit like you can’t.
And that word - can’t - worms its way into your head and then into your heart and then into the keyboard. And nothing comes out.
There’s a reason I often wrote the word “CAN’T” on the board in my classroom with a big red Ghostbusters-style circle-backslash symbol.
Apparently I need a sign like that over my own desk.
Lately I’ve let life’s little distractions get in the way of my dream-following. I’ve let worry, doubt, and mindless television take over. I haven’t been writing when I should be writing. I should be writing whenever I can, carving minutes out of even the busiest days. Because we make time for the things that we love.
I wrote that. I couldn’t think of anything more to write, so I stopped and didn't post.
Then something incredible happened.
My first response was that I didn’t have time. My second response was that I hadn’t written for children in months because of that wicked, wormy can't. I believed I had nothing to share. What business did I have being with all these real writers?
My husband’s response was to practically shove me out the door.
“Are you doing this or what?” he asked me. “Either you want to write for kids or you don’t.”
My husband is wonderful.
I want to write for kids. So, nervous, excited, and completely certain I didn’t belong, I went.
It changed everything.
My mentor, Jillian Sullivan, embraced my work and taught me to really get to know my characters. I hung on every word of Kathy Erskine, creator of amazing, true characters who stay with you well after reading the final page. I discussed with K.L. Going the challenges of being a mom of young children and finding the time to write (and boy, she sure has!). I had warm and incredibly helpful conversations with Clara Gillow Clark and Susan Williams Beckhorn. I absorbed the wisdom of Peter Jacobi, Patti Gauch, and Laurence Pringle. I even talked to Jerry Spinelli about my Louisville 5th graders’ love for Maniac Magee and butterscotch Krimpets. And those are just a few members of the faculty – there were so many more, each more influential than they could possibly know.
My fellow conferees were inspiring as well. I got to know Kate Garchinsky, a gifted writer and illustrator whose passion for her winged subjects just bubbles out of her. I witnessed Sheila Wright's dedication to the craft of writing - both her own and that of her peers. I heard clever and wonderful story ideas from so many and immersed myself in the energy of writers at all stages of their careers. We kindred spirits from a variety of backgrounds very quickly became friends.
I did yoga in the mornings, walked in the woods, and shared delicious meals and equally delicious conversations.
Perhaps most importantly (because of that insidious can't that had creeped its way into me), I heard brilliant, successful writers say that they, too, struggled. They, too, faced countless rejections. They, too, had bouts of self-doubt. They, too, still have much to learn.
A million thanks to the Highlights Foundation for their work in raising writers in the Barn – shaping and celebrating, teaching and lifting up. I left the Barn with a new lease on my writing life. I still can’t come up with the right words to explain it. As a writer having just returned from Writer Wonderland, you’d think I’d be able to. It seems I still have a lot to learn.
I guess I’ll have to plan a return trip.
Because when we love something, we make the time for it. Even when it’s hard.
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and diving in, even when you think you can’t. And here’s to the Highlights Foundation. Thank goodness for them!