My nine-year-old self wrote pages and pages of a story entitled “Video Visitors," which told the tale of the mischief and mayhem that results when alien siblings named Cosmos and Cadette transport themselves to Earth via VHS tapes. It probably (totally!) would have won me a Newbery Award, but it remains unfinished, the victim of distractions so pertinent as weaving potholders or making friendship bracelets or attending soccer practice.
Fast forward to today. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of picture books as a parent and as a teacher and now I'm chasing that forever-old dream of writing them. These days, I spend a lot of time alone at a computer. I sit and I think and I write and I smile and I send and I get a rejection and I frown and I suck it up and I sit and I think and I edit and I write some more. I try to learn and grow and get better. I try and I try and I try. It’s usually a lot of fun but it can also be pretty discouraging and lonely at times.
Lately, especially so.
Maybe it’s this winter, so cold and dark and gray. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of this new writing life I’ve started, this dream-chasing and the question marks that float all around it like week-old party balloons. Last week, I was in desperate need of a pick-me-up. I needed to know I’d made the right decision when I decided to write. Chasing a dream can be really scary, especially when the path to that dream is dotted with so many unknowns. Along with my countless cups of coffee I have my daily doses of self-doubt, fear, and Am-I-crazy-for-doing-this? moments. I prefer the coffee.
As a teacher, I could turn to other teachers when I hit a slump. Teacher conferences always gave me that get-up-and-go, that little surge of inspiration, that reminder that I was where I belonged, doing what I should be doing. But, as of last week, I didn’t know many other writers. And I certainly wasn’t sure that I was doing what I should be doing.
Timing is everything.
Last weekend, I packed up my gorgeous new business cards, thanks to Minted.com and my dear friend MJ at Pars Caeli. Seriously, they're gorgeous! I felt so professional. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I was fine with being judged by these.
And I headed to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York with a heart and head full of nervous excitement. Would they know I was new? Would they think I was just pretending? How can I call myself a writer when I’m not even published (even if I do have gorgeous business cards)?
And then the conference started.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators are my people. I hadn’t the slightest notion of the brilliance and openness of the community that lives at the heart of children’s book writing and illustrating. Until this weekend.
And they welcomed me. Me. With all my doubt and question balloons.
Parents and teachers, rest assured: there are amazing and incredibly talented people who love children – really, truly love children – behind the books your kids love to read. I just met a whole lot of them in New York. Some were really famous. Some weren't at all. All work really hard to create good, beautiful, meaningful words and pictures for kids to embrace. They want to touch lives - and maybe even change them - with their work.
The wonderful Kate Messner, author of many fabulous books, presented a keynote on the power of failure that was most certainly the antithesis of a failure (and, oh, it was like she was speaking directly to me!). In it, she shared this poem. Like every author and illustrator I met, I want to write a book like the one Kate's poem describes, one that a child feels was written “just for me.” So I’ll keep at it, even if I still sometimes feel like I'm pretending.
Because, really, I often felt like I was pretending as a teacher. Even after years and years in the classroom. Don't we all feel that way sometimes?
They themselves “the Tribe.” Their words of encouragement lifted me. Their emphasis on patience and persistence and, above all, hard work bolstered me. Their talent and willingness to share inspired me. And, believe it or not, I met quite a few others who didn't think they could yet be called "writer." And just as many who said, "Yes, you can. And yes, you are."
It’s good to belong.
Thank you, SCBWI. Thank you, Kate Messner. Thank you to everyone who’s been supporting me in my dream-chasing adventure and even to those who’ve so far told me no.
I’ll keep working on my words. Because someday a kid somewhere will read them.
Here’s to writing, reading, smiling, and gorgeous business cards. Gorgeous business cards can help you feel a little less pretend-y. At least on paper.