~ By Amanda Smith
Earlier this month, I found myself again as substitute teacher in the art room, but this time with middle school students. They were in the process of painting an impressionist landscape. What I encountered, though, was hesitancy. They were so afraid that they were going to mess up their pictures by experimenting with this new style, that even after explaining and demonstrating multiple times, most students still opted to mix solid colors on their palettes and apply flat, texture-less paint to their canvasses.
I recognized that anxiety of “messing up a picture.” I felt that many times as an art student myself and have vivid memories of an art teacher dipping my brush in the bright red and yellow paint of my neighbor’s palette and brushing thick globs of primary colors on my super-careful shades-of-blue painting. I was crushed, and furious, and traumatized by the experience for years. But now, I can see that she tried to push me, in the true spirit of the Impressionists, towards experimenting. To stop resisting change. To be brave. To play.
Often, we act like middle school students with our manuscripts. We settle into a specific form or idea and stubbornly hold onto it, despite external input and internal nagging urging us to reexamine.
This year I’m learning to experiment. A picture book manuscript I had been working on since 2013 got rejected after an R&R. This is a manuscript that had already been through multiple revisions in two languages, and had changed tense and point of view more than once. It had been seen by multiple critique partners multiple times. It was a well-worked manuscript.
And yet, it got rejected.
The response from the editor, along with her feedback, prompted me to consider all the comments of all my other readers over all the years – those deeper questions and concerns I had been too afraid to address, even as I had spent years fidgeting with the surface: Almost like my sixteen-year old self faced with a ruined all-blue painting.
So, I opened a new document on my computer and typed the “what-if” sentence that had been lingering in the back of my mind for years. I shook up the entire structure, lost the main character, broadened my scope, and threw all caution to the wind. And it was much better. In fact, I thought I was there.
Ha! Enter critique partners. But, this time around I was much quicker to kill the darlings and embrace the change. Now, six years after I’d first started this story, I can say I have a manuscript in which I truly believe. Yet, I am not so precious about it that I am not willing to shake it up again, should it be required.
Sometimes I get mad at myself for wasting all that time. But, upon reflection, I realize I learned a myriad of things about my story, about the industry, and about myself through this process. The biggest lesson was to stop resisting change. To be brave. To play.
Fast forward to later this year. I was working on a rhyming picture book manuscript, focusing on perfecting the rhythm, putting story first, and finding smart rhymes without forcing them.
Except, every critique partner ever commented with “It’s good, but does it have to be in rhyme?” My initial response was, “You have got to be kidding me? I have sheets and sheets with column upon column of hard and soft syllables. I have clapped rhythms ad infinitum. I have rhymed four-syllable words.”
But wait. What if?
In March my family and I visited the Worcester Art Museum which hosted an exhibit of Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge. The exhibit featured nine of the Waterloo Bridge paintings. Monet painted the bridge forty-one times during the winters of 1899 - 1901. He’d line up fifteen canvasses and move between them, literally seeing the bridge in different light, and capturing what he saw. Then he went back to his studio and kept working on those paintings. The painting that now belongs to the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, was still in his studio, likely unfinished, when he passed away in 1926. Forty-one times, about this particular subject, Monet asked “What if?” and decided to be brave and see where it would take him.
My rhyming manuscript is no longer in rhyme. Inspired by Monet, I will keep looking at my work in different light. How about you? Do you have a manuscript that would benefit from a new perspective? Will you dare to ask “what -if?” And be brave? And play?
by Francine Puckly
As the Summer Solstice approaches, my mind is churning with a multitude of thoughts and emotions about growth, new beginnings, and the constructive criticism that can derail or redirect our endeavors. I’m excited about the idea that in ancient times the Summer Solstice was once considered the New Year and was both an opportunity to break out of one’s normal routine and a time of merriment and celebration. In present time, the Solstice is roughly the halfway point of the year. A marking of time. A marking of our goals. And for a few of my colleagues, it’s a marking of delayed projects as a result of rejection or requested revisions by industry professionals and critique partners. How we deal with these requests and setbacks will determine how well we stay on track to meet our goals this year.
A few years ago, my daughter ran for office in a student organization she had been part of for several years. In the days leading up to the election results, she had convinced herself that she had lost the election and mentally prepared for the deep and complete humiliation that would inevitably come when her loss was revealed. The morning the election results were to be announced, I asked her how she was feeling. She shrugged. “You know? I’m gonna be okay.” As it turned out, she didn’t lose the election for that particular officer position. But another classmate lost in a different race. This classmate was not prepared to lose and was ill-equipped to gracefully handle the results. Lifelong friendships ended that day. The student resigned from the organization. What had once been a source of great joy for the student quickly turned to poison. Someone needed to tell her, "You know? It's gonna be okay."
Which brings us to publishing and the art of critique and rejection, dear writers. How many times have we received hurtful, soul-wrenching rejections of our work or unanticipated requests for manuscript changes and were tempted to throw it all away? Or we hear of another artist’s success and fume at the injustice? In some cases, if we can be objective, we can see that the artist’s manuscript or project had more potential than what we had offered. Sometimes the other person’s idea is more unique, more fully developed, more polished. Other times we feel cheated. We can burn bridges and claim the world is out to get us. Or if we’re smart, we learn what to do differently so that next time we can win. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just isn’t our time.
With all this summering and raining and shining, the growing season is upon us. And all gardeners know that momentous growth springs forth after a significant pruning. And we can respond by pruning words and tightening our manuscripts and possibly even pruning our egos as we realize we have more to learn. At this time of great light and idleness, try to approach your projects with enlightenment and consciousness with respect to what needs to be done to move forward. If you’re reeling from the pain of rejection or harsh criticism, look for ways to celebrate the joys of the creative life. Hone your craft with the help of how-to books while you dig your toes in the freshly mown lawn. Attend workshops and free lectures. Stop by book launches to support your fellow artists and learn how authors and illustrators interact with their audiences. Read blog posts and memoirs written by authors who were “elected” this year and try to figure out how to apply their successes to your own words and journey.
Regardless of the origination of Summer Solstice celebrations, a plethora of fire and sun rituals across ancient cultures celebrated light. And in noting lightness, we will be able to release burdens, doubts, and fears. Oh, and rejection.
Now go. Be happy. Bask and grow in the warmth of the sun.
by Annie Cronin Romano
A few weeks ago, I arrived at a storytime and book signing for my recent picture book, Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn. I was greeted by one of the booksellers, who informed me they’d been getting sparse attendance at their Saturday kids’ events. I told her not to worry as I realized these types of events were hit or miss. A few minutes passed and, apart from a fellow writer and her friend, no others had arrived. A woman who’d been lingering nearby approached and asked if I was the author doing the event. She said her two teenage sons—a senior and junior in high school—needed to attend an author event for their AP Literature class so she’d brought them to my signing, not realizing that I wrote for children and would be reading a picture book that morning.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Upstairs. They don’t want to come down.”
I laughed and told her I understood. Personally, I was relieved because at this point, with just a couple minutes until my reading was to begin, zero children had arrived. Nada. This gave me an audience, though not the demographic I’d been expecting. I told her, “Have them come down. I’ll talk to them about my writing process and answer their questions. And I won’t make them sit and listen to me read.”
The young men arrived—with hesitation—and I introduced myself and told them a little about my writing. I was about to ask if they had any questions when their mom said, “Really, I’d like you to read your book. That’s why you’re here.” My writing friend wanted to hear me read as well, so I asked the boys to humor me, filled them in on the inspiration for the story, then read.
When I finished, the tone shifted as the two teenagers started asking me questions. One after another. First about the story itself. Then about the writing process. Then about publication. We discussed writing in rhyme versus prose, the editing process, and how picture book writing differs from novel writing and the unique challenges it presents. The dialogue was amazing, and the experience of seeing these young men realize that picture books are not babyish as they’d thought was one I will never forget. They realized the significant work that goes into constructing a children’s story, even one just a few hundred words in length, and they seemed to understand that the age of your target audience does not define the level of effort needed to create quality writing.
A few minutes later, some little ones arrived and asked to participate in the storytime and craft. I said goodbye to the teenagers and turned my attention to what had been my intended audience. But my heart was already singing at the fact that those teenage boys had come downstairs to the children’s room reluctantly and returned upstairs with a newfound appreciation for what goes into writing for children.
A very good--and unexpected--storytime, indeed.
By Kelly Carey
June is a time, even in New England, when we finally get to permanently switch out our winter boots for summer sandals, trade in our snow shovels for gardening spades, and get ready for the new schedules that school and summer vacation bring. It’s also a time when your writing habits need to adjust for all the sun, fun, and maybe little ones scurrying around your home. This is why 24 Carrot Writing invites you to celebrate June Year’s Eve!
June Year’s Eve is not so much about watching the ball drop, but making sure you don’t drop the ball on your writing goals. It’s a time to reassess, refocus, and reinvest in your plan so that you don’t let the lazy days of summer knock you off course.
You are officially half way through the year. Take stock of what you have accomplished and get ready to charge into summer and the second half of 2019 with goal-stomping gusto! You got this! And just to make sure you do, I’m re-posting our original Happy June Year’s Eve blog post from 2015. So get out those 2019 goals and give them a June Year’s Eve champagne bath!
Happy June Year’s Eve!
by Kelly Carey
In January, bubbly with champagne excitement and intoxicated by the shimmering crystal ball in Time’s Square, we all set down our writing goals. Since writers are ambitious dreamers, we probably set very lofty goals. To that I say, good for us! That drive and stamina to succeed will get our manuscripts published.
But did you over promise? Did some unforeseen event steal time and attention from your writing? Did your January va-va-voom sput-sput-sputter somewhere in March? Then I would like to be the first to wish you a Happy June Year’s Eve!
June marks the mid-year point and is an excellent time to track our progress and make sure we are well positioned for writing success. On June 1, writing goals and resolutions everywhere can be given a solid scrubbing and be reset, recharged and REVISED for success. You set New Year’s resolutions, now is the time for June Year’s resolutions.
As writers, we are not only intimately aware of the power of revision, but we are also experts at revising. It is time to apply that skill not to our manuscripts, but to our writing goals. Read through your goals, keep what is working and toss those goals that just don’t fit or make sense anymore. Maybe that middle grade novel whispered to you on a cold day in March (which frankly could have been any day in March since they were all cold) and you put aside your picture book plans. Perhaps you had a light bulb moment while attending a conference, reading a blog, or while brushing your teeth (true story, just ask Amanda!). Great! Time to make your 2015 writing goals match that reality.
Just reminding yourself of the promises you made and the plans you had will refocus your energy for the next six months. This is not a bash session. Do not beat yourself up over missed goals. You are not giving up, you are revising. What writer would forsake revision?
I’d like to clink a glass with you on New Year’s 2016 in celebration of hitting our 2015 writing goals. The best way to make this happen is with a serious mid-year goal revision.
Happy June Year’s Eve and happy goal revising!
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