In many ways Miranda and I have “grown up” together in the picture book world, beginning with joining communities, searching for and securing agents (Miranda with Karen Grencik and me with Erzsi Deak), then taking on leadership roles by forming writing communities (Miranda with Rate Your Story and me with 12 x 12).
We are both originally from the Midwest (Miranda from Wisconsin and me from Michigan), share a passion for both writing and helping other writers, and enjoy sneaking contraband wine into the hotel during conferences. 🙂
But Miranda and I are also different. How? Well, that is the focus of Miranda’s post, probably the first where someone has advised you NOT to think about writing or to think of yourself always as a writer.
And, with the welcome advent of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I’ve found myself applauding the movement while also worrying a little — what can a white, blond, American woman from the Midwest contribute to this discussion/community? Luckily, Miranda has answers. Read on folks!
One lucky 12 x 12 participant this month will win:
They can have an RYS PRO free membership for the rest of 2014 (= 12 anytime submissions for a free critique rating plus access to monthly editor/agent interviews and other exclusive Bonus emails)
OR one SPEEDPASS (A rating + comments on any manuscript under 2,000 words – within 7 days or less!)
OR 1 full MS critique by Miranda, for PBs only, under 2,000 words
Lucky you guys!! 🙂
Last fall I attended a retreat, to work on a picture book biography of an influential American poet. I split the time between the beautiful nature trails and my cozy cabin, where there was a shared journal in which I could leave a message for future visitors.
I waited until the last morning to write anything in the book. I wanted what I wrote to be true to my voice and what I believed about writing, and helpful to other writers.
This is part of what I wrote:
Before you scream, “ONLY a writer?!” let me explain.
In the quest to get published, we often focus on “being only a writer.” We hope to quit our non-writing jobs. We back away from non-writing community projects we’ve volunteered for in the past. Sometimes we neglect our families or non-writer friends. We invest time, energy, and money in becoming “official” writers. (And we spend too much time pondering if we’re qualified to put that title on our business cards.) We shamelessly self-promote our books, sometimes to the point of embarrassment or annoyance, even though we claim that we don’t want to.
Here’s the thing: You’re a writer.
But…what else are you?
You are unique.
More than one thing should define you.
We all are unique.
More than one thing should define us.
Simply put, we’re…diverse.
The generation of kids growing up right now is more diverse than the books and lifestyles we expose them to in literature and media. They don’t define themselves into single categories like grown-ups tend to, or aspire to be only one thing—at least, not until our culture prompts them to figure out where they fit.
As a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign team, I’ve been asked versions of these questions a lot lately:
“As a white writer, what can I do about the diversity gap?”
“Should/can white writers even write diverse books?”
Let’s study those questions. They both involve a preset notion that writing is the only way to contribute. To which I say:
Don’t forget that we are also educators, parents, or librarians. We are book readers, book buyers, and book promoters. Some of us are editors, agents, or book sellers. We might be SCBWI volunteers, committee members, organization leaders, and event coordinators. We aren’t “only” one thing. And that’s great!
We have immense power to balance the scales and get all kinds of books into children’s hands. That power begins with our role as listeners. Listening helps us understand and support children and adults who have had diverse experiences. As supporters, we become good role models and foster new relationships. Our networks and groups begin to be more diversely integrated. As groups, we become doers, or change-makers.
We can support an underrepresented writer by inviting her to speak on a panel or visit a school. We can place free copies of already-published diverse books on park benches or pull books from the isolated “multicultural” section and face them out more visible locations. We can create promotional tools, like this:
The many things we do—beyond writing—shape us as writers. Don’t forget to live first, write second!
(And if you do decide to write a “diverse” book, I encourage you read this article.)
One of the jacket flaps for my 2015 books lists that I like to garden, swim, and scuba dive. The other mentions my zest for recycling and rummage sales, and some of the projects I’ve worked on while traveling internationally. They’re purposefully not about me as a writer. Think about it—what kid wants to flip to the back and read,
“The author is an agented writer. She writes every day. When she’s not writing a book, she’s reading her kids’ book aloud at schools, promoting her book, or blogging about writing and helping other authors become writers.”
Go out and celebrate the diversity in your own life and in others’. Do things that you love to do. Try a few things you’re afraid of. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Talk less, listen more. Be passionate, be generous, be adventurous, make a difference.
Whatever you do when you’re not writing—it matters.
Miranda Paul credits her productivity to a lack of cable TV and smart phone, as well as easy access to an “Internet OFF” button. She has lived in and/or traveled through more than a dozen countries, including The Gambia, where she met the subject of her debut picture book, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia (Lerner/Millbrook, 2015). Over the past fifteen years she has worked a number of paid and volunteer jobs ranging from International Student Coordinator to elementary school Spanish teacher to poop-scooping zookeeper. She loves learning rules, then breaking some, and helping other writers do the same. Visit her at www.MirandaPaul.com, http://mirandapaulbooks.blogspot.com, or http://www.RateYourStory.org. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is hosted at www.diversebooks.org.
Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: #WeNeedDiverseBooks, 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Author, Authors, Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop, Books, Children's Books, Grace Lin, Guest Blog, Guest Blogging, Miranda Paul, Picture Books, Rate Your Story, SCBWI, Writer, Writing