Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author is Dana Carey. When I was in Bologna, I met one of her critique partners, which made me feel one step closer to knowing her in person. Dana is the Associate Regional Advisor of SCBWI France, and as such, she has kindly made me an honorary member. I hope to one day make that more than honorary and visit them all there! Please welcome Dana!

Balancing Acts

One of the things I love about the 12 x 12 challenge is getting to know people who share an interest in picture books. Something you may not know about me is I’m an American living in France with a daughter I’ve been raising as a bilingual. I wanted her to know both families, French and American, to keep things balanced. Or at least as balanced as possible.

To do this, I speak to her exclusively in English and her father speaks to her in French. I swing back and forth between the two languages on a daily basis, sometimes within one conversation. It probably seems weird to others looking in but as a family, we’ve gotten used to it. I don’t live immersed in one foreign language and my French is fine but keeping both languages up to snuff is a concern.

We all strive for balance in our lives between family, job, friends and more with writing. Or illustrating. Or both. Some of you 12x12ers may be like me an author/illustrator. The dream is to have lots of great dummy books of our stories. And the hard part is doing both things at the same time and getting better at both.

What can we do to keep to everything balanced and progressing at more or less the same speed?

The 12 x 12 has been great in providing some balance for me. Instead of thinking about writing, I write. Every month! Especially when the 12X12 deadline looms: I have to get something down on paper. It swings the balance back.

A monthly critique group complements the 12 x 12. Through my SCBWI France chapter, I found a group that meets in Paris. One problem I live about 6 hours from there. But thanks to my Virtual Identity (I skype in), I’m part of the group. They put me on a sideboard while they gather round the dining room table of our host. Again, it may seem weird to others looking in but it works for us. And each month I have a rendez-vous with writing.

What about swinging back to illustration?

While I find time and distance a great help to revising texts, I find this to be less true with illustration. Breaking the chain of sketching page layouts or painting spreads slows progress. The more time I spend illustrating, the better it is. If I get sidetracked for awhile, diving back in is slower than diving back into writing. Much like if I were to stop writing a first draft of a picture book halfway in and let it go for a week or two. Doesn’t work for me but if I finish and come back to revise 2 weeks later, that’s perfect.

A skype meeting on Monday mornings with an illustration partner helps swing the balance back to illustration. To prepare, I scan in sketches or finished work from the week and email it. This makes me conscious of what I’m doing each week. Come Sunday night, I assess how I’ve spent my time. Sometimes all I have to send are rough sketches but this helps. For one thing, I realize I did do something. And I won’t forget those sketches by showing them to my partner I’ve legitimized the effort and can continue to push that work forward. All those sketches eventually add up to layouts, character studies, ideas for a portfolio piece.

We are all familiar with the “To Do” list (that daunting document that mocks us all week long). I’ve taken the Sunday night prep scanning a step further: writing the “Done” list everything I’ve actually accomplished during the week. I’m learning that a big part of balance is mental. I feel like I haven’t done enough but I did push things forward. Acknowledging my weekly accomplishments, however humble they may be, helps create
continuity and keeps me on track.

Swinging back and forth between French and English got easier over time. Happily, it has provided balance to my family my daughter loves talking to her American family and they are so happy that she can.

And I’m so happy Julie came up with this great challenge because it helps me even the scales between writing and illustrating. Imagine the “Done” list we’ll have at the end of the year! In the meantime, what do you do to maintain balance in your lives? Writing and illustrating? Or writing picture books/middle grade/young adult? Verse and prose? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Dana Carey was a graphic designer and art director in New York and then Paris, and later taught English in Versailles (Architecture School) and Paris (Art School). Now living in Brittany, she’s a pre-pubbed author/illustrator of picture books. She reads MG/YA books in English and writes reports in French for a French publisher as well as doing some translation and painting. Find her on twitter: @danaFR; facebook and at her blog:

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Another great guest post, Julie! And thanks for sharing, Dana! It’s so interesting to hear about the illustration side of things. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that illustration was easier to do continuously since writing works better with breaks for distance.

    • You’re welcome, Susannah. Yes, I like breaks in writing too but with illustration, getting up a few minutes or simply pulling back and looking from afar helps. I do go back in and make changes after a rest sometimes but the lion’s share is already down.

  2. I like the “got done” list…. I’ve been doing that at the end of each month, but the idea of doing it on a weekly basis is appealing. Thanks, Dana, for sharing your thoughts on staying balanced.

  3. Interesting post, Dana! I love your DONE list! I’ll have to try that. Our family is also trying to balance 2 cultures, living in a foreign country. Yes, balance is the key word. I have to balance a schedule in order to fit everything in my day, including writing! Interesting to read how u have to balance writing and illustrating. And that’s so neat u can join meetings via skype! Thanks, Julie & Dana!

  4. Dana,

    Enjoyed your post 😀 I’m not an illustrator, but can appreciate keeping steadfast with the non-writing art process. I find rolling with my mixed-meida art to be most fruitful rather than setting aside.

    Lists are not only reminders of what needs to be accomplished, but also can be our cheerleaders. For me, as items are checked off, I feel empowered. The “use energy to gain energy” theory definitely applies 😀

    Like your idea of skpying with your critique group and illustration partner!

    What a wonderful opportunity you’ve afforded your daughter! Do you see yourself moving stateside in the future?



    • Hi Lori,
      A move stateside isn’t really in the plans at the moment but you never know. My daughter needs to finish high school and then she’ll most likely do her post-secondary studies here too. So we’re here for a bit…
      Thanks for your comments–“use energy to gain energy” is so true!

  5. Dana, we have so much in common! The balance is tough, indeed, and I admit I haven’t yet found it. I feel under water pretty much all the time (makes for a great night’s sleep, as you can imagine). But I like your “done list” idea, because it’s true we may accomplish more than we give ourselves credit for.

    Also, I love the idea of Skyping in to a critique group! What an excellent solution!

    Thanks for the great post – always so nice to get to know ya’ll better (you know, to hold me over till I can come to a conference in Paris!).

    • Hi Renée– Just so you know, I think this balancing act is a continual work-in-progress. It’s a struggle but a good one. I wonder if I’ll ever have it truly squared away :p
      And I can’t wait until you can come to a conference!

  6. Nice to meet you Dana and to learn more about you.

  7. Great guest post, Julie! You are getting super at knowing who to ask to do guest posts. Sixth sense?? *wink*

    I want to learn skype. Skyping with a crit group is such a fantastic idea. Online groups could do that. Excellent!

    Dana, balance for me comes from writing picture books and MG and now I’m dipping my mind into the poetry pot. We’ll see. Lovely to know we’re in this together.

  8. Wonderful post! I so agree with you, Dana. It is much easier to return to writing after a break (even helpful- the passage of time is like an editor’s eyes.)But returning to art after a break is always frustrating. It takes a while to get loose and confident again. Thanks Dana and Julie!

  9. Great post! Isn’t it so true: Balance is always the issue!

    So glad to have a new tool – the done list – to remind me what I HAVE accomplished!

    Thanks and Luck!

  10. One of the greatest pleasures of 12 x 12 has been making new “friends” all over the world. Dana, it’s wonderful to meet you. And Julie, thanks for sharing Dana’s story with us. It’s so helpful to see how other writers and illustrators work.

  11. I can imagine that about leaving the illustrating. Maybe it’s because my mum is a painter and I thought it would be a lovely relaxing hobby but I hear so much from her about it, it is just like anything else. Author/illustrators are an inspiration. Great post!

    • Thanks, Catherine. You’re so right– people do think it’s relaxing and it can be at moments but it’s pretty hard work most of the time. Guess it depends “where” in the process one is.

  12. Thanks for letting us get to know you, Dana! I like that your “done list” and Julie’s “gratitude Sunday” are both ways to remind us during tough times that the glass is half full, not half empty. I will be having a “full” weekend, off to the SCBWI Pocono conference on Friday!

  13. Thank you so much, Julie and Dana, for this glimpse into Dana’s life. The Skyping sounds like such a fantastic way to participate in a group! And I so appreciate the idea of the “done” list. I’m not an illustrator, but I write in multiple genres, and it’s difficult to know how best to do that. Some days I’m able to devote a bit of time to two or three projects, other times that just throws me off. It’s always good to get hints from others about how they do these things.

    thanks again!

    • You’re so welcome, Beth. Skyping into a group is fun and it’s a great way to break through obstacles (like geography) on your path! Good luck with all your writing projects.

  14. Yes, my fellow French SCBWIer. Lovely to hear more from you, Dana. You have quite the juggling act going…. have you done a circus picture book yet? If not maybe you should! What a great idea to Skype into your crit group. Why did I not think of this? MERCI!

    • Yes, skype! It’s a real lifesaver for me. Can’t make any excuses about being geographically-challenged! And while I haven’t done a circus book yet I’ve been thinking about a merry-go-round… the circus has definite possiblities 🙂

  15. Balance? You mean there is hope? I sometimes feel like I’m juggling an elephant, a hippo, and a rhino at the same time, when a brontosaurus tries to join in. I just started a blog back in January and have just begun an art class and pursuing writing/illustrating PB as much as I can while being a grandma to 4 – but I am having the BEST time. Matter of fact – I think the juggling thing could be a great picture just need to come up with the ms, which I could turn in for April’s 12×12, which means…..gotta go……thanks Dana and Julie!

  16. I LOVE your Sunday night plans. What a great way to ease into the week and be proud of your work. Too often I stampede into Monday a stressy, disorganized mess!! Fun to get to know you better!

  17. I admire bilingual people. I’ve never tried to learn more than a few words of whatever language is spoken in whatever country I happen to be in, which hasn’t been many. I know a smattering of Spanish and a few Hawaiian words. I’m glad you are able to teach your daughter the value of living and learning not only 2 languages, but 2 cultures.

    And everything in life must be balanced, but it’s so hard to achieve. I’m glad you have found your center and can keep harmony between all the areas needing your attention.

    Great post!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  18. Great post Dana! Balance is so important — and I often feel like I’m teetering back and forth. My blog vs. writing picture books, marketing finished work vs. creating new material, writing vs. spending time with family, etc. 12 x 12 has made my life more busy but it also helps me stay balanced too.

    I love that you said your writing critique group complements 12 x12. I have found this to be true, too! Love your idea for sunday check in with a partner. Great way to look back on the week.

  19. I love that you Skype in for your critique meetings. I”m happy for you that you have achieved balance in your life. I have to work on that myself. Wonderful post Dana and Julie!

  20. Like the rest, I love the “done” list. Many interesting ideas and thoughts in this post and I appreciate you bringing them to us. Nice to meet you.

  21. Ahhhh….balance. It was so great to learn more about you Dana! I found it really interesting what you said about illustrating needing more continuous attention. I’ve never thought about that before.

    I also loved how you described your life balancing the two languages. One of my dreams is to have bilingual children. 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. I love how technology helps us stay connected. I think it’s brilliant that you skype with your critique group (I’ve found g+ hangout is more stable on my computer). I have yet to set up a new critique group since my move. Maybe I could video chat with my old group until I get settled. Great ideas on balance. Great post!

  23. Great post Ms. Hedlund and Ms. Carey! I think it’s cool that you Skype your group! 🙂 Technology is a great thing!

  24. Wow! Really cool to meet Dana and hear her story!

  25. Christie Wright Wild

    I like the “got done” list too! Last night, I straightened up a bunch of papers, input a recent rejection on my spreadsheet, and made a to-do list. Yea, me!

  26. Love your guests! I always learn something.


  27. Love lists–I get a kick every time I can mark through something on my To Do’s. I balance my writing by working mornings on the “busy” writing–my blog(s), promotional stuff, emails, SCBWI business, articles. Afternoons, I hit the WIP. Sometimes, I wish for the days before blogs and FB and Twitter–but then, I’d miss “meeting” lovely people (like y’all) out there in Virtual World. 😉

  28. How cool is that? Julie kind of met Dana…I’m a list person too. I have my check off list for my daily goals, and then I keep a what I did pertaining to writing list. It makes me feel like I am accomplishing something towards my writing goals.

  29. Elizabeth McBride

    Great post and great comments! Thank you to Julie and Dana for addressing the issues of staying balanced and motivated. Forward progress is certainly a motivator! Sometimes it takes a “Got Done” list to see that you ARE actually moving forward. Lists like that will also help you identify follow-up actions that are necessary and thus, keep you moving forward.

    Thank you all – Elizabeth McBride

  30. I really enjoyed your post. Balance–that’s always a work in progress, isn’t it? Things I do to maintain balance are: keep a daily journal where I organize my thoughts, life, schedule, draw, and write. Workout 3 times a week, play tennis, and do yoga. I learn things through physical experience that transfer over to the creative side of my life, things like the value of consistency. How to relax and breath. I meet once a week with a friend at my art studio to work on picture books together. Sometimes I’m reading books, sometimes writing, sometimes working on art, but I know I will have this time to be focused on picture books. We’ve set deadlines and goals which we’ve worked on together, such as each submitting to the SCBWI WIP grants this past Mar. Having that once a week picture book date really helps me stay on track.

    I like the idea of a done list–from time to time I’ve listed my “accomplishments” just to convince myself I’ve done something with my life, and I think a weekly accounting has great motivating energy. Thanks for the tip!

    Sallie Wolf

  31. Great to get to know you, Dana! It sounds like you lead a very busy, fun life. I like your idea of having a “done” list for every week.

  32. Dana,
    “Instead of thinking about writing, I write.”
    It’s the truest mantra of any writer or illustrator. It’s the first thing I learned when I got serious about writing. And it’s true because…
    “For one thing, I realize I did do something.”
    Yes, that legitimizes the effort.
    Thanks for defining the focus for us, and thanks for sharing.

  33. It was wonderful to get to know you a little bit better, Dana! It definitely can be daunting to try to keep up with both writing & illustrating; I admire you for raising a bilingual daughter at the same time!

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