I was more than a little inspired reading this post from today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author — Jennifer Bertman. I remember reading during those middle of the night nursing sessions with my babies but writing??? I think that makes Jennifer my new hero. Reading her post reminded me that finding the joy is what it’s all about. We also have a mutual admiration of author Linda Ashman. I’ve also taken one of Linda’s workshops, which makes me feel an even greater kinship with Jennifer. I’m sure you will too after reading this post. Please welcome Jennifer!
When I was in graduate school I took a class called “Alternate Genres” where we studied a new genre of fiction every two weeks. One segment focused on children’s books, and we created our own for an assignment. I can’t remember ever having as much fun with a school project as I did creating that book. I’ve been a lifelong fan of children’s books, but it never occurred to me that I could attempt to write them myself until I was immersed in that project. That was over ten years ago and I’ve been slowly but steadily working toward a career as a writer of children’s books ever since.
I focused my energy on picture books first, but a few years and many rejections later I began to fear that maybe I didn’t have what it took to be a children’s book author after all. I’ve never been one to back down from pursuing a dream so I decided to switch my focus to middle grade novels. I received some early encouragement from an editor and an agent that had me thinking I must be on the right track. But picture book ideas continued to call to me. I’ve flirted with them over the years, but I could never really shake that worry that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a Tammi Sauer/Liz Garton Scanlon/Doreen Cronin.
But then I started up a correspondence with an agent who was so encouraging about one of my picture books it made me start to believe in myself again as a picture book writer. I attended a writing retreat led by Linda Ashman, one of my all-time favorite contemporary picture book authors. I was filled with inspiration and my confidence continued to build. At the end of last year I simultaneously joined a picture book critique group and the 12x12x12 Challenge. This undertaking was a little bit crazy on my part because I was also expecting my first baby in April and working on revisions of my middle grade novel for the encouraging agent.
But the concept of the 12x12x12 Challenge was just too brilliant to pass up. The clincher was first draft. Not polished draft. Not submission-quality work. Just purge the idea from brain to paper. And the idea of a community of writers working toward the same goal appealed to me as well. I had worries that my writing would not only take a backseat to becoming a mom, but it would get left curbside as the minivan rolled away. The 12x12x12 Challenge seemed like the perfect way to keep myself tethered to the writing community and my writing goals. Surely amidst my baby and revision mania I could manage one picture book rough draft a month.
Well . . . I have to confess I’ve fallen short of the goal, but I still consider my participation in the 12x12x12 Challenge a success. I’ve written six drafts so far: two were one-finger typed into Notes on my iPhone in the middle of the night while nursing, one is scribbled in a notebook in the middle of notes for the novel I’m revising, and three are typed on my computer. I’ve discovered several new blogs and writers whose work I enjoy, and I’ve gained inspiration from the 12 x 12 x 12 posts and Facebook community. But something unexpected is perhaps the most valuable thing I’m taking away from this challenge: I’ve rediscovered the fun. Perhaps because I had low expectations for myself given the other things I’m trying to juggle, perhaps because I’m not approaching these drafts as “something I hope to publish”, or perhaps it’s just sheer deliriousness of sleep deprivation or spending hours making nonsensical noises to entertain my baby. For whatever reason, I’ve found myself revisiting that mental space I was in when I worked on the picture book assignment back in graduate school.
I don’t know if I will ever hit that sweet spot of the perfect picture book idea executed in the right way on the right editor’s desk at the right time. But I know I need to listen to the advice I’ve given to countless writer friends: Just. Keep. Going. I truly believe if you love something enough, and if you work hard to study the field and hone your skills, and you keep trying to reach your goal no matter what obstacles you face, you will succeed. Hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a future 12×12 Challenge as being proof of that.
Jennifer Bertman earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of Moraga, CA. Visit her blog where she hosts the Creative Spaces interview series featuring the workspaces and processes of various children’s book authors and illustrators.
Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12 in 2012, Author, Goals, Guest Blog, Jennifer Bertman, Julie Hedlund, Linda Ashman, Picture Books, Tuesday 12 x 12, Works in Progress, Writing