Friday, February 12, 2021

Art, Poetry, and Scary New Things

Fireflies by Rebecca J. Gomez

What did you want to be when you grew up? Have you ever felt like you had to choose between two things that you loved? 

For me, those two things have always been art and writing, especially poetry. Throughout my life, art and writing have competed for my attention and my time. As a high school student, art was my focus. Art was my future career! I had my poetry, but that was for me, mostly. It was like therapy for my emotional teenage self. Not much more.

But you know how plans go. Things changed. I pursued my art for a while, painting watercolors of flowers and doing commissioned portraits in pencil. I even made a little money. Emphasis on little. Then, my writing started to take hold again. I wasn't just writing emotional poems, but stories. And, to my surprise, I loved it. Gradually, writing became my focus and art became my hobby. My therapy. 

Funny how those things go, isn't it? 

As I had more and more success in my writing career, I would sometimes make timid attempts at making my art a part of it. But it was scary, and I didn't get much farther than a half-hearted attempt at illustrating one of my books and a few illustrations published in children's magazines. So my art stayed mostly in the background. Little more than a hobby.

Then, I got an idea for a book. A novel in verse told partly in doodles and art journal pages. Could I do it? Would it work? Maybe it could!

You know how ideas can be. Sometimes they take hold and won't let you go, no matter how timid you feel about pursuing them. 

I wrote the book. I did the doodles. I created the art journal pages (some of them anyway). 

To make a long, boring story slightly less long and boring, years passed. I parted ways with my agent. Then, over a year and a half of querying later, a new agent loved my verse novel enough to offer me representation! 

Now that manuscript is out in the world. With my poetry. AND my art. This all feels entirely too real and scary. 

But it also tells me that my art doesn't have to remain just a hobby. And I am excited about the possibilities. 

Friday, February 05, 2021

My 12 Rules for Life as a Writer

A lot of people will tell you that there are certain things you must do if you want to be a writer. You must write every day! You must read 100 books in your genre. I'm here to tell you that most of those "rules" are more like the pirate code. They can be good guidelines, but really, you've gotta do what works for you. 

Have you figured out what works for you yet? If not, maybe my 12 Rules for Life as a Writer will help steer you in the right direction. 

1. Read widely. Yes, you should read the kinds of books you want to write. But read other stuff too. Mix it up. Have fun. Even an epic, sweeping fantasy can feed the brain of a rhyming picture book writer. 

2. Write consistently. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean! Some people insist that you have to write every day to be a real writer, but that is FALSE. But you do need to write to be a writer. Obviously. Figure out a schedule if you need one. Write when your kids are napping if that's what works. Write over your lunch hour or in the final 30 minutes before you go to bed. Like I said, do whatever works for you, as long as you're doing it.

3. Write what you want to write. You don't have to follow trends. You don't have to "write to the market." Yes, it's good to know what's being published lately, but this industry is slow. If you write to trends, you may end up falling behind. Just write whatever stories insist on being written. 

4. Find some writing peeps. You don't have to be a part of an official critique group, but it can help, especially if you're just starting out. Maybe you need a few writing friends with whom you swap manuscripts now and then. Having writing friends in your life isn't just about manuscripts, though. It's about mutual support and encouragement too!

5. Do other creative things. This will help you flex your creative muscles without the pressure you can put on yourself when pursuing your writing. This can take any form. Paint. Sidewalk chalk. Finger knitting! 

6. Be intentional about polishing your craft. It's not enough to just write a lot. Focus on improving your skills. Part of this is, of course, writing a lot. But it's also reading a lot in the genre you write, learning from other writers, brushing up on grammar and editing skills, etc. Try taking a workshop or writing class. Go to conferences. Buy (and read) books on the writing craft.

7. Build your tribe. When people are interested in you, they will be interested in your books! Figure out your author brand (there are lots of workshops on this topic) and engage with people on social media. Be authentic and consistent, and your tribe will grow.

8. Have fun. Sometimes writing isn't fun, but every writer (every person, really) needs to have room for fun in their life in order to be the best that they can be. 

9. Have a system for recording ideas in an instant. A small notebook or your phone will do. Yes, scraps of paper do in a pinch, but having a dedicated space will help you stay organized and sane.

10. Write what you know, but always keep learning. Don't let what you don't know keep you from pursuing a topic. Let it inspire you to learn so that you can write about it authentically!

11. Engage with the writing community. This goes beyond building your specific tribe or even finding your small group of writing peeps. The writing community, particularly the KidLit writing community, is a big, supportive, friendly bunch. Engage with them both online and in your own community. You'll not only feel supported, but you'll learn a lot. 

12. Spend time with people. I know a lot of writers are introverts, like me, happy to sit at home all day with only the dogs for company. But even I need interaction with people outside my family. Companionship and fellowship are good for you. And interacting with people will inform and inspire your writing.