June 21, 2016
I'm working on developing trust about my writing for children. I'm hoping that if I trust my ICL instructor when he tells me how to make changes to my writing and to my writing life, that my writing will get better. It's hard to trust someone you haven't met, but so far he's been right. My writing is getting better in just the ways he told me it would if I followed his instruction.
I’ll tell you this much, it’s fun to set up a new writing system, but maintaining it is a whole different ballgame. I have so many things to do in my life––as I’m sure you do. After handing in my first assignment, I kind of felt like I was off the hook for a bit. So when my instructor got it back to me super fast, I was a little disappointed, which is weird, right? I want to be a children’s book writer more than ever, so why am I fighting the work involved? After thinking about it for a while, I cut myself a little slack. First of all, I have this thing I like to call my Day Job. I’m a teacher and it’s hard enough for me to balance and prioritize teaching and my family. This new part of life called Writing For Children isn’t fitting in so easily, but neither does an exercise plan.
I’m starting to realize that unless I make my writing regime a non-negotiable item in my day, I could lose this dream of mine. For me, that is unthinkable.
So now I write daily from five until six in the morning. At 5:00am sharp, I turn my cellphone alarm off. By 5:05, just the smell of coffee is waking me up. While the java’s brewing, I open my laptop and pull up one of my current pieces to decide what I’m going to do. Then I write or revise straight through until 6am, which is when I wake up my family. It’s only an hour, but it’s an hour more than I was putting in two weeks ago. Plus, I’m starting to feel like a real writer. I’ve got pieces I’m working on with titles I can refer to in conversation.
This brings me back to my first assignment and my instructor’s feedback. I saw the email show up while I was at work, but I didn’t open it until I got home. I want to give my ICL course full attention. I respect the practicalities that it offers and the possibilities.
As soon as I get home, I download both documents, and print them immediately. Sometimes I don’t mind keeping things digital, but with this course I’m really enjoying printing things, marking them up and putting hole punches in them so they can fit into my special binder. It’s a ritual, I guess.
Before I read through my instructor’s letter, I notice that at the top of my first assignment he has written “Good first assignment.” I smile. “Yay,” I think. It’s hard not to want good feedback right away. I know I have so much to work on, but I can’t help but feel like Sally Field. “He likes me, he really does!” I review his letter and notice happily that he has read and processed exactly what I wrote in my first letter to him. This cannot be said of some of the things I write down for my husband. Check plus for you Mr. ICL instructor.
However, I do feel a bit foolish as I read his first recommendations. As you may remember from my last post, I sent it off to him without reading the directions all the way through. So, my manuscript––which, apparently is what it’s called when you send a piece to someone––is formatted incorrectly. I guess I’m supposed to revise my first assignment before moving on to my next one. He explains that then I’ll have completed pieces at the end of the course. I like this idea, but it is such new territory for me. I like to write things quickly, re-read them and then move on. This is not the way of a real writer of children’s books, my instructor explains. Some writers write many, many drafts and even completely rewrite their piece when it just doesn’t work.
My instructor identifies parts of the story I have written and explains why and how I might change it. There is so much to learn––thank goodness it’s broken down into manageable pieces! I’m starting to see how writing for children is work, but also how it feels fantastic to finally be growing as a writer. I know what I’m supposed to do when I sit down at my desk. Instead of writing random things with no focus, I have a plan. And while that may seem simple to other people, it hasn’t been for me. I’ve been trying so hard to understand how to be a children’s book writer and I didn’t really know how to do it.
So I wake up at 5 and sit down to make revisions on my first piece. It isn’t easy, but when I take it sentence by sentence I see that it’s changing. I read it out loud to myself. Then I hear a light tapping on the guest room door. It’s my daughter Annie who just turned nine. I wrote this story for her age group, so I ask her to read the revised edition.
“Who wrote this?” she asks after reading it.
“No way. It seems real,” she says. I smile. Then I head to the kitchen to get her breakfast together.
Tomorrow I’ll work on my second assignment, but today I’ve done my work. I’m starting to read things with different eyes. I think it’s called reading as a writer. I’m also starting to see the world as stories or pieces of a story. When someone tells me something, I think about how I would characterize that person by showing how she feels and who she is by what she does. This “showing and not telling” is very new for me and I see that the changes might be small and so incremental that if I don’t pay attention I might not notice how I am changing.
It’s only three weeks since I changed my mind about tossing that acceptance package. Only three weeks since I decided to sign up for ICL and I feel different. I imagine it will be how my son will feel after his first week-long overnight camp this summer. “How can it only have been a week? I’m different now.” I’m starting to make lists of picture books I want to check out, middle grade books I can put on my Kindle, and Young Adult books I’ve had in my bookshelf but haven’t read. I want to really stretch myself to read more and figure out what kind of writing I want to do and what I think is the best example of that type. This is heavy duty research. It requires thinking power, tools like books, pencils, and highlighters, but it also requires a mind shift. I need to do what is being asked of me because I haven’t done it before so I don’t know what might happen. This is called trust, I guess.
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband.Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.