How to Make Your Kidlit Career Success Inevitable

How to Make Your Kidlit Career Success Inevitable

What does kidlit career success look like to you? The first question I ask students when we start a new book publishing project at Society of Young Inklings is: What will make you feel like a published author?

At first, they might tilt their head in confusion, or they might grin and say, “When I sell a million books!”

Then, when we dig deeper, we find that they might hope for:

  • Seeing a reader with their nose buried deep in the book
  • Giving a book talk at their favorite bookstore — with readers in the crowd asking genuine questions
  • Reading a real (and positive) review from someone other than their mom or best friend

Over time, I’ve learned many lessons from these conversations, lessons that I’ve taken to heart with regard to my own writing career.

Here are three reasons to paint a clear picture for yourself of kidlit career success:

1. A vague definition of success leads to dissatisfaction.

When we set out to achieve a goal, a misty idea of “I don’t know what I want, all the good things,” can lift our hearts and spark our imaginations. As the prism of possibilities shifts into shape after shape, excitement shivers through us. Ooh, and maybe this might happen. Or maybe that …

Later on, that same openness leads us to say, “Yeah, that happened, but what about …” The minute we cross one finish line, we dismiss it because we’re now focused on the next. Or, we obsess over one beyond-our-control goal—say, winning the Newbery, and instead of taking action, we wait and wish and ultimately, give in to discouragement. Who did I think I was, anyway?

2. Clear goals, within our control, focus our efforts (and the efforts of our supporters).

When we know that success might look like giving a book talk at our favorite bookstore, we can then identify the challenges between where we are now, and where we want to end up. Maybe we need to practice answering questions on the fly, or we need to network to find someone who knows the bookstore owner.

Also, when people ask us how they can help, our answers are more specific. Maybe we’d appreciate our friends and family ordering the book in that particular bookstore, so that our title is top-of-mind when we follow up with our ask. Perhaps we’d prefer that they put their energy toward saving the date for our event, and inviting a friend.

3. Success feels more meaningful in small, relational moments, rather than in pie-in-the-sky impersonal wins.

What will it feel like when your 10,000th book sells? Will you even know it happened? How about receiving a fan letter from a reader who was so inspired by your book that they started writing their own? Or, what if your writing mentor reaches out, completely out of the blue, to tell you how much they loved your book and how proud they are of you?

Sales goals, winning a big award, or landing a movie deal, may seem like meaningful goals. However, in my day-to-day experience, letters from readers and feedback from people I admire have a bigger impact on my overall happiness and motivation to keep writing.

Here’s what dreaming and then achieving a specific success looks like:

At a recent kidlit night out, I found myself beaming as I told my author friends, “Society of Young Inklings is collaborating on a contest with Stone Soup!”

I’ve loved Stone Soup magazine since I was a young girl. For me, designing video lessons and teaching on camera to help youth put their best foot forward when entering a big-deal writing contest is exactly what success looks like. In fact, about ten years ago I wrote my dreams, defining what success as a kidlit author and as founder of Society of Young Inklings might look like. Working with Stone Soup was high on the list.

What does kidlit career success look like for you?

Try this. List all your dream scenarios, even the one about sailing away on a yacht and never working another day in your life. It won’t take much more than a scratch beneath the surface to get to the substantial dreams, the ones that truly light you up. You may even realize that you’ve been measuring your success against a goal that isn’t your heart’s desire. I mean, if you could sail away on that yacht, how long would you sleep and sunbathe before becoming a little restless? At what point might you start dreaming up your next novel?

Inspire us! Share items on your success bucket list, because you know your ideas will spark all of our creativity and resourcefulness. You never know, by putting it out there in the world for all to see, you may just take the next leap toward that dream.

In any case, if you share tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram so I can support you and cheer you on.

The Difference Between Creativity and Ideas

The Difference Between Creativity and Ideas

Have you said (or thought) something like this recently?

“I have plenty of ideas. I don’t need more creativity.”

“Creativity isn’t the issue for me. What I need is progress.”

“Creativity is actually my biggest problem. I’m always chasing whatever is shiny and new and never finishing.”

If so, you aren’t alone. I’ve been hearing this sentiment from writer friends and students often over the past several months.

I’ll be honest. When I started hearing these comments, I felt flummoxed. What in the world did these writers mean: “I don’t need creativity?” Fortunately, I was stunned speechless. Instead of arguing my own point of view, I listened to their explanations.

They continued:

“I need to develop my writing craft—you know, character arc, subtext, tone, things like that.”

“I’m trying to be more consistent about writing regularly.”

“I’m studying other writers’ work and learning from them.”

Okay, I thought. We’re clearly defining creativity differently. To me, creativity is the full set of emotional, intellectual, artistic, and physical skills required for starting, developing, problem-solving, and finishing a project. For others, creativity seemed more narrowly focused on starting a new project or generating new ideas.

I would have left the point unchallenged—I call it creativity, you call it something else. However, many of these same writers added:

“I don’t need to play. I need to work harder.”

Nope.

If the issue were semantics, I’d accept that creativity is a word that has lost its richer meaning because of how often it’s thrown around these days. I’d find a different word to capture the robust set of skills writers need to thrive artistically.

However, if the underlying assumption is that growth comes through clenched fists, gritted teeth, and painful effort, I absolutely must object. These writers are getting in their own way. The most likely result from “trying” to achieve something is to try for years and years. Or in other words, you spend so much time trying, you never do the thing you mean to do.

Here’s an example.

I’m not a natural actor. So, when I started my BFA in Acting, I buried my nose in books. I could have elaborated ten different ways to show a character’s thoughts and emotions through gesture. I understood the concept so well, I orchestrated my movements. As a result, I resembled a hula dancer running through planned movements rather than a real person reacting to my scene partners. My effort kept me from letting go. Over time, I discovered what that whoosh of moving into true creative space felt like, and slowly learned to get out of my own way.

I learned the way most actors do: through play.

When I say I learned through play, I mean I learned to breathe, walk, speak, memorize, and more through games. I also gained my understanding of character motivation, relationships, action, reaction, gesture, pacing and other advanced story concepts by stepping into creative space and following a game where it led. I did read many books which prepared my mind. However, on their own, the books never would have been enough. The games were where my learning experiences—from basic concepts to nuanced discoveries—actualized.

As writers, we don’t learn our craft this way.

We learn to read, analyze, ask questions, think, form sentences, shape characters, worlds, and plots. We learn to think as a writer. Unless we’re very fortunate, no one teaches us to step into creative space, to let go. If we are taught to let go, it’s in the context of brainstorming or generating ideas. Once it’s time to revise, receive feedback, learn new skills, or problem-solve, we settle into our writer’s chair and let our intellect run the show.

Thus, when we hit a block, such as discovering our characters are hula dancing instead of transforming into living, breathing characters on the page, our minds kick into overdrive. We make plans, set goals, toss around accusations about all the ways we’re failing, bully ourselves into working hard.

If you’re learning writing craft, strengthening your writing consistency, analyzing strategies in masterworks, building your courage for receiving feedback, or developing other challenging creativity skills, first of all, you’re on the right track. You’re tackling the meta skills that go far beyond the current book you’re writing. In the same way that actors learn to breathe and walk, you’re mastering foundational tools that show up every time you write, whether you think about them or not. Secondly, to move these skills from your mind into your subconscious, you must practice them.

One way to practice, of course, is to write.

 

However, many writers are in the habit of writing with their minds. They labor over each sentence and word, rarely losing themselves in the practice or the flow of the story. Two problems emerge. First, the story lacks the energy and passion the writer knows it can have. Second, the writer’s creative skill set languishes. Stamina, courage, spontaneity, vulnerability—to name a few—simply don’t grow at the rate they might otherwise.

Another way to practice is to play.

Games offer quick application opportunities. They offer a low-resistance way into tasks that are otherwise “hard work.” When you play a game, you often spontaneously find yourself opening up and tapping into vulnerable places in your heart. In short, play takes you where you need to go quickly, effectively, and deeply.

Especially when you are frustrated, stretched for time, or blocked, I realize that opening up to play can be a stretch. To begin, I recommend choosing a simple game, giving yourself a quick win against a significant pain point.

Here are a few games you might like to try:

Tap Into the Heart of Your Story

Experiment with Options for your Next Scene

Quick Storyboard Your Plot for a Big-Picture View

Develop Creative Thinking Skills with the Writerly Play Kit

Develop Creative Thinking Skills with the Writerly Play Kit

Psst! If you haven’t yet subscribed to the Writerly Play Kit, you’re missing out! Issued monthly, the WP Kit is a collection of activities, book recommendations, and other inspiration to help you develop creative thinking by focusing on a single skill.

Why one specific skill?

As is true for building physical muscles, you can develop creative thinking mastery much more efficiently when you’re intentional. When you focus on one skill, you:

  • progress more quickly with less friction
  • build momentum and the confidence that comes with success
  • make that skill a habit so that you can turn your focus elsewhere without losing ground

Wait … Creativity is a skill?

Yep, actually creative thinking is a collection of skills. A commonly held misbelief is that people are either creative or not. If I had a penny for every time someone has told me they’re “just not a creative person,” I’m pretty sure I could buy a private jet. One reason this myth is so prevalent, in my opinion, is that people focus on one aspect of creativity when they measure their capacity. So, they might think of creativity as the ability to generate a giant collection of ideas, or to craft a well-told story, or think quickly on the spot.

This narrow thinking often creates one of two problems.

First, a person might not be good at that thing. Maybe they struggle to come up with even three ideas, or they always figure out what they should have said hours after the moment has passed. Thus, they conclude that they aren’t a creative person without noticing other skills they DO have that are also key to creative thinking.

Second, a person may have a strength in one of these areas. When they’re asked to be creative, they play only this one note. When the process moves on to another stage, they may not have the next skill needed, and they get stuck. They may undervalue the importance of developing their creativity because they don’t realize that they are actually bumping repeatedly into a weakness in their overall skill set.

The way to develop creative thinking is through marginal gains.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear shares the concept of marginal gains. Basically, when you improve through marginal gains, you make tiny changes, changes that might seem insignificant on their own. However, taken together, the collection of changes lead to overwhelming transformation. Becoming better at asking questions may not feel significant at first, but taken together with an improved ability to identify problems and generate ideas about possible solutions, soon you start to see fresh, exciting creativity coming to life in your world.

What are your strengths when it comes to creativity? How about areas that get in your way? What if you had clear, step-by-step strategies and a bookshelf of tools to overcome those challenges?

That’s exactly what the Writerly Play Kit is here to do for you.

So what are you waiting for?

Grit, Empathy, and Vision: What I’m Learning about Creative Writing

Grit, Empathy, and Vision: What I’m Learning about Creative Writing

I woke up in the middle of the night before our most recent Inklings Book launch with these three words bouncing around my mind – grit, empathy, and vision. Sometimes the answer to a question I’ve been wrestling shows up this way. The question? Why is creative writing important, in a world filled with opportunities and responsibilities? The answer:

Creative writing is one of the best ways I know to build grit, empathy, and vision.

 

Creative writing builds grit in a number of ways. First, and possibly foremost, as Brene Brown eloquently states: “There is nothing more vulnerable than creativity. . . It’s not about winning, it’s not about losing, it’s about showing up and being seen.” She has a number of other important things to say about creativity, some of which you can read on her Facebook page.

For now, let’s stick with creativity requiring us to show up and be seen. Is there anything that requires more resilience than putting our thoughts – and our hearts – into the world, regardless of the response? In addition, if we want to write well, we must work and rework each passage, weighing not only what we mean to say, but also how our words communicate with our intended reader. Add to that the fact that sitting down to write regularly, especially when there’s no deadline or true consequences should we choose to skip a session, and we can easily see the sum results.

 

Regular creative writing builds grit through requiring us to face our fears, developing our patience and stamina, and pushing us to stick with a challenge in spite of how we feel.

 

Entering a character’s thoughts, asking why they act as they act, delving into their backstory to pinpoint where mistaken beliefs come from, and tapping into their thoughts and emotions is always an act of empathy. This kind of questioning and reflecting is at the core of writing any story. Writers can’t help but transfer the fine-tuned skill to their own lives, asking “Why do I do what I do?” and also to friends, family, and other relationships, “Why do THEY do what they do?”

 

Writing creatively is a way to actively practice empathy with ourselves, and with those around us.

 

And vision? For me, vision is the ability to see a future possibility, and then, to create a plan to make that possibility real. How can we build our ability to set and achieve goals? The crux issue is our confidence – do we believe we can achieve the goal we set for ourselves? Brooke Castillo talks about the concept of “believing hard,” and if you haven’t heard her discuss this powerful thinking tool, by all means check out that podcast link. While it would be lovely if we could use sheer will power to create confidence, the truth is that building confidence is a process. We must prove to ourselves that we are trustworthy. And if we’ve broken our word to ourselves in the past, we have to work doubly hard to convince our inner skeptic.

With vision, as with grit and empathy, creative writing is a deceptively simple, but powerful tool. As writers, we have full ownership over the creative process. We don’t need fancy equipment, a huge budget, or a crew of people to write a book, as we might need in other art forms. Writers have ownership over setting their expectations and meeting them. In other words, creative writing is the perfect place to prove to yourself that you can keep your own word. Over time, confidence grows. Your success multiplies, and you gain the ability to set even bigger writing (or any other) kind of goal.

 Writing creatively gives us a landscape in which to build our confidence around goal-setting, and thus, can convince us to believe in our own vision.

 

 Here’s what has surprised me as I’ve started to talk about grit, empathy, and vision with my clients. The connection between these core skills and creative writing is a surprise. The reason I woke up in the middle of the night with those words rattling around my brain is because I’d never thought to express the importance of creative writing in this way. And if I hadn’t thought to do so, as someone who spends all day every day thinking about creative writing–my own and that of my clients, why should I expect others to make the connection?

Make no mistake. When you take time to write creatively, you are not wasting time. Publication may be your ultimate goal, and if public or financial success comes for your project, fantastic! However, I’d say that your investment in your own heart, in YOU, is the true value of those hours spent typing or scribbling away. When you wonder whether it’s worth the trade-off to spend a Saturday morning writing, publication someday may feel like a flimsy result. But how about more grit, empathy and vision today? For me, the clarity of knowing what I’m really doing when I’m writing changes the game. My sincere hope is that this language, these three simple words, will do the same for you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how creative writing builds your grit, empathy, and vision. Share your insights, and tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I can’t wait to hear all that you have to say.

The 2018 Writerly Play Gift Guide for Writers

The 2018 Writerly Play Gift Guide for Writers

Gifts get a bad rap sometimes. We lament the hurry-scurry feel of the holiday season, and in order to settle our hearts and minds, decide gifts are off-limits. Perhaps because gifts are my love language, or because I’ve both seen and felt the heart-swelling joy of a perfectly chosen (or created) present, I’m putting my foot down. I’m taking a stand in defense of gifts.

A gift can tell a loved one that you see their heart. A gift can inspire fresh curiosity, support emerging creativity, and remind a person of who she is – and who she has the potential to be. A gift can be a point of connection, a reminder of a shared memory, an invitation to play.

Gifts don’t have to be giant to be meaningful. Here’s a list of 25 small Writerly Play inspired gifts sure to encourage the creative person in your life.

The Writerly Play Attic

Inspire your favorite creative to reflect, dig deep, and find where their heart is showing up in their work.

1. The Hero is You by Kendra Levin

Every creative process is a hero’s journey. This thought-provoking book is a wealth of creative coaching disguised as a simple paperback, and serves as Yoda to any creative ready to take their work and courage to the next level.

2. Personalized Journal

A thoughtful quote chosen by you will be a burst of positive energy every time your creative friend takes out the journal to reflect.

3. Colorful Fountain Pen Set

Elevate the journaling process, and add a little eighteenth century (ish) flair, with a fun set of fountain pens in a rainbow of colors.

4. Present Not Perfect by Aimee Chase

Subtitled “A Journal for Slowing Down, Letting Go, and Loving Who You Are,” this beautifully illustrated journal is filled with engaging questions and prompts, and feels like a breath of fresh air in the midst of a busy day.

5. Every Day is Epic by Mary Kate McDevitt

End your day with this invitation to playful reflection from the ever-whimsical Workman Press. Every colorful page offers a slightly different format for thinking over the day, determining its highs and lows, and pinpointing insights to carry forward to tomorrow.

The Writerly Play Studio

Encourage whimsy in every creative work session with these colorful, playful tools.

6. Sketchbook Dares by Laura Lee Gulledge

Dare greatly with this guided sketchbook. Laura Lee Gulledge’s art is rich with metaphor and yet easily accessible. Artists of every medium will enjoy this collection of creative challenges which will push their thinking in new directions.

7. Niji Roll

No one can resist the magic of unrolling this toolkit and revealing a rainbow of colored pens and pencils. It’s an instant call to adventure for your inner artist.

8. Pentel Felt Tip Markers

Wondering what ought to fill your Niji Roll? Try these high-quality, vivid pens that last for many months of creativity.

9. Rory’s Story Cubes

I often wonder how to stimulate the kind of thinking I might do in an acting class when the group offers a person, place and problem. Here’s an excellent solution! Warm up your drafting muscles by rolling the dice and then telling a story to fit what you roll.

10. Apples to Apples

While this card set is usually a party game for seeing how well you know your friends, it can also be played solo. Creatives can take on a character and play with that person’s preferences in mind. Whether they’re exploring a main character, a villain, or an ideal customer, your creative friend will come away with tons of new insight.

The Writerly Play Workshop

Add a sense of optimism to the critical thinking and revision process.

11. The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman

When it’s time to revise, it always feels cozy to stack a few friendly reference books on your desk for SOS moments. This one is an excellent guide for any kind of storytelling artist, full of inspiration for those days when all your characters want to do is roll their eyes and sigh.

12. Index Cards

Yes, I promise! A three-pack of index cards will put a smile on any creative person’s face. Revision is a puzzle, but with a fresh deck of cards for plotting, planning, and strategic thinking, your friend will have all the tools needed to face down any creative tangle. Want to give a problem-solving kit? Add black sharpies and a collection of post-its. Wha-la!

13. The Art of Game Design (A Deck of Lenses)

 While these questions were designed with game creators in mind, so many of the angles they present are perfect for storytellers of all genres. This deck is a fantastic revision companion, offering over a hundred lenses with which to see and reconsider creative work. 

14. How to Tell a Story by Daniel Nayeri

A game AND a book, this hands-on experience is fantastic for warming up  revision muscles. The game, as designed, guides the players to think about motivation, dialogue, character, plot and theme. However, this book goes far beyond being a game for young writers. Creatives can adapt many of the games included, and apply the same kinds of critical thinking to their own projects. 

15. Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto

 A book of stories about words? Better still, like the other Workshop tools, this book isn’t only amusing … it’s a hearty tool that will help creatives find the just-right word and refine their work.

The Writerly Play Library

All creatives need mentors. Whether they’re people we meet with in person, or experts we meet through their work, we deepen our work when we stand on the shoulders of giants.

16. Little Women Book Scarf

One can’t help but feel writerly while snuggled in this literary scarf.

17. Scripturient Necklace

For writers, finding the perfect word is a moment of pure joy. This necklace celebrates the art of the exquisitely chosen word, and describes that feeling of flow that writers can’t help but crave. 

18. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

How do we visualize what we read? This book is a fascinating lens through which storytellers can take a look at their work from a completely different angle.

19. Read Harder (A Reading Log from Book Riot)

When we’re looking for a literary mentor or two, it’s a great idea to wander outside of our comfort zone. This reading log stretches readers to be adventurous, and also to take time to reflect on what they read.

20. Book Darts

These book darts not only mark your page, but the exact line where you left off. Better still, this adorable tin is from Anne Bogel of What Should I Read Next podcast fame. If your creative friend hasn’t yet discovered this beloved literary podcast, your gift will be a double-whammy: book darts AND a new favorite weekly listen.

The Writerly Play Cafe

Creative works are meant to be shared, but that reality doesn’t make sharing any less daring. These final five gifts acknowledge courage and encourage collaboration.

21. Butterbeer Tea

Aside from YUM, this tea will chase away any muggle doldrums and is sure to spark creative conversations.

22. What Would You Do Table Topics

Would You Rather is one of my favorite storytelling games. This deck of cards will spark thousands of What-If conversations, and help creatives warm up for a collaboration session, or even find that next not-to-be-ignored idea.

23. Courage Starts with Showing Up Poster

 Simple words, but true. Brene Brown’s words will look beautiful in a frame hanging over a desk, and will be a helpful reminder that showing up in the arena is worthwhile.

24. Courage, dear heart Mug

 A set of two of these mugs will remind your friend and their critique partner that feedback requires vulnerability on both sides.

25. Feedback Printables

Yes, these printables are free, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Download the set, print a few copies, and tuck them in a colorful folder. Your friend will be delighted with their new set of tools for giving and receiving feedback at the beginning, middle and end of the creative process.

OR, give the gift of creative momentum!

It’s no fun to feel as though you’re rowing while dragging a thousand pound anchor behind you as you develop a novel. Writerly Play Lab: Design a Novel is a course that sparks both joy and depth in your creative process.