Thursday, August 19, 2010

Opinionated me: Knock off the insecurity

Hey, I'm as insecure as the next artist. I used to be far more insecure than anybody I knew.
My sister-in-law said her husband felt guilty for even being born. Move over, brother-in-law: I did too.
And nobody gave me enough reason to feel otherwise until I turned 40. That's pathetic -- The great Scarecrow might have said: I should've thought of it for you. The Tin Man might have rejoined: I should have felt it in my heart.
But apparently, like Dorothy's return home, this is one of those things one must find alone.

It's still a struggle. I still think I sometimes don't deserve good things. (When my kids were little I used to cry at night because things were so good -- my kids were wonderful and healthy, I had a good job... and I was sure it couldn't last. I cried over what might happen. As my kid would say, that's messed up)

The best way to get rid of the insecurity is to do something you love -- and keep doing it, and do it so well that others notice.
Suddenly you have an excuse to still be alive.

I've done it. My Ellie McDoodle books are a modest success. Thank you, Universe and everyone in it, especially my fans, my agent, the wonderful people at Bloomsbury, handsellers at bookstores, and all the writers and illustrators who nudged, pushed, yanked, prodded, bumped me up along the way. And the teachers who didn't write me off as an insecure mess, which surely I was.

So now I am happy.

But now I get these fellow illustrators and kids' book writers bawling in my ear, "We don't get any respect for what we do! The world despises us! We're not real writers!"
Well, speak for yourself.
At this point in the game I'm calling it artificial insecurity.
If someone's not respecting the hard work and education it took to get to the skill level you're at, then
1) they have an axe to grind (a spouse wishing you'd bring in more money, perhaps?)
2) they are jealous, wishing they could do what you do, better than you
3) they are ignorant and in need of a whack on the side of the hea-- no, a little education.

So what's your answer to them?
Here are some responses you may use, free of charge.
- I'm sorry honey that my work in this field didn't pay off yet. Disrespecting my work and my goals isn't going to bring you and me closer together and it's not going to help pay the bills faster.
- I deserve a shot at a career that makes me happy. So do you. This is mine. Find yours.
- Children's books teach our next generation. Don't even suggest that's not a worthy and honorable goal.

But please don't tell me and your fellow creatives that this constant insulting of our industry means the crabbers are right. Because they aren't, and I refuse to be brought down by ignorance.
When you walk around with a "Kick Me" sign on your back, people will gladly kick you. They think you want it, so they're just being helpful -- and besides everyone's got a little bit of a sadistic streak aching to come out in socially-acceptable ways.
Just don't extrapolate your personal insecurity onto everyone else in the profession.

My work pays my bills. Nobody gets hurt from what I do. I'm breaking no laws. I'm not inspiring evil, or even bad manners.
Some schools and libraries treat me very well. From reading my books, some kids are inspired to write and draw and read more, and to sketch in nature. Some adults are inspired to find a new career or create something unusual. That's impressive. You can't tell me kids' book writing and illustration is an inferior profession. I just plain don't believe it.

I know you're concerned, now. Just my raising the issue makes you wonder if I am truly at peace with this. Well, I'm developing the ability to reason my way out of insecurity.
For example, to my kid who's weirded out seeing me in my studio in a cami with too wide an armhole and "seeing the whole situation" as she puts it so delicately, I say:
Hey it's your fault. I gave up my body for you. If I'd never had kids I'd still have a nice body, perky and cute. I accept my decision, you should too.

There's no point to insecurity. It doesn't make anyone feel better. So stop it.
Over the rainbow is now, if you let it be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Opinionated me: Why I'm attending the conference

I just got back from a writer retreat with my critique group. Four days away from family in a city far away. Four days of potentially uninterrupted writing time.

It was a hassle getting ready and coordinating schedules for my family, and of course it doesn't cost the same to live in a Bed & Breakfast as to live at home.
And there's the issue of sharing a room -- Do I snore? Do I snore loudly? Do I snore so loudly as to make me an unpleasant roommate?
And would you tell me if the answer was yes?
I'm always nervous that I'll forget something important at home (last year it was suddenly cold outside. I forgot a sweatshirt).
Plus, with my head in my books, and all my angsty issues that seem to rear their ugly heads in the days before any big event, how much good company can I possibly be?

And -- I was waiting to hear back at any minute from my agent about a novel and an Ellie McDoodle proposal I'd sent her.
The editor was 2 weeks late with novel feedback -- never a good sign.

Two days before the retreat I wasn't even sure what I was going to write about at the retreat. With two projects up in the air, not knowing which was a priority (if either), and a third very vague idea of three sisters and some dark stuff, I didn't know how I was going to make my time at the retreat worth the cost of attending.

Weird thing, it worked out, as things usually do. My husband called the first night with agent news: They're using the Ellie 4 proposal to fulfill a contract's second half-- no more sleepless nights.
I wrote a good first chapter to the novel. (This is I think the 7th try).
I have a future.

So why go to the fall SCBWI-Michigan conference in October? I can't sell Ellie McDoodles to the editors there. I don't need a new agent. What's the point, then?

It's this: The mix of inspiration and information you get from being immersed in the craft with other writers stays with you for months afterward and it often regenerates into motivation.
For me, it *always* does.
I have never left a conference thinking I knew all there was to be known.
Never left without seeing and hearing something new.
Sometimes when I leave the conference I'm in disrepair, broken down, dismayed that I wasn't "discovered."
And then I realize, it's up to me to make the discovery.
I can follow up on tips heard at the conference. I can check out the URLs and the books and software and concepts mentioned.

The conference doesn't exist to pair me up with an editor and marry me off to an agent.
The conference exists to expand my brain -- and it does that every single time. Even if I already knew the speakers, memorized their presentations and had read every book they edited, I still could get something out of the questions my fellow writers and illustrators asked.

There's a dynamic component in the conference that you won't get from reading articles online.

As long as I am able, I will attend writer conferences and retreats -- even if it's expensive, even if it's inconvenient, even if I feel dark and scared and uncreative.
For inspiring and moving me off center, writer events are batting a thousand. I have no reason to think this upcoming Michigan SCBWI Fall Conference won't do the same.
And -- bonus!!! -- I get to see dear friends at the same time.
How much better can life get?