I’ve always been a writer. As far back as I can remember, I wrote poems and songs, letters to my friends, editorials for my high school newspaper, and newsletters for various organizations. It wasn’t until I wanted to the share stories I had told my children when they were young that I thought seriously about writing.
As I started putting the stories on paper, I realized that they needed drawings to help make the characters come alive and I was definitely not an illustrator. This was my first inkling that what I was writing was a children’s picture book.
I happened to read about a writers group in our local newspaper. It met at our local public library, not far from my house. With manuscript in hand, I went to my first meeting, sure to find an illustrator.
I always recommend that first time attendees to any new group do three things: listen, don’t talk, and return. Unfortunately, no one made those suggestions to me. I thought that I had written the next picture book blockbuster, so when they asked if anyone wanted to read their manuscript, I shot up my hand.
After my first read, there was no expected applause, no outrageous accolades, no sound whatsoever! After a pause that felt like an eternity, the moderator finally spoke.
“That was a lovely story,” said the kind voice. “Any other suggestions?”
Then the comments started to fly. Words and phrases that were unfamiliar to me—story arc, character development, and show don’t tell—all suggestions for my precious manuscript. I had failed! They were criticizing me! How would I ever live through this?
I was reeling as I left the meeting, determined to never return, until one of the members stopped me.
“You’ve got a really good idea,” she said, “I hope you work on it and bring it back next time.”
“Thanks,” I said feebly, faking a smile.
“See you next time?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, not knowing what would happen next.
I did return. And, over time, I began to realize that a critique is not a criticism, but a suggestion to make my story better. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about my story. It’s always about the story.
I was invited to a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) regional conference by one of the members of the library group. By then, I had learned to listen, not talk, and return.
When I first walked into the huge banquet hall and saw the hundreds of participants, I thought, “What I was doing here? These were serious writers, authors, editors, and agents. I just wrote children’s stories.”
Yet, again, I was wrong. These were people passionate about children’s literature and the process of creating great books. I wanted to be like them. Wait. I was one of them. These were MY people. My tribe.
I learned about story arc, character development, and show don’t tell, all the time making lasting friendships and laughing at the same crazy things. And I learned that success isn’t always getting a book published or an agent or editor interested in your work. Success is working on your craft, your passion, and loving every minute.
Many years have passed and I continue to participate in critique groups, take classes, and attend conferences. I still learn so much from writers and illustrators of every level.
I’d like to invite you to join me on this journey. Whether you’re a beginner, a scholar, or a published writer. Because, if you’re a writer, you are my tribe!