DARE TO PERSIST: On to 2021!
It's a new year, and that means it's time to take stock and look forward. This is the second year I've done this via Julie Hedlund's 12 Days of Christmas challenge for writers, which facilitates reflection on the past year’s successes and challenges, as well as orients to the writing-related goals and plans for the next year. So how am I going to make 2021 “the best writing year YET”?
STEP 1: Revisit 2020!
What were some SURPRISES of 2020?
Re-discovery of art/drawing. For the last few years, I've insisted vehemently that I am NOT an illustrator. As the stresses of COVID mounted, however, I found myself drawn (pun intended) back to sketching and drawing as a form of relaxation and coping (I'm sharing some of my doodles here!). I loved art and drawing as a teenager and even started as a design major in college, but lost the joy of art to my perfectionist self when grades entered the picture. Now that I’m letting my artistic self back out, I have started actively developing my illustration skills, and could actually see myself illustrating my own stories eventually (like, a decade, lol). This is truly surprising!
How connected I feel to the kidlit community. One of my main goals for 2020 was to connect with fellow kidlit writers. In January I became active on Twitter, I joined 12x12, I signed up for a conference (COVID cancelled, but the intention was there), and tried to actively engage in online kidlit events. It has been a pleasant surprise to my introverted self how much I feel I “know” these names/profile pictures that have grown so familiar across platforms and events, and how supportive we are of one another’s journeys.
Finding my prose voice. Prior to this year, most of my stories were in rhyme. They just seemed to naturally come out that way, and although I’d argue it was decent rhyme, it wasn’t perfect (and wasn’t always the best fit for the story). As 2020 unfolded I found myself increasingly comfortable with a lyrical prose style, which was surprising to me—the word-puzzle-joy and rhythm of rhyme will always be my first love, but discovering other voices and ways of writing has been a pleasant surprise of 2020.
What were some SUCCESSES of 2020?
Steady progress! With a few exceptions, I did something writing-related every week, whether a new draft, a contest entry, a revision, a rhyme & meter lesson, a critique group exchange, a Rate-Your-Story submission, reading/studying a mentor text, participating in a Twitter pitch event…the list goes on. I had ups and downs, but I consider the fact that I continued taking consistent baby steps in the midst of a pandemic a huge success!
Contest wins! I won/placed in two kidlit writing contests, which led to incredibly valuable opportunities to continue developing my writing and stories—one won me a free rhyme & meter course, and the other won me a professional critique. And of course, writing something new and putting it out for the world to see is its own success! :)
A query-ready portfolio. Based on professional and CP critiques, editor feedback, and multiple Rate-Your-Story #1 ratings, I am now feeling confident that I have 3-4 marketable stories query ready (this was NOT the case in January). Now to start the process of researching agents/presses and get up the courage to actually submit…yikes!
What were some FAILURES / CHALLENGES / DISAPPOINTMENTS of 2020?
I didn't write as much or as consisently as I set out to. It's easy to get down on myself for this--I'm not serious enough, etc.--but the reality is that I (along with the rest of the WORLD) was dealing with a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. For me, this meant months of no childcare for my toddler/preschooler, virtual kindergarten, and my full-time job (teaching college courses, doing research with older adults) that suddenly had to transition to a virtual format. I have to give myself grace, and truly recognize all that I did accomplish (cue looking back at those successes!!).
I didn't write enough blog posts. My goal was to post every two weeks in 2020, with a monthly book review post and a monthly content post. Well, I FAILED. BUT--considering what was happening this year, I have to admit that I actually did pretty well. I posted 18 blog posts in 2020 (6 contest entries, 4 review posts, 8 misc. content). And I did post every 2 weeks January-April. Buh-bye, judgement!!
I didn’t read enough picture books. My goal in January 2020 was to read 30 new picture books a month (relying on my regular library trips with my boys). Well, the library was shut down for 6 months. I did the best I could with what I had—namely, my kiddos’ books. I also purchased several PB’s from indie bookstores in an effort to support debut authors and small bookshops during shutdowns. Again, GRACE.
STEP 2: Hello, 2021!
Based on what I LEARNED from 2020, how can 2021 be the BEST writing year YET?
I need to be FLEXIBLE. A rigid daily or even weekly time-block plan just doesn’t work right now. Considering the piece-meal reality of my time, my blueprint to continue progress and consistent writing is to do two writing-related thing each week (at least while things are still COVID-influenced): this may be watching a webinar and revising a manuscript, writing a contest entry and crafting a pitch, querying an agent and studying a mentor text…whatever it is, I just want to do TWO writing-related things each week. I think this is manageable, and also provides some flexibility, as in weeks where I have more limited time I can choose two tasks that are less time-intensive.
I need to PLAN. I think the main issue with my blog post consistently is lack of planning. If I jot down blog posts plans/ideas a couple months at a time, I will be much more likely to keep on track (and posts will likely be higher quality) than when I’m in the “oh-shoot-I-need-to-post-something-on-my-blog” space. I've now scheduled a 10-15 minute "meeting" for myself at the beginning of each quarter when I will make a list of soft plans for the next 3 months’ posts, establish a "to-do" list, and set an approximate timeline.
I need to get back to the LIBRARY. I need to get over the psychological barrier I have to curbside pickup/lack of browsing and take advantage of the COVID-era services at the library. I’ve GOT to get back into reading consistently, I know it helps me further develop my voice, keep up on what’s marketable, and understand what works and what doesn’t. My goal will be to get a bundle of 20 PB’s at least monthly (ideally more frequently, but I want to be realistic here), and I’ll use my kiddos to hold me accountable (getting them excited about regular new books to read is a huge motivator!).
As we head into 2021, what am I most GRATEFUL for?
I’m grateful for a spouse who is supportive of me carving out time to write and of me allocating funds to support my writing goals.
I’m grateful for the incredibly supportive kidlit community, I love how we encourage one another via contests, congratulations, critiques, and “you-got-this” memes!
I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and develop every day. My goal is to be a lifelong learner, and the kidlit journey is definitely a learning curve.
I’m grateful for my 3- and 5-year-old boys who supply me with endless inspiration for stories.
I’m grateful for writing (and drawing)—it has been a source of stress-relief and coping for me as I juggle my full-time job and no childcare/school due to COVID.
I'm grateful for YOU!! Thanks for reading my ramblings. :)
So what is my WORD / PHRASE of focus for 2021?
DARE TO PERSIST. Based on all available indicators, I'm ready to start querying...and I'm terrified!! I think I only queried 2 agents last year, I'm a bit query-shy after being premature early in my writing journey. But, my primary goal this year is to put myself out there. I know the inevitable rejections will really test my mettle, and I know it’s possible (okay, likely) that I’ll query/sub all year and have no agent or book contract at the end of the year. But, I’m daring to persist anyway.
So what are YOU hoping to accomplish in 2021? DARE TO PERSIST!!
Some final parting words: