Current IssueGreetingWinter 2012

Breaking Down Barriers, Part One

The season of midwinter throws many barriers in our way. Relearning how to drive safely in snow and sleet . . . Remembering to leave extra time to get pretty much anywhere . . . Finding the perfect pair of boots that are toasty, not too hideous, and tall enough for the worst snowdrift you’re likely to stomp in. And really, keeping a sunny disposition through a week’s worth of gray days may be the worst challenge.

The creative life throws many barriers in our path as well. This is especially true if we pursue our creative life with the intent that it also be a livelihood. There are many classes worth taking, but how to sandwich in the time? There are lots of tools for marketing yourself, but maybe that feels too scary, so you stay at your desk, writing.

Have you got anything that you resist doing, even though you know it would benefit you in your creative journey? Consider this an invitation to think for a moment and find an activity or a skill-building task that you’ve been shying away from.

Go ahead, fill in the blank! ____________________________ Doesn’t all that empty space just look wrong unless you know what goes there?

Some of our Illinois colleagues weighed in on this issue, sharing what they’re daunted by:

“I put off starting a new story . . . it’s a big investment of time to start researching and figure out a clever way to tell the story, and I worry it won’t be nearly as good on paper as in my head, so it’s easier for me to do lots of other writer stuff. I plan school visits, try new promotion ideas, or update my website. But these aren’t as important as writing.”

“I like to read books on the art and craft of writing, but I avoid the writing exercises. I understand they might help me discover something new, but I still avoid them like the plague! It feels to me as if those exercises rob me of my precious writing time. On the other hand, if I go to a conference and we’re given an exercise as a group, I do it because it’s part of what I paid for. If only there was a way someone would pay me to do writing exercises at my desk . . .”

“I have been resisting launching my blog . . . even though I think it would give me a better web presence and help folks get to know me as an artist, etc. . . . I have concerns about telling folks too much or upsetting/insulting my reader in some way . . . because I know that once it’s out there, it’s out there. I’ve talked to colleagues who’ve said, ‘Just do it,’ or comment after I’ve stated one of my many opinions, ‘I think you should blog about that.’ I just have to force myself to write some entries, try and get the formatting down, ask for help, ask for help again, and hit POST. Any. Day. Now.”

Well, here’s my dilemma. I’ll share it with you.

Perhaps many of you keep a journal or notebook where you routinely write about the books that you read. I have done this for short bursts of time in the past, but always with a specific, temporary purpose. I have never kept it as part of my routine. Recently I was struck by the sheer number of books I have read without keeping any record of them whatsoever. It gave me a strong sense of lost opportunity, and I had to admit that for my development as a writer, this is a way that I am truly throwing a barrier in my own path.

I decided to examine this on paper. I used the oldest trick in the book—creating a list to make the writing seem easier. My list was labeled:

“Why I Don’t Want to Keep a Reading Journal”

  • I’m lazy.
  • I usually read at night before bed. I can’t possibly journal then too! I’ve put in a full day already. Can’t a girl just relax?
  • What if I die and someone reads my journal and finds out which books I didn’t like? That could be bad, right? What if someone finds out I liked their book, but evidently I didn’t get it? Gads, should I really be recording anything about books written by people I know?
  • I get intimidated by the task of trying to analyze why I like a book or why I don’t.
  • I did enough commenting with my critique groups this month, thank you kindly.
  • Really . . . do I need any more excuses?

After writing that list, I decided to make a more subversive one:

“How I Could Benefit If I Kept a Reading Journal”

  • I might see patterns showing me why I love certain types of books. That, in turn, might help steer me through the “sea of a hundred ideas” when I pick a new writing project.
  • A sense of accomplishment should build as my notes accumulate.
  • There would be a reference for any time I can’t remember an author’s name, a title, or how long it’s been since I read a certain book.
  • I could keep tabs on how much time I’m devoting to one genre over time. I could even work toward a goal such as: read at least ten picture books about cute baby antics BEFORE I go back to revise my own picture book about cute baby antics. Maybe then I’ll actually know if mine has anything fresh to offer!

Hey—a payoff . . . at this point I was starting to get excited. But I didn’t quit there. Those darn writing teachers are always telling you to push past your first few ideas, so my list continued:

  • A journal would be the perfect place to practice useful skills like condensing a complex plot into a few sentences; determining what the hook is for a book; taking a practice shot at writing a logline for a book.
  • Oooh, and what if this was my own book? How would I want to market it? What ideas would I have for presenting at school visits, etc.?

OK, I’m on a roll now. I see what I’ve been missing. And I think I’m up to the task. I hope that you find yourself grabbing for your legal pad or your trusty laptop . . . and are you making a list yet?

No . . . not a shopping list. You know . . . the other list. What you’ll be gaining when you finally take that next step that you’ve been avoiding. Only you know what it is.

I hope it holds a great reward.

Lisa Bierman
Co-Regional Adviser
SCBWI Illinois

Comments are closed.