I hope you don’t mind taking a break from your regularly scheduled programing (ie: the craft of writing) for just this week. While considering how a writer might go about infusing their characters with heart, I couldn’t help thinking about how we have to remember to have it for ourselves first. If we want to convincingly create characters who believe in themselves enough to accomplish whatever their goals are within the story, we have to be their role models.
No matter where we are in our writing careers, so often we are (to borrow a phrase from Emerson) “… standing in our own sunshine”. We put ourselves down, we dwell on our failures, we downplay our accomplishments. I suppose there are writers out there who have loads of confidence and think everything they create is brilliant, but we must not hang in the same circles. The things we tell ourselves when something we write is rejected or gets a bad review is much harsher than what we would tell a friend if it happened to them. We would try to build our friend back up, insist they weren’t rejected, that the piece simply wasn’t a good match for that editor. We would remind them of all the rejection letters even the greatest writers got. We would convince them how they’ve gotten so much further than so many others who are still dreaming about putting pen to paper.
So be proud of all your hard work and fortify your heart against disappointment, against unsupportive friends or family who just might not “get” why you want to do this. Don’t ask for permission, because that might never come. Don’t be your own worst critic. There are plenty of others willing to take on that role (anonymous reviewers, I’m talkin’ to you), so rise above that and don’t help them along.
Let’s face it, we don’t write children’s books to become rich or famous. Our motivations run deeper than that. If you remind yourself why you want to dedicate your life to telling stories that could affect a child in ways you can’t imagine, it just might fill your heart to bursting. Then there will be no more room for negativity, only conviction and purpose.
Here are some reasons I came up with, but you will no doubt add your own. We write for the next generation because we were the kids reading under the covers with flashlights past bedtime and we remember what books meant to us when we were that age. I write out of gratitude for Narnia, for Margaret, for Charlotte and for Harriet, and each of us writes for the child in ourself. We write for our own kids to teach them what we wished we’d known. We write to entertain young readers, to make them laugh so that they’ll learn to laugh at themselves. We make them cry to teach them empathy. We show them adversity so they can learn to be strong. We pluck them from their lives and place them somewhere else, in the hopes that when they close the covers of the book they will come back to themselves stronger, with their minds open to new possibilities. We want to protect them and also challenge them. Writing for children is a big responsibility. By placing a story in their hands, your heart has reached their heart in a really tangible way. Your efforts have made a difference in their life. That’s the goal of the job, right? That’s why we do this. Well, that and getting to work in our pajamas all day.
For the exercise portion of this post, I’d like you to CHANNEL YOUR OWN INNER STUART SMALLEY/AL FRANKEN, look in the mirror and say, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”
Just kidding. Go treat yourself to a massage and some high quality chocolate before you sit back down to squeeze a little more of your heart onto the page. You deserve it.
Wendy Mass is the author of twenty books for young readers including Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, A Mango-Shaped Space, the Willow Falls series that began with 11 Birthdays, and the Space Taxi series which she co-writes with her husband, Mike. Her most recent is THE CANDYMAKERS AND THE GREAT CHOCOLATE CHASE, (out 8/2/16), which is the sequel to the New York Times bestseller, The Candymakers. She ate a lot of candy while writing those last two. She is currently on a cross-country RV trip where she offered her firstborn to the Ford dealer if he’d fix the air conditioning. He declined the kid, but the RV is nice and cool now. Visit her at wendymass.com, @wenmass on Twitter, and here on Facebook
If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Wendy’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.
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