Making Space for Writing; Saying Bye to This Blog (at least for now)

I knew this day would come. I just didn’t know when. Or why.

It’s time to say bye to this blog, at least for a while. In truth, it’s been a while already – a half-year since I last posted. Ugh. It’s with a heavy heart that I acknowledge my new reality: I simply don’t have enough time to write reflective monthly posts.

I began this adventure in March 2017. At that time, I wasn’t teaching. When this blog was one year old, I decided to seek teaching recertification, went through the recertification process, applied for jobs, and started teaching again.

Oh my goodness. I love my students! They are everything that is good and right in this world.

I’ve enjoyed blogging more than I thought possible. A place for me to slow down and regroup from life. I met my goal of posting monthly… until this past fall which I’ve deemed the busiest of my life so far.

A teaching job that increased in hours and responsibilities. Long-standing volunteer commitments. A daughter who’s a high school senior applying to colleges. Two daughters involved in so much music that they had a combined nine performances (not counting rehearsals) even before the holiday performances arrived. Below are pics from half of their performances between September and December. Great stuff; just a lot!

In the midst of everything, this blog and you, reader, were ever on my mind. Not that you were waiting with bated breath–ha!–for my posts (except maybe my mom). But still, I felt a sense of commitment.

I sighed each time I turned the calendar page. I consoled myself: I’ll blog after the school year gets rolling. After I move classrooms. After I get to know the new reading programs. After I finish report cards and parent-teacher conferences. After I hand out the high school band dresses. After my cat recuperates from surgery. After I get over that nasty head cold. After Liana submits her Early Action applications. After school pauses for the holidays. After Christmas shopping and cards are done.

After. After. After. And just like that went…

August.

September.

October. 

November.

And December.

Teaching Space: Before
Teaching Space: After
Poor Howie. He’s all better now!
Liana was rear-ended Thanksgiving weekend while waiting at a red light. She and the other driver were uninjured. So grateful! The other car was totaled.

I’ve relished this holiday break. It’s been so…

Uneventful. Quiet. And Lovely.

Wall-E and Howie

Most of all, I’ve been enjoying quality and quantity time with my family. 

Other than that, I’ve been dealing with things that have been piling up at home over the last few years. Things that I’ve had to ignore in order to get other things done; I could ignore them no longer! Like, three big bags filled with important papers that need to be shredded, recycled, or filed. Belongings that need to be thrown out, donated, or stored. Closets and cabinets that need to be cleaned out. We’ve made a decent-sized dent.

Below is a photo from 2016 of my girls’ art and science cabinet, a fixture in our kitchen since they were toddlers. Now that most of their lives have migrated to their bedrooms, we finally cleaned out this cabinet. Bittersweet, but I’m excited to have more space now for my kitchen gear! As you’ll see below, Wall-E isn’t too excited.

Woo-hoo! That was fun!
I can’t believe they got rid of all that fun stuff.

Oh, and here’s a pile of The New York Times from the fall. The growing pile had been sitting in my dining room teasing me. Now, after many glorious hours of reading, the pile is gone! So many sad stories, but just as many glimmers of hope. If I could read only one thing a day, it would be this newspaper (and you know how much I love picture books).

And I’ve made time to write – HOORAY! — which, along with blogging, I did not get to this past fall. I missed both so much.

As I’ve told Liana, whose commitments are bursting at the seams this school year: Sometimes you have to say “No” even to things you want to do. (Oh, if only we didn’t need sleep!)

Sometimes it’s hard enough for me to say “No” to things I don’t want to do (although the older I get, the easier it gets). But things I want to do? Things that bring me joy and meaning? Now. That. Is. Tough.

But I gotta do what I gotta do. So, I start this new year and new decade with some new intentions:

I’ll keep writing and pursuing publication, because not doing so is, to me, like not living. With time so tight these days, when I have some of that precious commodity, I need to write, query, and be involved in the writing world to whatever extent possible.

To that end, I’ll let some things go… including this blog–meaning that I won’t set any time goals for it. I may end up posting this summer or in a year or never again. Circumstances change and with them, so will my time and priorities. I’ll have to see how life goes. I hate to sound flaky, but I don’t feel I can make promises. In any case, this blog has been a precious experience for me.

When my younger daughter, Miya, was 11 years old, she helped come up with the name of this blog: Writing With The Heart in Mind. It’s a little cheesy, but it captures what writing means to me. Letting this blog go feels like letting a piece of my heart go.

Blogging initially felt like a leap of vulnerability for me due to its public nature. My husband, Rob, reasoned with me: “It’s not like your posts are going to end up in the mailboxes of everyone in the world.” Oh, right. People would need to subscribe, make a point to visit, or just happen upon it. Phew. With millions of websites and blogs out there, mine would be just a speck in cyberspace.

Surprisingly, this blog became for me a safe, comforting place to reflect on whatever rose to the top of my thoughts. I hope that if you’ve read any of my posts (which I’ll leave online), you’ve found some connections to your own life.

If you’ve been a subscriber, thank you for making space in your crowded email box. And thank you for taking this journey with me and for your support along the way. I appreciate it all! I plan to keep my website up and running, so feel free to reach out via my website email.

If you sense that I’m letting go of this blog kicking and screaming, YOU ARE RIGHT!

And yet, in the end, I feel lucky to have so many things that I want to do. It’s a very good problem to have.

I look forward to this coming year of…

teaching,

Returning a wonderful library book I shared with my reading students

writing,

Howie resting his head on my arm, making my task a bit more challenging!

raising kids,

Hanging with Miya in Old Town Alexandria in September 2019
Having fun with Liana before Homecoming in October 2019

and living life.

Celebrating in Richmond over Thanksgiving weekend with “Hamilton,” a highlight from our fall

I wish you

a year

a decade

a life

filled with manymanymany moments of joy and meaning.

Until we meet again,

Amy

Want to Write Children’s Books? Study The Craft and The Business

Photo Credit: Susan Yin via Upsplash

Recently, my friend Greg emailed me asking for feedback on his first picture book manuscripts. In addition to specific manuscript feedback, I offered him general thoughts on getting started in the children’s book industry. I wanted to save my friend some time and energy. And maybe some headaches and heartache, too.

Turns out that Greg appreciated my thoughts. And then it dawned on me: If you’re beginning to write children’s books with the goal of seeking publication (or contemplating doing so), you might appreciate my thoughts, too.

As I was working on this post, it became clear that my email to Greg could become the basis for at least two posts: studying the craft and the business; and writing and submitting manuscripts. For this post, I’ll focus on the former.

My suggestions are by no means exhaustive. They’re just a start. After all, there are whole books on this subject! Still, my list is quite a bit to tackle. So choose a thing or two and go from there.

My suggestions are also not original or esoteric. (And yet someone else might send you off in a different direction.) These just happen to be steps that I’ve taken. I’m still working away and hoping they’ll pan out!

A neat thing: You can do a lot of learning for free (with your feet up and while sipping on a cup of coffee or tea or whatever suits your style).

via GIPHY

Read and study lots and lots and lots of current books. Did I say lots? Hang out at B&N and read what’s on their “featured” tables and shelves. Ask the children’s bookseller for recs that fit the kind of books you’re writing and attempting to publish. Ask your local children’s librarian. Head to the “new” section at your library for recently published and/or acquired books. Find popular and recommended books online and locate them at your library. Mine offers an online hold service which I utilize often, maybe too often for busy librarians, but I sure do appreciate it. Put that library card to good use!

Google away! Google can give you an education. One website, blog, podcast, etc. will lead to other links that will increase your knowledge of craft and business. Of course, not all of the info is current or worthy, but much of it is. You’ll figure out the difference.

Subscribe to free e-newsletters, blogs, etc. There are so many good ones out there that you’ll need to be choosy! If you oversubscribe, just unsubscribe. If you wish you hadn’t, re-subscribe. No biggie, either way. When these pile up in my inbox, I steal an hour here or there to catch up. I relish the time and info! Here are several that I subscribe to:A

Children’s Book Council

Jane Friedman

KIDLIT411

Lee & Low BooksM

Picture Book Builders

Publishers Weekly Children’s BookShelf

Sub It Club

We Need Diverse Books

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Join social media. You don’t have to live there and you don’t have to be on every platform. After all, you need to write! And do the dishes and laundry and… To start, choose a platform that appeals to you, somewhere you think you can show up regularly. You’ll make connections, learn about opportunities, and yes, even learn about craft and business. Some of the above links also have Facebook Groups that you can join. I avoided social media for years; now I miss it when life gets too busy for me to show up.

Join a Critique Group. You’ll gain a lot: accountability, feedback, camaraderie, and support. It’s par for the course to deal with rejections and self-doubt as well as plenty of alone time. So it’s helpful to have some peeps who get the journey and keep you company (and commiserate and celebrate with you) along the way. Here’s an interview with my critique group.

Take classes and workshops at your local writing organization. If you’re lucky enough to have a local writing organization, check out their website for offerings. I met my critique group at a local workshop at WriterHouse. If you can’t afford a class or workshop, keep an eye out for free events like author readings and social get-togethers.

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). If there’s only one thing you can afford to spend money on in order to further your writing life, choose this! It’s the biggest and most reputable professional kidlit organization nationally and internationally. The first year fee is $95 ($80 to renew) and grants you access to invaluable resources. There’s a place for any writer there, from beginner on. Here’s a blog post I wrote about the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference.

Those last four suggestions go beyond studying the craft and business to making connections. Get involved with others in the kidlit community to whatever extent you’re able. It’s a big, vibrant community filled with writers, illustrators, editors, agents, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and readers. Connections are key in kidlit, and the neat thing is, most people in it are very nice. They love writing and reading, just like you. I think it’s safe to say that most of them also love kids.

If you decide to go for it, congratulations on that first step! Truly. You’re pursuing a dream and that takes courage. Your journey will have ups and downs, as all journeys do. Every now and then, take stock of where you’ve been and where you want to go. Each step counts and is cause for celebration.

via GIPHY

It’s helpful to go in, from the very start, thinking long-term. It takes time to develop craft, understand the business, and make connections. And yes, to earn some income. Patience and persistence will be your best friends throughout the process (for me, it’s also coffee and chocolate).

Goodness knows, I’m still very much learning and finding my way through this wonderful world. There are so many steps I’d like to take including reading more books on craft, taking an online class, and attending a national SCBWI conference. One step at a time. The journey is endless which I love; it means that the learning is endless, too.

And to state the obvious: write. While everything else counts, it’s the writing that will teach us the most.

Oh! And have fun along the way.

Until we meet again,

Amy

Writing, Teaching, and Momming: Living Three Dreams, Connected by Kids

Photo via Visualhunt.com

The day after Donald Trump was elected President on 11/8/16, America woke up to a country on the verge of a seismic shift. The next four years would bring earth-shattering change.

No. Doubt. About. It.

For many Americans — the majority, according to the popular vote — this news was shocking and devastating. Was I devastated? Yes. Was I shocked? No. Had I continued to live in my liberal bubbles of Brooklyn, Boston, and San Francisco, I probably would’ve been shocked.

But I had spent the previous 15 years living in Central Virginia which had vastly changed my view of America. On the one hand, it had challenged some stereotypes I had held of the South — partly because I’d been living in another liberal bubble, Charlottesville. This college town had shown me, first-hand, many fiercely inclusive individuals and groups.

On the other hand, it had shown me, up close and personal, a side of America that had not before been part of my Northern urban experience. Like Confederate flags waving proudly from cars rolling down the highway I take daily.

******

So, that fateful morning, when I broke the news to my younger daughter, then eleven years old, she said matter-of-factly, “Well, there goes America as we know it.” She paused for a few seconds. “You know, Obama is the only President I’ve ever known.”

And that gave me pause. I felt a seismic shift within myself.

I hadn’t considered that fact. She was three years old when Barack Obama was elected. Then, as a first grader, she heard him speak in Charlottesville on his re-election campaign tour. Yeah. She had spent her preschool and elementary school years growing up in a country where the man who occupied the White House was a person of color. A highly intelligent and compassionate man who loves people including, and perhaps most of all, kids.

She, too, felt the loss and a concern for America.

Waiting on a very hot day — one hour for tickets, then another 1.5 hours before hearing President Obama speak. Miya was a trooper — and excited!

******

Once upon a time, becoming a reading teacher to kids had been a dream. And it came true. As two educators, my husband and I moved from Brooklyn to Charlottesville to buy a house and start a family. At the age of 35 years old, I left the classroom and stayed home with our girls, my next dream realized. I stayed busy taking care of the girls and the house, volunteering at their elementary school, and working on my first picture book. When it came time to commit to a career in 2014, I chose writing for kids — yet another dream.

******

When I woke up on 11/9/16, writing was still front and center. I was only 2.5 years into it, had just launched my website eight months prior, and hadn’t yet started submitting manuscripts. But suddenly, writing didn’t feel like enough.

Kids had long been at the heart of my goals, but now I felt a deep sense of urgency to be with kids — literally.

I was working hard at writing. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears, I was loving it. Yet the longer I worked at it, the more I realized that it would take a long time to publish another book… and to reach kids (and frankly, to also earn income — but that’s another blog post).

And each day that Trump continued in office as President, I sat in front of my computer screen in horror as kids were suffering at the hands of his administration. Economically disadvantaged kids. Kids of color. LGBT+ kids. Migrant kids. Kids seeking political asylum.

KIDS!

This is not to say that life had been perfect for them before — far from it — but this was a whole different ballgame. I felt helpless and, like so many other Americans, wanted to do something that would make an immediate and continuous impact.

Well, there goes America as we know it,” said my then eleven-year-old daughter. She paused for a few seconds. “You know, Obama is the only President I’ve ever known.”

******

If I had multiple published books and others under contract, I’d have continued full steam ahead. I’d be reaching kids (and earning an income), as are many children’s authors with their books and school visits. I admire and applaud their hard-won achievements and continued efforts.

While chasing my writing dream, another dream re-emerged. Without letting go of writing, I found myself wanting to step back into teaching. I pursued my recertification in VA and applied for part-time jobs. On 11/7/18, nearly two years to the date when Trump became President, I started a job as a reading teacher at a highly diverse elementary school.

It feels right to be back with kids. And to be in a community with adults who are working, day in and day out, on behalf of kids. Each morning I fill up with hope and see the possibility for a better America when I walk through the school doors.

I’m making my way back into the classroom and learning alongside my students every day. I’m eager to help them gain skills to become better readers and writers. Just as much, I hope they’ll know that I’m on their side.

Getting to know my students, as they share favorite authors and books

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Especially during this transition time, I’ve had to pace back from writing. I miss it, like I missed being with kids. I’m lucky to be able to work part-time and continue to write; I’ll do so as long as my family can afford it. Regardless, I’ll always find a way to write.

I’ve been working on a historical fiction picture book manuscript, off and on, for 1.5 years. I’ve taken it as far as I can and will be submitting it soon. Fingers crossed! Then I’ll be returning to a picture book biography manuscript that I set aside last month. Can’t wait!

******

We can carry multiple dreams in our hearts. They don’t die. They just need to be patient until it’s their turn again. Sometimes it takes a seismic shift, sometimes not.

I’m very lucky that I can pursue two dreams: teaching and writing. Wait, make that three: being a mom. Teaching, writing, and momming – for me, that’s the stuff that dreams are made of. They bring challenges, including the challenge of juggling it all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My new classroom, filled with books!

Until we meet again,

Amy