Writers’ Top Ten: How to keep forward momentum

So you’re a children’s author- how fantastic! Maybe you’ve just gotten started, and you’re looking for a “next step.” If so, you’ll find this post particularly interesting. Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran, and you’ve been spinning your wheels lately. Take my reflections as a reminder of all the great things you can do, every day, to further your career. Sometimes it can be hard to look back, for fear that you’ll find you haven’t accomplished any of the things you’ve been meaning to, lately. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge every miniscule task as a step forward, and that’s why it’s important to be ever mindful of the ways in which you can keep moving forward. For your consideration, here’s a KIDLIT author’s list of 10 THINGS YOU CAN DO, TO KEEP FORWARD MOMENTUM:

1. READ. People in the KIDLIT know will tell you that one of the best things you can do, as an author, is to read published books like the ones you want to write. I write picture books, so I generally like to read AT LEAST 30 picture books a month. I’m partial to funny ones. Recently published books will educate your writing in the scope of the current market, but even time spent reading older books can inform your style, interests, and voice. Reading is the best kind of research. At the very least, you’re having fun. Got kids? Great! Read with them. That’s kind of the point of KIDLIT, or so I’ve read.

2. JOIN A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION. You’ll find fellowship, education, inspiration, reputable resources, information on the publishing industry, tips on submitting to editors and agents, conferences… If you need to light a major fire under your…self, try reaching out and joining. Maybe you’re already a member, and you’ve been meaning to participate more. This is your reminder. Even introverts can network easily, as membership is often just a few clicks away. Here are the two that I joined, when I began my journey last year.

  • The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (https://www.scbwi.org/), one of the largest professional organizations for authors and illustrators in the world, is an invaluable source of learning, uplifting, networking, and fun…If you’re determined to be a children’s author, I can’t recommend membership enough. If it’s within your financial means, try attending a conference at the regional or national level. You won’t be sorry, and your work will grow by leaps and bounds.
  • Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Writing Challenge (http://12x12challenge.com/) is a network of support and accountability for picture book authors, but it also comes with the added bonuses of professional learning forums, critique groups, monthly webinars on craft, social media support, feedback and reflections from published authors, manuscript development, and so much more. It’s kind of the biggest bang for your buck out there.

3. STUDY CRAFT. Read published books in your genre. Read books on craft, like Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. Seek out reputable blogs from established industry professionals/organizations, or even writing peers. Seek out free classes or webinars. Pay for membership to organizations like those mentioned above, and enjoy the education that comes with it. Do an internet search on “picture book craft,” and trust resources that are cross-referenced in more than one place (that’s part of what I did, at first). Lather, rinse, repeat. All authors continue the study of craft, for like, ever. The true masters know that you never stop learning.

4. BUILD YOUR NETWORK. This can be done: in person, via conferences or critique groups; online, via social media; or both in-person and online, via professional organizations. Nurture the relationships you form with peers, because they’ll keep on giving for years. One of my favorite quotes is “a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” How true that is. It feels good to build up others, and to exchange support and knowledge. The KIDLIT community is very warm and fuzzy. Embrace it.

5. WRITE. ANYTHING. This one’s kind of obvious. But even scribbling down the tiniest hiccup of a story concept (as participants are encouraged to do in Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm, https://taralazar.com/storystorm/), can help you cling to a sense of forward motion, even when you don’t seem to be checking much off of your author’s to-do list. Write a picture book draft. Or a revision. Or a journal entry. Try penning your stream of consciousness, to get your juices flowing. Scribble out a characterization of your main character, listing his or her fears or favorite foods. Ask yourself a few questions about the conflict of your current manuscript, and answer them, in writing. Maybe try your hand at a limerick or sonnet. Record a list of the funny things your kids say. Put down a paragraph on why you liked that movie you saw last week. Reflect on why you feel compelled to write in general, and jot that down. Any writing is a good stretch of the legs. Just do it. You’ll shape your voice, hone your style, and unlock passions.

6. TAKE A MINUTE TO FIND INSPIRATION AROUND YOU. Many of the writers I know say that they find ideas anywhere and everywhere. Seems kind of generic, huh? But it’s true. Ideas strike me in the quiet moments of a long shower, a drive, or a late-night dishwashing session. I think it’s because I’m okay with letting my mind wander. It’s one of the perks of having a brain that rarely shuts up. I’m one of those people with 17 open tabs, if you know what I mean. Some writers claim muses, but many know that you can also deliberately seek out ideas for writing. They’re hiding in magazines and movies, toy stores and schools, the wilds of nature and concrete jungles. Try listening to chatter at the playground. ONE IMPORTANT CAVEAT to staking out kid-friendly places: maybe go there with your kids (or ones you’ve borrowed, with permission), so you don’t look like a crazy creeper.

7. JOIN A WRITING CHALLENGE. Authors like Vivian Kirkfield (https://viviankirkfield.com), Susanna Hill (https://susannahill.com), and Angie Karcher (https://rhymerev.com/) (among others) are always hosting writing or reading challenges. Participate! It’s fun, it’s good practice, and you’re guaranteed to grow your network of peers.

8. EXCHANGE THOUGHTS WITH A PEER. Critique your work with the help of a colleague. Help him or her develop one of their manuscripts. Share information on a webinar you just saw. You’ll help another grow, and he or she will help you do the same. This is how you learn. This is how you gain perspective. Fresh eyes on your work are (almost) always a good thing.

9. TAKE A CLASS. Learning never stops. It’s important to embrace this concept. Studying craft is a way to ensure that your work doesn’t stagnate. Classes help your writing grow. Sometimes, you can find FREE courses, like this Rhyme and Meter Clinic, http://www.reneelatulippe.com/ from Renee LaTulippe. If it’s within your financial means, use the channels of a professional organization to find reputable classes; any investment you make in craft development is an investment in your career and your future.

10. MAKE A LIST, AND CHECK IT TWICE. Lists are great for a few reasons. They help organize thoughts. Checking them off makes you feel accomplished. You can finally use that cute shark stationary you got in your stocking. Need a brain dump? Make a list. Don’t want to forget those 5 books amazon said you might like? Make a list. Have goals that you want to actually accomplish this year? Make them measurable, and put. Them. In. A. List. It could be a list of books you want to read, or your favorite mentor texts from last year. Maybe you want to consider who your favorite authors are. Or maybe you want to list your favorite illustrators, so you can fantasize about pairing their art with your words, someday. Generating lists is also a great activity for those instances when you want to get something done, but don’t have a lot of time. Maybe you’re stuck in traffic, or the school pickup line. Making a list will relieve your brain of some of the stress you’ve built up, trying to remember everything. And you’ll feel a little more ready to tackle your “to-do’s.”

I hope this list has helped remind you that any task, on any scale, can contribute to the forward motion of your writing career. Just find one small thing you can do, and do it. Not all successes are major accomplishments, but taking a positive attitude and identifying any small task as a forward step, worthy of celebration, will help you feel more accomplished. Celebrating each task is important, especially on the days when you’re having trouble finding the light.

Carpe every diem. Own the forward motion of your life. Happy writing.