Over three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a regional SCBWI conference in Northern California not far from where I was living at the time. The keynote speaker was an author named Tim McCanna (also an illustrator now), who also led an incredible workshop on rhyme. Unfortunately, I hardly remember the day at all.
Back then, I was dealing with multiple mental health issues and wasn’t receiving proper treatment. My husband had been working and living in Monterey during the weekdays while I was still in Northern California so that my oldest kid could graduate with her class. I was working part time, trying to write part time, and miserable full time. I don’t want to go into details of my mental health issues, but I was in a terrible place, barely hanging together for my kids. Usually, I enjoy going to writers’ conferences, but going that time meant missing rare moments together as a family (since my husband was in town). I was also a volunteer and didn’t want to let anyone down by not going. The only thing I remember distinctly that day was this author speaking in front of a ballroom-full of people, telling us about his writer’s journey, and how he had lived through a period of depression.
I was stunned. What a brave thing to admit to a room full of strangers! It made me think–could I possibly be in a situation where I would talk to other writers coming from a place of peace, happiness, and success as a writer? It seemed too grand of a dream and too far away to believe possible.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I saw Tim McCanna post online about his upcoming book launch at a bookstore in the bay area. I remembered him from the conference, from that hellish time period of my life that I don’t like thinking about, and it made me happy. Why was that? Because from behind a podium he had reached me through understanding my ordeal and also demonstrated what could be possible for me if I could make it through to the other side. When I saw his post online, I looked inward to reflect on what had become of me since that time–my first picture book is coming out next year and I’m an agent’s assistant at a major literary agency. How far I’ve come! But how did I do it? I’ll share with you.
There’s a saying you’re probably familiar with from the Bible that: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose…” I think it doesn’t do writers any favors to say, “in order to be published you must ____ every day…” Because some people can’t “____ every day.” And that’s ok, because maybe it’s not for that time or season. During the worst of my depression, I couldn’t write every day. I couldn’t read what was going on in the industry every day. I couldn’t catch up on Twitter, etc. I was trying to survive, and there is no shame in that. So throw away that advice. Put your health first.
While you’re putting your health first, what are some things you can do that might not feel overwhelming but can keep you on the path to writing? Here is what worked for me, but might not for you, and you can find your own thing, or not. (And please share those things in the comments!) I…
- Listened to audiobooks. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I had no energy to pick up a book. While I laid there, I listened to book after book after book. Then I…
- Daydreamed. I thought, what would happen next in a sequel? What if the plot had gone this way instead? What if I changed the setting, what would happen then? And so on.
- I played video games. There are some incredible storylines in videogames and inspirational art. Then I think, what if I were to make a game? What would the point be? Who would be my characters? Etc.
- I listened to music. Those songs tell tales! Pay attention to the lyrics. What was going on in the writer’s life to put things in just the right way? How does the artist know to express themselves that way? Can I imagine the scenario that led up to this? If I were to write something, how would this be the perfect song for that scene?
- Occasionally I played board games. The art in board games can also be stunning and lead your mind wandering. The premise to the game can also be intriguing and give fresh ideas. Keep an open mind!
And one day, maybe you will find yourself again. And on that day maybe you’ll have the energy and courage to say, what if I just jot a couple of those ideas down? Because that’s what happened to me. At the time I thought I couldn’t consider myself a writer anymore, but that’s not true. I was writing all the time, just not on paper. And one day, one of those audiobooks hit me just the right way to ask myself, “What if that had been tango instead?” And that night I thought how grateful I was to have been brought up with Argentine culture and how sad it was that my classmates hadn’t known about tango music the way I had. Then I thought, what if kids can be introduced to tango now? In a way that will reach them? With rhyming stanzas to show them the beat? And as a mash-up fairytale? What if…what if…what if I can be the one to write it down? What if I wrote it down right now? And the rest is history.
Of course, there’s a little more to this story, but my main point is: if you are a writer, you’ll always be “writing” in your own way, which doesn’t have to look like your neighbor’s way, and in your own time. If the current time was always the “right time” for everything, we wouldn’t have seasons.