Looking at something from a different perspective can be fun. Interesting. Enlightening.
It can also be a challenge.
This past week, my art class focused on drawing in perspective. Let’s just say, I’m grateful for erasers.
In theory, it all makes sense. But in practice, I sometimes find myself struggling to draw a simple cube.
And don’t even get me started on cylinders.
There’s a reason I’m so in awe of illustrators and animators. They make it look easy.
But little by little, I’m learning.
“That’s why you’re taking classes,” our younger son reminded me.
And then, just as I crumbled the eight hundredth rendition of a bird’s eye view of the park, my husband presented me with a shirt he and our other son designed and made for me, depicting the tiny round birb I created a couple of weeks ago.
Yes, perspective can be a challenge, but it’s invaluable to know you always have that unconditional love and encouragement–no matter what the position or angle of your viewpoint.
Once again, I am beyond grateful for their enduring support.
My husband and I have always encouraged our two sons to pursue their dreams. We expressed the importance of ignoring the ‘no’-it-alls who would try to discourage them. We impressed upon them that if ‘it was easy, everyone would do it’.
When the boys were ready to leave for college, Larry said to me, “Now it’s time for you to pursue your own dream of writing for children.”
But the thing is, I’d tried years before, and I’d suffered rejection and its debilitating sidekick, dejection. “It’s too hard,” I answered.
All three of them looked at me and said, “What? Have you been lying to us all these years?”
Because Larry believes projects without deadlines don’t get done, he gave me one: “Take the four years the boys are in college and hit the writing hard. If you’re not published by the time they graduate, I’m not saying you should quit, but if you still feel this way, we’ll re-evaluate the situation.”
So I did. I studied. I wrote. I read. I attended conferences. I revised. Submitted. Wrote more. I ignored the ‘no’-it-alls. (Well, not totally. I cried a lot.) But lo and behold, When A Dragon Moves In was published in 2011…right in between the two dates of our sons’ graduations.
It goes without saying that I couldn’t have embarked on my author journey without my family’s encouragement, support and love. (It’s important to add here that along the way, I have been blessed with writer buddies and critique partners who have become extended family as well.)
But what’s just as important is that they’ve continued to challenge me.
Over the pandemic, I realized that I had neglected a childhood dream. You see, I began to tell my stories even before I knew how to write. I used to draw. I dreamed of being an artist. An illustrator.
But along the way…well, you get the drift.
I know it’s not going to be easy. I’m taking classes through Storyteller Academy and OC Art Studios. I’m studying the masters. I’m spending hours putting in the ‘pencil mileage’ (as one of my brilliant teachers, the uber-talented Larissa Marantz likes to say.)
And once again, I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of ‘no’-it-alls. But I’m ready.
Because once again, I have the encouragement, support and love of my family and friends. I hope I make them proud.
I also hope I make the tinier, toddler version of me proud. After all, it was her idea.
Recently, I was asked what was the worst writing advice I’ve ever received. To be sure, there’s no shortage of advice out there—good and bad. That said, I think a lot of bad advice is doled out with good intentions. Sometimes, it’s simply outdated advice. Other times, it’s cloaked in absolutes, like ‘always’ and ‘never’. Many times, people use it to deter others from making the same mistakes they’ve made.
Occasionally, it’s weary advice, the “I’m really tired of seeing this done poorly, so please just don’t even try” advice. And while it’s sometimes understandable, I’d venture to say this last one isn’t good advice. We should all be able to at least try. And who knows? We might be the ones to succeed.
You see, writing is a subjective business. The book I love may not be someone else’s cup of tea, and vice versa. By the way, don’t use cliches like ‘cup of tea’ when you write. Just don’t. Unless it’s a book about cliches. Or unless your main character is in a coffee shop and orders a cup of tea.
And don’t even get me started on ‘just’. Superfluous words! Strike them all. JUST DO IT.
Oh…wait. That line sounds vaguely (and famously) familiar.
See what I mean?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ here. Some of the best-selling books (and slogans) currently in the market go against the ‘professional’ advice. Does that mean it’s bad?
This is a subjective business, which means sometimes ‘good’ advice is contradictory.
When I was shopping When A Dragon Moves In around, I received two professional critiques from top tier editors in the publishing world. It’s a story about a little boy who builds the perfect sandcastle, only no one believes him, causing the dragon to act out and the boy to be blamed. I wanted it to be up to the readers to decide whether Dragon was real or simply a figment of the boy’s imagination.
The first editor said, “No, you have to make sure the readers know the dragon is imaginary.
The second editor said, “No, you have to make sure the readers know the dragon is real.”
Needless to say, I was confused and a bit depressed after the critiques. I had already sent the manuscript out to several publishing houses and agents. I’d received four rejections. Only one sub remained unanswered.
A month later, Flashlight Press editor Shari Dash Greenspan followed up my submission query with a question: “Is the dragon real or not?”
My stomach knotted. But before I could change my mind, I typed: “I want the readers to decide” and hit send. I waited for the rejection.
But lo and behold—she embraced the concept! To be fair, she mentioned the challenge of drawing a character that may or may not be there. We researched other books for a year to see if this was possible. With each email, I wondered if she’d change her mind. But she didn’t. Then she brought the brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam on board and the two of them took my vision to heights I’d never dreamed.
In the ten years since Dragon was released into the world, it’s won awards, has been read by celebrity online storytellers and just this past December, named a Teacher’s Pick by Amazon.
Does this mean the other editors’ advice was bad? No. It means it was ‘just’ advice. (There’s that pesky word again. Remind me to edit it out before I post this.)
Here’s the thing. It’s your project. If the advice resonates, take it. If not. Leave it. You can always change your mind if the counsel doesn’t work out.
Last week, I met with one of my critique groups through Zoom. As always, they offered fantastic suggestions and encouragement to launch me into the revision process on a new manuscript. One of the group members started off by saying, “This is such a Jodi story.”
Of course, this made me smile. Every creative seeks to find their ‘voice’. Something that distinguishes it from other voices. Even if I’m not familiar with a specific song, I can always recognize the unique brilliance of David Bowie.
Since I’m no David Bowie, it also gave me pause. What is a ‘Jodi story’? I’d like to think every story I write is from my heart. From my ‘core’. But what does that mean?
I’ve written both funny and poignant stories. Tales filled with long, lyrical sentences, others with short, choppy ones. Some rhyming, some prose. What one thing was central to all of these?
It hit me as I carved up an apple for lunch. The core was filled with seeds. Powerful little nuggets that develop into trees, that in turn, produce more fruit and more seeds. Tiny grains promoting existence. Growth. Hope. The cycle of life.
“That’s it!” my brain yelled in its best Charlie Brown impression.
My ‘core’ is also made up of the seeds I want to spread into the world. My mission is to use my voice to empower others to find, value and use their own.
A few years ago, I received this lovely letter after a school visit:
In a very literal sense, I inspired this young lady to believe in her own voice. Her words brought tears to my eyes. They still do.
What’s more, her voice inspired me to continue to use my voice to spread the seeds of empowerment. See how this works?
It’s like a life cycle, and when cycles connect, amazing things blossom. Which actually circles back to the theme of my new picture book manuscript. You know, the one my critique partner said was a ‘Jodi story.’
We were traveling home from Alaska when whispers of the pandemic began to reach our ears. It’s a trip I’ve held close to my heart as we sheltered in place. I look forward to building more memories as the world heals…