What creative constellations are in your night sky?
You may already know that I’m right in the middle of a creative project--a creative journaling workbook. It’s something I’m writing with a few of you in mind (thank you for all of your help and inspiration). It’s a project to help you not just find your words, but to give yourself permission to write for self-expression, in a creative way, for fun, for yourself or for someone you love. One of the topics we’ll go into is when a subject, a passion, or a project tugs at you quietly. And how to recognize that silent, gravitational pull you might feel toward creating something.
It might just be that you want to finally write a story and feel good about it. Or simply that you want to feel more like yourself when you write. Some of us are secretly turning books over in our heads (If you’re wondering if I mean you specifically, then the answer is probably yes--and myself too). That memoir, that story from your family, a novel, a collection of poetry...or a story for your children…
When a creative project captures you in its gravitational pull, a celebration is in order.
This week, Maria Milojković tagged me into this discussion with a question on a project of her own. Maria asked for thoughts on children’s literature…so we’ll kick off that conversation. (Of course we will! Most of you know me from our book club. It’s kind of what we do :)
But I want to put this into the context of these incredible creative callings...or projects that we sometimes keep to ourselves, or that we barely even admit we have. So first, for the entire community that reads my writing--I’d like to celebrate these creative undertakings.
And I’d like to celebrate the fact that the first step is not to start, it’s to give yourself the permission to even acknowledge that there is some creative constellation out there pulling at you subtly. So first off--way to go Maria for taking the first step--and the ones after that, and getting as far as a 28-page draft!
In addition to being a celebration of the first steps toward acknowledging that we can undertake creative projects big and small, this post is also:
A discussion about what makes for great (children’s) literature (yes, I’m tagging you in!)
An introduction--in the further reading section, I’m calling on a few people who might be able to help Maria (and all the rest of us) as we consider our own creative projects in this interesting time where we have the privilege of ‘knowing the author.’
Let’s treat this like a book chat, shall we? I’m going to open up with my observations of what makes for great children’s literature...and then let you take over in the comments (or at the book club).
What makes children’s literature great?
A story to capture your imagination with the “big questions” hiding underneath
I’m thinking of so many things when I say this: the class I took in children’s literature, but also the ‘other side’ to ‘children’s stories’ and fairy tales I saw when I studied French literature. The book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim comes to mind. As does the concept that great children’s stories have that story that children can understand right away and a deeper meaning underneath. A meaning that keeps unfolding to us as we grow. If a child revisits the story multiple times at different ages, it takes on further meanings. And if we read the story enough times as a child? The story becomes so much a part of us that some of its lessons can even remain waiting...and so the knowledge is there for us as we grow and mature. (That’s Bettelheim talking, but how cool is that? An age-appropriate time-bomb of understanding).
Children’s literature is relevant to larger humans too.
The themes underneath pull us and continue to intrigue us because they are the kinds of questions kids ask...and that adults still don’t have all the answers to. In my opinion (other’s as well) great children’s literature is like...well...literature in that respect.
Sometimes (children’s) literature tells the story with images.
Will there be images in your story? Does it depend on what age group your writing for? I’m increasingly fascinated with the way that we can tell a story in visuals and/or words. Sometimes the image can simply illustrate the meaning, at other times it actually
tells a part of the story,
reveals something new,
winks at us,
makes a reference to something outside the story.
As in graphic novels and memoirs or comics poetry, for adults, there is this new visual element to be explored. A new place to play.
Children’s literature is an exercise in empathy and love.
Here, conversations about Proust and the Squid by Mary Anne Wolf come to mind. Here’s a great review of this book by multilingual literacy advocate Ana-Elisa Miranda. And one of my favorite quotes from Proust and the Squid, which Ana-Elisa shares...
As soon as an infant can sit on a caregiver’s lap, the child can learn to associate the act of reading with a sense of being loved.
—Maryanne Wolf: Proust and the Squid
Learning to read and learning to love go hand in hand. And for us adults? Sometimes I think that reading literature is, first and foremost, a way to exercise our empathy and our humanity.
For me, there’s no getting around the idea that children’s literature is meant not only to be enjoyed by children, but to be enjoyed WITH children by adults. As we write, as we read on our own--or more fundamentally--as we read with our little ones in our laps--we are passing on love, empathy, and humanity.
Feel free to add your own ideas.
As much time as I spend and have spent nerding out on this, what I love the most about writing online is the added perspective you bring to this conversation.
This is your story.
To Maria--and anyone else who is feeling the gravitational pull of a creative project. What I’ve described above can sound like a tall order, but I think that if you start with a story that matters to you--or even better, to a little one you love (like Maria did) that you will be off to the best of starts. Find a fun, crazy, even whimsical story that also asks a big question. Imagine yourself reading it with a child you love in your lap. Or imagine writing the story alongside your child...and there you go.
The little piece of yourself that you bring out in your writing…perhaps that’s the simple yet fundamental secret ingredient of the literature that moves us and keeps us reading.
So, what creative constellations are pulling you?
I love the idea of a children’s book--it’s a fun project, a wonderful place to begin and to play. And such a worthy cause. But how many of us also see the faint flicker of far away constellations when we look up at the night sky? The books, the ideas taking shape, the collections, the blogs...or maybe that one little tiny poem small and perfect. The tiny speck that starts the entire meteor shower. If you’re not quite ready to share your idea with the world? Whisper it into your journal. Small things can take on big proportions.
Psst…feeling a creative pull but aren’t quite sure how to get started? Try a fun, free, self-paced writing challenge with one of my favorite creative journaling techniques.
Further reading, fun ideas and interesting people…
Whether you’re thinking of self-publishing children’s literature--or something else.
On the topic of children’s literature, Anna Green has a story brewing as well. She told me about her project and, while I don’t know how to crack the egg of finding a publisher for a children’s book, I was able to retell the story she had cooked up to my children. Let’s call them her Alpha readers ;) Their words for Anna? “You have to finish the story.” Consider finding your Alpha readers, and maybe growing your audience at the same time.
To learn more about children’s literature and literacy...
Here is a small but active community of Multilingual Book Lovers from all over the world who are fanatical about getting their kids to read (I know because I’m one of them). It’s hosted by Ana-Elisa Miranda who I mentioned previously. Bookish bilingual parenting--and perhaps a some friendly alpha readers.
And what better place for a writer who is also a reader to hang out than a book club?
I host the Vagabond English Book Club. It’s a free community of readers and writers. We chat about books, meet ‘live’ once a month for a book chat and support each other’s creativity in general and writing in particular. Once again, it’s a multilingual international group and many of us know what it’s like to take the “mundane and monumental” step of starting a life in a new country—at least once.
If part of your creative project is self-publishing (and promoting) your book, look into Elena Mutonono’s recent work with her book Flowers in the Frost. I worked with Elena as she wrote this and what astounded me was her business know-how and her efforts in launching this book. Working with Elena has lead me to conclude that the writing might be the easy part! Elena works with online teachers and coaches, but I have been saying over and over that writers could learn a lot from her too. If you only look at one thing she’s done, go see her Kickstarter page.
Which brings me to another point. How to make your book look so beautiful? (and your Kickstarter Page). Check out Veronika Palovska at Do You Speak Freedom. Veronika is just pretty amazing and her work is beautiful. To be considered…