Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Speech Heard Round The Kid Lit World

Last week at SCBWI’s New York conference, Sara Zarr gave a speech that resounded powerfully with writers everywhere. The crux of the speech was about reclaiming our creative life from the demands of the market and the business side of publishing. There is a great recap of the speech here and here. It was a hugely important speech, and one that I think many, many writers needed—and wanted—to hear. To be given permission to put creativity front and center in their careers again.

I actually feel that I have done a fairly good job of arranging a creative life that sustains me. However, a couple things she said really resonated.

Most of us need to stop doing half of what we’re doing and start doing the other half well.

Yeah, I’m doing too much. I know it. I had hoped by giving myself a month off before starting a new book, I could get caught up and maybe even get ahead. And I did in a couple of areas, but not others. Some days, I am pulled in so many different directions, I hardly know where to start. I don’t think I can quite give up half of what I’m doing, but I can pare way down.

I’m going to cut way back on Twitter and, I think, give up Tweet Chats. Not that I’ve participated in all that many, but it is a bit of a mental pull, and that part I can eliminate. I’ll still pop on there occasionally, but I won’t try to catch up with everyone all the time.

I’m reducing my blog reading by 2/3. Out with all the industry and publishing news, the declarations of the death of the printed book, and the age of the E-Reader. I will keep up with one particular online series, because I think as an author I need to be informed, but not assaulted, which is how I feel sometimes with so much news. And is, now that I think about it, one of the downsides to Twitter—we are absolutely assaulted with news and links.

And yeah, thinking about doing a year long writing workshop here on the blog was a tad overambitious, especially with my Shrinking Violet and GeekMom commitments. Even more difficult though, was I can’t use samples from my work in progress, but the time required to figure out new examples was too much, and even worse, created a second story running through my head, crowding out the work. So I am going to give that up. I will still post craft stuff as I deal with it, but it won’t be quite as structured as I had hoped. Also? I will quit beating myself up when I don’t manage to get a new blog entry posted every week.

A creative life must be sustainable.

And frankly, as I get older my wrists and shoulders are barking at me to spend way less time on the computer. Not just on the computer, but writing in general. I get thumb sprain and index finger strain from writing so much with a pen. My wrists begin flirting with carpel tunnel when I spend too much time on the keyboard, and my shoulders are sick of mousing. So even though I don’t battle the M&M bowl, my current set up is not sustainable, at least not as far as my body is concerned.

It is hard, because I do so much research on the computer. Not just for the books, but for everything—colleges, health issues, politics, current events. Every little fact that crosses my path I usually feel compelled to research. Clearly I need to give some of that up and step away from the computer. So I’ll be doing a lot of that in the next few weeks as well as hiring an ergonomics person to come in and help me set up the most ideal environment for my aging joints.

A creative life should be engaging, expanding, not reduce you to word count and computer.

I have written three books a year for three years, and while I knew that was a sort of hyper-accelerated push, it is also important to realize it was not, nor was ever meant to be sustainable. I am feeling a huge need to step back into real life. It is so, so easy to default to the relationships I have online. I’m an introverted hermit, after all. But I want to do more walking and hiking and have weekly artists dates outside the house, spend more time with my parents and friends. Maybe do some volunteer work. Being so deeply in my writing cave for so long was exactly what I—and my career—needed. But now the need has passed and it’s time to expand my world once again.

So those are the thing that Sara Zarr’s speech gave me permission to do. What about you? Did her speech inspire you to shift things in any way for yourself?


Sydney said...

Thanks for sharing that speech. It was very powerful. I was particularly struck by that comment the agent made to her about how hard the middle period could be. That's where persistence comes in. The one good thing about this developmental period is that you still have full artistic freedom. That's what makes writing fun.

Anyway, good luck with finding the right balance. I hope you don't slow down your literary production too much though. I really enjoy your books.

Anne Broyles said...

I too loved Sarah's speech. You are so wise, Robin, to realize what you need not just career-wise, but for your long-term mental, emotional and physical health. You've already proven your talent and industriousness. Now's your chance to feed your soul and enjoy writing and research, typing and networking, as aspects of a full, but not crowded personal and professional life. Thanks for being a good example to everyone who reads your blog.

Mary Hershey said...

Sign me up for some of that walking/hiking/being with friends. :-D


R.L. LaFevers said...

Oh don't worry, Sydney! The struggle to find the right balance is so I can write as much as possible, not cut back!

Well thank you, Anne. Part of this 'wisdom' is simply wanting to do what I love as long as possible. I want them to have to pry the pen from my cold dead hands, not my arthritic, too-stiff-to-write-anymore hands. :-)

And Miss Mary, you're at the top of that list, fer sure!

Anonymous said...

I really wish I'd taken notes then, b/c now there's just a hazy glow of revelation surrounding that speech. But...the things I came away with were much like what you mention--allowing myself to have a life apart from the page, somehow weaning myself of my Internet addiction, and just remembering the magic. Really, really remembering the magic of what it's like to create again.