Children’s author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year’s resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity – what DIDN’T get done or achieved in the previous year. Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2020.
When our first lockdown of 2020 began in the UK, I spiraled in my own specific ways. I wrote about this in my first piece for The Spruce, which was originally titled, “My Accidental Foray into Cottagecore.” While the world around us collapsed, I focused on what I could control. For me, that was baking and crafting and keeping an aesthetically pleasing home, despite quarantining with a 2 and 4-year-old.
Like a lot of people, one thing I really, suddenly, could not control was my career. Ongoing projects ended abruptly, and both the motivation and opportunity to write about travel (obviously) dried up. What didn’t end was my need for a creative outlet, and my need to write.
My biggest success this year was finally writing down a story I’ve been telling my daughter for over a year, called THE DREAM PIRATE. As I flushed out the idea, I saw in a freelance newsletter that a popular children’s literary agent had re-opened for submissions. I didn’t quite understand the whole process, so I posted on an expat Facebook group asking if any other Americans in the UK were in kidlit. A woman named Kristen replied, offering to connect, and we hit it off instantly. These three things all happened pretty simultaneously, and while I made the rookie mistake of submitting way (WAY) before I was ready, I count it as a success. If I didn’t write this story or dare myself to submit or, really, just ask for help… I don’t think I would have started this entire journey.
From there, I put my head down and got to work. I hopped on Mindy Alysse Weiss‘s Twitter Critique Train event, and was lucky to find a lovely critique group as a result. I booked a 10-minute consultation with Fiona Kenshole through The Manuscript Academy, who dove right into my story with me. She was supportive and motivating and kind, and our brief conversation gave me confidence to stay on course.
I joined a free weekend workshop with Storyteller Academy, and eventually signed up for their Intro to Illustration. I’m not an illustrator and I don’t think that’s in my future, but I wanted to understand the basics and the process of visually creating characters. As it turns out, I’m ok at drawing nervous-looking cartoon fish… and not much else.
I also registered for an online writing course with Pippa Goodhart through Cambridge University. Her feedback at the end of the 8-week course sits in my inbox, and I open it when I’m feeling even a hint of imposter syndrome. Through this class, I also connected with a group of amazing women who are scattered around the world, all with their own passion for writing and storytelling.
By October, I was intensely grateful for the online kidlit community, and I entered a slew of writing competitions and contests, all back-to-back. I was thrilled to win a manuscript critique from Lydia Lukidis with my entry to the Fall Writing Frenzy and a top-of-the-slush-pile read for THE DREAM PIRATE from University of Arizona’s pop-up agency, 389 Literary. I also participated in a few Twitter pitch events. While I didn’t get any agent or publisher likes, I learned the value of connecting with other writers and the importance of building community within this world.
Throughout this process, I’ve written about a dozen picture book manuscripts, and I have three that make me proud. I also developed a better idea of what I hope to find in my future agent. After months of reading interviews and following agents and researching publishing companies on Twitter, I feel so much more equipped with knowledge that I just didn’t have a few months ago.
One of my biggest successes this year, both personally and professionally, is that I’ve learned the value of saying yes and the value of not feeling guilty for saying no.
At the end of October, based on a nostalgic conversation with my best friend about a high school summer in New York, I registered for NaNoWriMo with the goal to tackle my first YA novel. I “won” NaNoWriMo, and now, my 85k-word draft is almost finished. I’m working with two CPs and I’m hoping to find a third before searching for beta readers. (If this is you, please let me know!)
I feel incredibly lucky, because while 2020 was hard and exhausting and emotionally draining, it also gave me the time to really go for something I always dreamed of doing. I know I’m lucky because paid work is slowly coming back for me, and, with the help of my husband and his new, temporary work-from-home life, I have found ways to carve out daily time to write. It’s not always easy, especially with a 2 and 4-year-old, and yes, it sometimes means writing when I feel like I really should be doing something else. But if just this first big step into the industry has been this rewarding, then I truly cannot wait to see where 2021 takes me.