I have a secret. It is not one I share often, especially with young impressionable minds. Mine is a secret so shameful I can hardly speak the words, but I feel I must share it now, so that all that comes after will seem wondrous. As a young child, I was a...a... a QUITTER.
There. I've said it. Whew. That's right, I was a quitter. It started innocently enough. The year was 1976, and my elementary school was in a fervor of patriotic extra-curricular activities. I somehow found myself elected to the Bicentennial Club, an organization much like Student Council, but devoted to the reporting of aforementioned patriotic activities. I think I attended two, maybe three meetings. Even the requisite small notepad with spiral bound top, something that said, "I have important things to say, so sit down and shut up," could not hold my interest. My blowing off of that post was clearly forgotten a couple of years later when I was elected to the real Student Council. One meeting, tops. Church choir, quit. Clarinet, quit. Piano, well, I WANTED to quit, but by that point my parents were pretty sure they were raising a future deadbeat and so I was force-marched to lessons.
I blame the fact that every group, every organized activity interfered with recess. And if there was one favorite time of day for me, it was recess. I had no interest in athletic activities (had I ever actually begun such a thing I can assure you it would have ended with a major quit). Four square and dodge ball were the banes of my existence, but my friends and I whiled away hours and hours with on-going action-adventure sagas. With a nod to the Little House on the Prairie style of dramatic storytelling, it was one continuous blizzard/scarlet fever outbreak, blizzard/starvation or blizzard/mountain rescue for the better part of first through fourth grade. I had no time for plodding meetings. Besides, if one was late arriving at the recess rendezvous point, one got stuck in the role of the dog.
As a recent grown-up, I can no longer avoid group activities, but still find myself glancing at the clock as my rear-end goes numb and trying to remember why exactly I signed up for eight hundred million hours in a metal folding chair. I am still not a joiner, so it was with no small measure of trepidation that I committed myself to National Picture Book Writers Week or NaPiBoWriWee, begun three years ago by author Paula Yoo (www.paulayoo.com) as a way to help children's book writers of all levels achieve that most difficult of tasks: beginning. Participants are asked to write seven picture book manuscripts in seven days, and no, it is not that easy to write picture books. These are meant to be horrible, awful, embarrassingly crappy first drafts, not suitable for public consumption, but again, a beginning, words on a blank page, something to build on for the rest of the year. Like so many of my illustrator counterparts, I have many nebulous story ideas rolling around in my brain, several Word folders with quirky titles, a list of concepts for "someday." Could I actually keep my butt in a chair long enough to turn seven of them into stories or would I revert to my organized activity defense mechanism and quit?
Thanks to daily blog pep talks from Paula, and daily interviews with authors and illustrators and of course the lure of prizes at the end (names drawn from a hat, no actually reading of crappy drafts involved), I did it, and yes, I feel a real sense of accomplishment. I realized that even banging something out in the last hour or two of the day can count, can be something workable. Do I have seven stories with potential? No. Do I have two or three? Yes, absolutely. Am I wishing that I had stuck out Bicentennial Club? Nah.
Forgive me readers, it has been two months since my last post. My work load has picked up considerably, and by considerably I mean I finally have some after the economic meltdown of last year that left most of us scrounging in the couch cushions for grocery money, if one was lucky to still have a couch and hadn"t traded it for toilet paper or a shot at being first in line for the grocery bagging job.
In between juggling assignments, updating my Facebook status and expressing my deep disgust, both verbally and through the written word, of the final Lost episode, time has flown by.
This is typical for life here in the trenches. Projects never come nicely spaced, and if they do the space is soon eliminated by some crisis of biblical magnitude, anything from an editor going on vacation and "forgetting" to send you the revisions, to the washing machine deciding that draining the dirty water is too much trouble and it will wait for you to do it with a length of tubing and some lung power.
No matter how carefully one plans and schemes and pores over the calendar, it will never be a leisurely pace to the finish. Never. No, no, trust me, NE-VER. Remember those frantic college all-nighters? That is your life on freelancing, and unless you consider that grocery bagging job fun (it"s not) you will be thankful for it. Your social life will consist solely of the aforementioned Facebook updates, which is good considering personal hygiene also takes a back seat when deadlines loom. I like to alternate between Facebook and checking my website stats. For us regular Janes, even those of us who rocketed well past the planet of the horribly jaded in middle school, there is always the faintest glimmer of hope--maybe I"m about to be discovered (by whom and for what remains a bit nebulous). Maybe that hit from Moosebutt, Alaska is an editor on vacation. Perhaps right now, he is being wowed by the depth and skill of my work. Maybe he is picking up the phone RIGHT NOW. Maybe...huh? What? Oh right, right...where was I? You know on some level that it"s more likely your mom"s hairdresser"s cousin who just happens to be writing a children"s book and will soon be contacting you about some pro bono work, but still...checking one more time can"t hurt, can it?
The thing about stats that is the most fun for me is seeing all the different hits from countries other than the U.S. I usually get a nice handful each week from all over the globe, but recently noticed a deluge of hits from China, dozens! A little worried that I was suddenly on a watch list somewhere, I clicked on the referring link and found myself on a Chinese website, which roughly translated by Google (and I mean VERY roughly, as in surely there"s a verb in this sentence) turned out to be a site where people in China post illustration websites they"ve found and like. How cool is that! Me! Big in China! O.K. fine, maybe "big" is overstating it, but it gives me a little thrill anyway. We illustrators tend to lead a very isolated existence, shuffling to the mailbox in our slippers at four in the afternoon pretty much sums up most days" outings, and to think that somewhere, on the other side of the world, another human being and I crossed paths in a way that could never, ever have happened before, well, that"s pretty darn cool. I spend a few minutes wondering about those folks, the ones who liked my website. What did they have for dinner? Where do they like to go for fun? What does their house look like? Where did they get that rug on the floor? And for a minute I feel a little more connected to my fellow human beings on this incredibly small planet.
Then it"s back to work.