Writing

Convos With Writers

When talking to anyone, especially kids, about writing, I tell them you only need to do two things to be a writer: read and write.

That’s it.

You don’t have to read any one specific thing. You don’t have to write a certain amount or with any specific frequency. Reading anything will give you experience in how your own writing should (or shouldn’t) sound, and writing will keep you in practice of putting words down and develop your own personal style.

Just read. Just write.

When a friend and patron of a library job long, long ago invited me to not only participate in her online series #ConvosWithWriters, but be her first live interviewee at Lakes Community High School’s Writers Week, I jumped at the opportunity.

What a thrill! What an honor! What on earth could I tell these kids about writing when I, myself, wasn’t really a writer?

Except that I am a writer, I reminded myself. I read a whole lot and I write a little. And sure, my writing isn’t always toward my pie in the sky goal of becoming a published novelist, but it’s writing nonetheless. It’s out there on social media, sometimes here at this blog, often in my offline journal, and published worldwide when on assignment for my School Library Journal reviews.

It’s writing. And that’s all that matters.

It’s enough for me to consider myself one, and it’s enough for a local columnist with a feature literally about writers to count me as enough of a writer to chat about it.

So here’s your reminder (and mine, again): just read, just write, and you are a writer.

Now, get writing.

After you read my interview about writing, that is.

Reading

I Came. I Read. I Conquered.

As you may have known, I was on a state-wide book award committee this past year: the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. While I wish this was the sole explanation I had for my lack of writing (both here and in general), it isn’t. But I digress.

I knew serving on a book award committee would be challenging, but I am always up for a challenge. Over the span of 7 months, I read 60 books for the award alone and did so in a careful, measured fashion so I could take notes on the aspects of each novel that worked or didn’t work within the periphery of the award. It was tough. Especially when the title was one I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Sometimes reading something outside your comfort zone surprises you and gives you a new perspective on a topic or genre you wouldn’t have otherwise known. And sometimes it’s just uncomfortable.

But through the pleasurable and uncomfortable reading and one long meeting in Champaign, Illinois (and a nostalgic walk around my old campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), myself and a few dozen other school and public librarians, teachers, and retirees who previously worked with children, a new list of 20 titles has been picked for students to vote on next March.

Not every book I wanted on the list made it, and I didn’t want every book on the list to make it, but I am very proud and honored to have been a part of this process and to put good books into the hands of readers all across the state of Illinois (and beyond!).

And, though it was tough, I can’t wait to do it again and again.

And then, since after three years my time on the committee will be up, maybe I’ll find another committee to sit on or award to read for.

But only time will tell.

Life in General, Writing

The Art of Not Writing

This has been a difficult year to be a creative. And what is most interesting is that, in times one finds most trying, art is usually not only the best personal escape but also the best community builder when often community most needs building.

Try telling that to my fingers that cannot click away from an endlessly scrolling newsreel to the eternal chasm of a blank page and blinking cursor. Tell that to my thoughts so wrapped up in the unfathomable reality of now that I cannot bring myself to forge a less-than-perfect alternative.

I know that in any time, these are tried and true excuses for not writing, and despite my common fears and anxieties about my country’s newfound political situation, writing has happened and art has been created this year (and in other even more difficult times in history). In years past, I have learned not to give yourself an excuse to stall writing because instead of progress you will have nothing but excuses and that same empty page.

But this year, I learned that given exceptional circumstances, there is a time to give yourself space. There is room to allow yourself to just exist, to consume, to learn.

I haven’t created much tangible art in 2017, but in that space where creativity would normally dwell I was able to create something else. I have created an awareness I previously did not possess, an empathy beyond what I previously did, a new way of viewing and absorbing the world around me that would not have been possible if I hadn’t allowed myself some stillness in that space.

I’ve created the ability to achieve some sense of peace even within a tempest.

And in 2017, stillness and peace are of the essence.

So this is the art of not writing, and these are the fruits it bears. Not knowledge, but wisdom. Knowledge is understanding that idleness does not create art, but wisdom is appreciating that there are times and circumstances when mindful idleness can create something else instead.

Something bright and powerful. Something that cannot be held back. Something that will propel you forward into your next endeavor and through your next finish line.

Something to say. A story to tell.

And when you have something to say, a story to tell, you cannot help but speak.

It’s time to start talking.

Reading

An Assignment

Most all writers I know have, or have had, a day job. I pursued a day job not in writing, but in something very related to the act of writing: librarianship. And while no, being a librarian isn’t all reading and books (we do programs and digital research, too!), that does make up a sizable chunk of what I do.

Being the librarian-writer that I am, I like to think I bring a certain level of expertise to readers advisory (that is, recommending books to readers, building collections and book lists and displays, etc.) in terms of not only age and reading level appropriateness, but honest-to-goodness literary quality. And so that is the track I’ve set my librarian career on: book quality.

One of the ways I do this is by reviewing for the publication School Library Journal– I let other librarians know what a book is about and whether I find it worthy of purchase and, if so, under what circumstances. It’s great and I love it.

And above reviewing and recommending books for purchase? Is lifting up those most excellent titles with awards. Ah yes, the library and publishing world is filled with book awards, some more accredited or prestigious than others (read: National Book Awards and American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards [with such honors as the Newbery, Caldecott, etc.]). Many states have their versions (often voted on by library patrons and students) of awards for different age groups, and Illinois is no different.

I’m most interested in the middle school and teenage category of patron and literature, so a few years ago I threw my hat in the ring to serve on the evaluation committee for Illinois’ Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Award specifically geared toward grades 4-8.

And just last week, I got the call. Or, in this case, the e mail.

That’s right! My application made it to the top of the stack and I was offer a three-year position on the evaluation committee. I am not only honored to have been offered a position on the committee -as the 20 finalists they committee decides will be used in many schools across the state for reading assignments and libraries for book recommendations- but I am so excited to gain this experience and see where this opportunity will take me next.

I’m sure I’ll write more (or as much as I am allowed!) on this as the process unravels, but for now all I can say is… happy reading!

Life in General

A Day Without A Woman

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Today is International Women’s Day, an ideal day to hold the Women’s Strike, an ongoing participatory day spurred by the Women’s March on Washington. To participate in A Day Without A Woman, we are encouraged to:
Wear red in solidarity
Not engage in paid or unpaid work
Not spend money, with the exception of small/women-or-minority-owned businesses

I was scheduled to work the day of the Women’s March on Washington. If I wasn’t, I would have participated in Chicago’s sister march with 250,000+ of my allies. However, I made a decision that holds true today: if I am scheduled to work and the situation is not absolutely dire in terms of a march/strike/protest, I will go to work.

My profession as a public librarian is in and of itself a public service and the position I hold in that profession, working with children in a diverse community, make me unable to believe it is a better use of my time and resources to March or Strike or Protest than it would be to Serve. I did not March (but I stood in solidarity) and I will not Strike (though I stand in solidarity).

Not only will I not strike from my paid position out of respect to the position itself, but because I also stand in solidarity with my other part-time, hourly paid employees who do not earn sick time or PTO to use or who simply cannot afford to take the day off work. I will be frank: were I not married to my husband, whose salary is good, I would not be able to afford to take the day off from my job, either.

What I will do:
I will wear red in solidarity. I’ll even paint my nails and lips red.
I will refrain from spending money. I am committed to drive directly to and from work, not passing go or collecting $200. My coffee thermos is ready and waiting, my gas tank is full, my lunch is made and packed, and my groceries for dinner have been purchased. Granted, I will do some browsing on Etsy of women-owned boutiques (I am really feeling this African print clutch. And this antique skeleton key necklace. And I received this dog cutout book for Christmas and I know all you bookish types need an initial cutout book in your life.)
I will stay off social media. Seeing as I work a full shift and Wednesdays are crazy busy for me, it will be easy to avoid the internet at large on this day. The exceptions (as usual) are this blog post (pre-scheduled) and Instagram (because I rarely find it as stress-inducing as say… Twitter and Facebook).
I will cook and write, which are forms of unpaid work (at this point in my life), but are also enjoyable pursuits to me that I see no reason to limit myself from.

I hope that, had you head of A Day Without a Woman before just now, you chose to participate in whichever way you were willing and able to. That, after hearing about it now, you alter your day in any way you are willing and able to fit the movement. I additionally hope that you will join me in not casting judgement on others based on their level of participation. And I hope that, together, in glorious unity, we can continue to press forward in the name of progress, equality, and justice for all.