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On Writing Resolutions and Goals… and Puppies

For many years here on the Mixed Up Files there is an annual pre-New Years post where MUF bloggers list their writing and reading resolutions. At the end of 2020 I knew exactly what I would put, which is that I wanted to keep a tally of everything I read throughout the year.  I also took some time to privately write down for myself what I had accomplished writing-wise in 2020, and some specific writing goals for 2021. Like many people, and notwithstanding immediate evidence to the contrary, I was hopeful for 2021. Despite all the fear and uncertainty and sickness of 2020, I felt like we had gotten through it and things would surely move forward.

Oops

Well, my public MUF resolution went down the toilet fairly quickly—like, within days—the ones when my kids didn’t go back to school after winter break.

My state of the union from this time last year

In January of 2021, exactly one year ago, I wrote to my editors to check in about the draft of my novel I was working on. This is part of what I wrote:

“It seems like everyone I know who wasn’t sick the last time around is sick now or has been sick in the last 5-6 weeks. Thankfully they seem to be getting through it ok but the hospitals are overwhelmed and even with the vaccine rollout the government is indicating that schools will be closed until the end of March. My kids are in kindergarten, 4th, 6th and 9th grades and to be completely honest I am drowning.

Last week I learned about the solar system for 4th graders, how rivers flow, how to write a beginner’s code in microbit, what an algorithm is to a 5 year old, the solar system for 6th graders, and how King William used the feudal system to consolidate power. I have broken my head on 4th grade math and worked on an essay on Of Mice and Men. I go between feeling like I got this, and my kids will be ok, to feeling like my kids are being emotionally stunted and that I am being graded and must be the dumbest parent in the class, often within the same hour. Their lunch break is at 4 different times spanning 2 hours. Getting them (and myself) outside during daylight is a challenge. My son in 6th grade with ADHD presents special challenges (including to my sanity!) At the same time I really know that we are exceptionally privileged that, among other things, in the three schools my kids are at the online provision is pretty good, how much most of the teachers care and are working their butts off, and that I am able to be home to manage their schooling.

The other good news is that I am still able to find time and mental clarity to work on HONEY if I wake up very early and this method seemed to work the first time around, so this is really all to say that I am working, but pretty slowly.”

 

Metaphorical toilet times… And yet…

Art by Rose Metting; Website by Websydaisy

Things definitely got worse before they started getting better. With particular grimness I remember the six days we spent without heat when my boiler broke while London experienced several snowstorms and an unusual cold snap. Despite that, my draft did get done. When I sat down last week to read my goals from 2021 I was surprised to see that I had been able to meet most of them. I wrote the amount of blog posts for the Mixed Up Files and reviews for the mock book award Sydney Taylor Shmooze I’d hoped to, I wrote a picture book text and short story, I took a romance writing course and started my own romance novel for fun. There are a few things I didn’t do: some because they made sense to delay, some because my focus shifted onto something else that made sense to take its place. There were several disappointments about writing things I’d hoped would work out but didn’t. (At least not yet.) One thing I especially love is my new author website, which looks exactly how I dreamed my author website would one day look.

 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

One doesn’t need to have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs memorized however to know how impossible it is to think forward proactively when your immediate goals are survival. In the months my kids were at home in the winter of 2021 it certainly felt all-consuming and while this was not the same as having food or shelter insecurity— there were many days when the goal was simply to get to the end of the day. During this time I also felt that my goals had negative and positive effects: they stressed me out, amplifying my frustration–how on earth would I accomplish anything? While at the same time spurring me on to try: I really want my book published so the only way to accomplish that is to wake up at 5 am and work on it for two hours before the day starts with the kids. Trust me when I say I never thought I would be the kind of person to do that, but I did.

 

Resources and Advice for Goals-Setting:

In case anyone is interested in the research and advice on goals setting, a google search literally of “goals setting” came up with a plethora of information and tools.

  • Here is one good example of why and how to set goals.
  • And this is a great post from MUF contributor Jenn Brisendine about creating “goal statements.”
  • I especially found the life vision exercise of the rocking chair an interesting way to think about long term goals: “Picture yourself in retirement, thinking back on your life from your rocking chair. What accomplishments will you be most proud of? What will you most regret? These are your most important answers to the question, ‘Why is goal setting important?’”
  • Also obvious yet profound is the idea that goals with measurable means of success give us meaning and purpose which is a key to happiness—or more importantly, satisfaction.While for many years when I had little kids, and especially when I moved countries, I paused my lifelong hobby of knitting and crocheting, I think it’s no coincidence that in 2021 I finished knitting the cardigan I’d started during the first lockdown, made half of a new one, completed a crocheting project, and also completed two needlepoint projects. I learned to touch type! (and I’m slowly trying to get fast enough to really use it when I’m writing. )

2022 goals in the poo bags… And yet?

All that being said, bang on trend for once I started the first week of 2022 with a(nother) bout of Covid—then I spent a week recovering—and then this week my family got a puppy. Which is to say… all my intentions to look back at 2021 and make goals for 2022 have been consumed by life, especially said puppy. But if the past two years have taught me anything it is playing both a short game and a medium-long game. By which I mean, being aware of deadlines and goals (eg doing some last-minute revisions on my debut middle grade novel Honey and Me, coming out with Scholastic this fall 🙏) that must be met and take priority over everything else; and having the clear-eyed discipline to make them happen if at all possible (while being aware and accepting that at certain times things just won’t be possible) even if it’s slightly slower than hoped for (see above re Winter 2021.) And also being aware of more medium-term goals (say, those for the year, or the next few months), that can go in your back pocket while you’re dealing with the short term goals—they’re not necessarily visible but you can feel them on your butt. You might take them out later than you’d hoped, but by the end of the year it’s amazing to see how much that pocket has emptied—and things have moved forward.

How about you?

I’m curious how anyone reading this might use goals or wish to use them. Do you find them helpful? How small do you make them? How measurable? Do you write them down? Do you give yourself deadlines or timeframes? Do you give yourself visual cues? How often do you check in on your progress? How often do you stop to set new goals? (Which is to remind everyone—myself especially—that goals don’t just have to be set at the beginning of the year.) How far down the road do you set goals for yourself? Any tips or things that worked especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

Wishing everyone a wonderfully productive 2022 in which pursuing your goals enables you to thrive.

Going Backstage on How GUITARS Was Made

Hi Mixed-Up Filers! Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Patricia Lakin, an award-winning author who writes both fiction and nonfiction for toddlers to middle-graders. We discussed Guitars, the latest book in her Made By Hand series from Simon & Schuster. It’s a fun book filled with great facts about how guitars are made and two activities that show kids how to make their own instruments.

Tell us a little bit about Guitars and the Made By Hand series? How did 4 Covers from the Made By Hand Series: Skateboards, Bicycles, Steel Drums, and Guitars, or more broadly, the Made By Hand series, come about? Did you select the subjects? If so, why?

The story of how Made By Hand came about is a true tale of admiration. An editor I have worked with in the past has a great love of hand-made objects. She knew that I shared that same love. It was this editor, Karen Nagel at Simon & Schuster, who created the Made By Hand series and asked me to be the writer.

The editorial team decided they wanted to focus on two objects used for transportation—one of wood and one of metal and use the same materials for two musical instruments. And that is how the book on Bicycles, Skateboards, Steel Drums and Guitars was born.

Did you actually visit Coloma Guitars? Or do you have any fun stories from researching the book?

The story of how I learned about the oh-so-talented Meredith Coloma is, I think, a New York story.  I happened to pass by Chelsea Guitars, a famous guitar store that is located at the equally famous Chelsea Hotel. I entered the long narrow shop and marveled at the guitars hanging on all the walls, from the ceiling etc. and asked the fellow behind the counter if he knew of a female luthier. [The three other books all had male makers and I wanted to highlight a woman for this book.]

The man behind the counter confirmed with another gentleman that I should contact luthier, Meredith Coloma—which is exactly what I did. She lives in Vancouver, BC. She was delighted to be a part of this project and so I put her in touch with the editorial department at Simon and Schuster.

Meredith and I spent a fair amount of time doing telephone interviews during which she shared her story—how she became a musician and decided to become a luthier—the latter all occurred because of a violin maker she happened to come to know. He only spoke Yiddish. His wife translated but he and Meredith spoke the language of music. It was that elderly gentleman who showed her the brochure of a luthier school not far from her home in British Columbia. I thought her story of becoming a luthier was magical and had to be included in the book.

We had extensive conversations and Meredith shared pictures of how step-by-step she creates an acoustic guitar as well as an electric guitar. I had no idea how complicated and how delicate the process is to create an acoustic guitar.

 

Guitars book cover

How did you approach the research and writing of Guitars?

I feel fortunate to live very close to New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  There, I found so many books in circulation that dealt with the history of guitars, guitar greats and the science behind guitars.

I was able to bring those books home to do extensive research. Between those books and the wealth of information I found on the internet from a variety of guitar periodicals, I had tons of material to read and educate myself on the history of guitars.

Most nonfiction writers tell us that they learn so much about a subject that not all of it can fit into one book. Are there any fun facts that you learned that didn’t make it into Guitars?

That is so true. Each evening I’d recount to my husband all of the fascinating facts I’d learned about the guitar. Although I will admit that, since I’ve never studied an instrument and can’t read music, some of the facts on the number of strings on an acoustic guitar and the sound differential was too confusing to understand…plus, I knew that would make the book too technical to include. What I did find I had to cut was the longer history on how electric guitars were really influenced by Hawaiian ukuleles but I was able to include a few fun facts.

Do you play an instrument? If so, what do you play?

Patricia Lakin Publicity Photo 2021

As a child, I studied ballet and in college continued with dance classes, jazz and then tap and never studied a musical instrument.

If you could have a custom guitar made for you, what would it look like? Would it be acoustic or electric?

If I did own a guitar it would most likely be the guitar that Meredith made with a gorgeous tree inlaid on the acoustic guitar’s back. It’s on page 15 of the Guitar book.

I read on your bio that you’re inspired by movies. What is your favorite movie, and why?

Wow! I am such a movie fan that I don’t think I could pick a favorite. Going to the movies as a child, and now, even as an adult, is a special treat for me. Sitting in a darkened theatre, having those images up on the screen, larger than life—speaks to me in ways that I find totally magical.

 

Thank you for a fun interview! For more information about Patricia Lakin and her books, please check out her website. And don’t forget to check out Guitars and The Made By Hand series. For more information about, please visit Simon & Schuster’s Made By Hand page.

 

WNDMG Wednesday – Banning Books Creates Selective History

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

 

Thinking about Banned Books

I want to think out loud about a subject close to the hearts of most readers and writers: the recent uptick in banned books. and how banning books creates a selective history of our world. Those of you who read our blog often know that just a few months ago, contributor Patricia Bailey collected a wonderful list of  Mixed-Up Files contributors’ favorite banned books.  This post is also an excellent resource for websites to plug into when you want to take action–so you should go check it out!

I wanted to revisit the subject here on the We Need Diverse MG series because of the unfortunate truth that the majority of the books being challenged or banned in recent years are by and about underrepresented communities. It’s a clear attempt to remove diversity from our children’s bookshelves.

a stack of books chained together banning books creates selective history

Gatekeeping Diversity

The reason I hear most often in my own community from parents who want to remove books is variations of this reasoning: “My child isn’t ready for that kind of story.” Or, “This is inappropriate or traumatizing, and I don’t want to scare my child.”

As a mother, I do understand the gatekeeping instinct that leads us to stand between our children and content that could frighten or traumatize them. Learning can’t happen when children feel threatened.

But children can’t learn empathy or understanding if they never have to be challenged to see beyond their own lives. Why shouldn’t a child who is raised in a safe white space be exposed to a book detailing the risks–and the joys–faced by BIPOC, AAPI,  Native, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities? Why shouldn’t a Christian child learn what it’s like to be a Jew or a Muslim in America?

Banning Books Creates Selective History

Equally as important, and we all know this, children from underrepresented communities need to see themselves and their experience validated and normalized in books. When we scrub the shelves of diversity, we devalue the experience of a majority of the world’s population, and this is a tragedy for all. Moreover, banning books creates a selective history of who we are, and no one is served by an incomplete narrative.

Yes, adults do sometimes need to help children process what they read. But is that so bad? Don’t we want to support a more inclusive generation of children who are supposed to be the stewards of a smarter tomorrow?

((Want to see which books are currently in the hot spot? Check out this list from Banned Books Week of 2021))

The First Banned Book

I was curious about the history of banned books and how long the practice of controlling the narrative has been going on. I  learned that while the practice goes back as far as ancient China, when Confucian scholars were buried alive, the first non-murderous American banning happened in 1637. Immigrant Thomas Morton wrote an anti-Puritan treatise called NEW ENGLISH CANAAN. It was such a scandalous and insulting book (this terrific article by Matthew Taub talks about how Morton compared his former community to crustaceans), the angry Puritans immediately scrubbed it, as though they could put the genie back in the bottle.

Thumbnail photo of Thomas Morton's New English Canaan book banned books create selective history

What intrigued me though, was that in addition to his comparatively hedonistic approach to life (can someone say maypole dancing?), he was also the closest thing that passed as an ally in those days. He broke off from the Puritans to establish his own community, forming economic partnerships with the Native population and getting rid of his business partner who owned enslaved people. Morton’s more diverse, inclusive, and equitable approach to community didn’t conform with the lockstep attitudes of the time, therefore his book was of suspect political nature.

Sound familiar?

Imagine a world like the one Morton envisioned, where we can embrace and honor our differences and thrive in each other’s company. I hope we will continue to write and read the books that give us space for this to happen, and to fight the crustaceans who try to ban them.