Lessons Rereading Books from my Childhood

On a whim, I started re-reading some of the books I remembered from my childhood. I just finished Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

I honestly didn't remember much about the book. I remembered that Maniac was an orphan and homeless, and that he ran...a lot, and I remember the character Mars Bar, but only for his name. That's about it. I remembered almost nothing about the plot. After all these years, what I remember most, is not what happened in the book, but how the book made me feel. I remember sadness and triumph, and that feeling of magic and fulfillment at the last page, when you think, "Yes, this is how the story ends," and yet it doesn't really end, because those feelings stay with you.

It was a joy rereading it as an adult. I could see what fascinated me as a child and also better appreciate and grasp its many redeeming qualities, like the magical realism, the themes of separation and belonging, of race and family, and the subtle but perfect narration.

I was a slow reader as a kid. It wasn't till second grade that my parents and teachers realized I needed glasses because in elementary school they only tested for near-sightedness, and I'm far-sighted. I had trouble looking at a page right in front of me. I would have to close one eye, and use my finger to read the words, because I also had tracking problems (my eyes would skip to the next line before I was finished reading the first.) I remember being frustrated in school, and anxious whenever we had to read something to ourselves in class. I almost never could finish the paragraph or passage within the time the teacher gave us to read it. The pressure of having to read something within a time constraint made me anxious and also embarrassed. I learned how to fake it. I would read the comprehension questions first and then go back and skim through the paragraph just to find the answer. I had to do this, otherwise there was no way I would finish. When we had to read a paragraph in class and then answer questions out loud, I just prayed the teacher wouldn't call on me, as I continued to try and read without her noticing.

But I liked reading for myself. I liked curling up in my room and delving into a story at my own pace. Eventually, armed with my new glasses, I was able to like reading in school too, or at least be able to do it without the anxiety, because the more I read, the faster I got.

All of this is to say, that at seven years old as I squinted to see the chalkboard, I would have never imagined that I would get a degree in English and be working on writing my own books. It's good to look back and see how far we've come. We can't change the past, but we can appreciate it in a new way, just like rereading a childhood book as an adult. It gives me inspiration too,  knowing that even now when I feel stuck or frustrated, I just might not be able to see where I will be ten or twenty years down the road. One day at a time.

Little Reminders

There is something immediately inspiring and terrifying about getting good advice.

I recently participated in a webinar hosted by the fabulous Book Doctors, a course offered to NaNoWriMo participants. So much of what they said made me want to stop everything and pound the keys--get back to work on editing my novel. I felt inspired.

Alas, when I actually did sit down with it, the imperfections were now magnified into elephants and the enormity of the task in front of me unfurled in a moment of terror and disillusionment.

We are strange creatures, artists. There is always this battle of striving for perfection against the feelings of self-doubt.

At one point during the webinar, David Henry Sterry said, he sometimes does something like 70 edits for a book. What?! On the one hand, it's easy to feel dwarfed by that number...here I am on my first...

On the other, it reminds me that no matter how much of a professional, no matter how many books you've written, we all start with the same rough, gnarly, barely readable draft, that must be polished into something beautiful. It may not be easy, or fast, but there is a clear process, there are footpaths to follow through the darkness.

At a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, I browsed the journal section for a new companion:

Oh Hello, Universe, thanks for the reminder...

After I got home and opened it up, I found an extra little surprise on the inside cover.

"You are the Sunshine_____ Be Proud! You have helped us donate 240,000 workbooks and 44,000 pens to children around the world. Ecojot is paper with a cause, sustainable, B-certified and made in Canada. B the change."

Lovely! A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote has never steered me wrong.

Did a third edit of my entire first chapter this morning, and my new journal will accompany me to my SCBWI writer's conference this weekend!