I’ve always felt that that if nothing else, I’m good at being a portal. A conduit between what someone wants and how they can get it. That's what has given me the to courage to teach Writing Picture Books for Children through UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Program for over a decade. This class is for newbie children’s book writers--not for those who have read a lot, taken classes, submitted stories, or joined organizations.
To these toe-in-the-water beginners I assign two books. The first is
This is a comprehensive, down-to-earth guide—worth reading cover-to-cover and easy to dip into as a reference. It presents a broad overview of the field but also gives specifics. As with all Idiot Guides, it's easy to browse and packed with extras like "Vocabulary Lists," which explain terms in the children's publishing industry; "Class Rules," which detail warnings and cautions; "Can You Keep a Secret?" which include tips and resources to help a children's writer or illustrator present him or herself as a pro; and my favorite, "Playground Stories," which are anecdotes from and profiles of children's authors and publishers, giving an insiders view of the children's publishing world.
The other required book is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
My favorite chapter is the one on jealousy, which changed my life. I read it at least once a year to quell my burning heart.
Though I happily celebrate most friends' successes, some colleagues' successes cause me great agony and confusion. Several years ago, someone gently suggested that perhaps I shouldn't read the book review section right before I went to sleep. She was right. When I'd see certain names, I'd toss and turn all night, feeling like I'd lost a race I didn't even know I was in.
This is really embarrassing to admit.
I've been more loving to myself about this in the last few years, and Anne Lamott's BIrd by Bird is a big reason why. She writes:
“But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with [jealousy], because some wonderful dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you."
"It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend--for, say, her head to blow up."
She writes about seeing a documentary on AIDS:
"You could see the amazing fortitude of people going through horror with grace...seeing that this is what you've got, this disease, or maybe even this jealousy. So you do as well as you can with it. And this ravaged body or wounded psyche...should...be cared for as softly and tenderly as possble."
Lamott has shown me that yes, I have this tendency to be jealous, yes, I have this green spot on my heart…and though I try each year to make it smaller, I may have to live with that little green spot, be amused by that part of me and love myself anyway.
I’m human. What a surprise.
For ages 7 through adult (or younger, with individual help.)
Objective: This lesson reminds us how writing can help us when we feel awful. (And if the feeling doesn’t go away, at least we’ve got a poem out of it!)
1. Think of someone or something that fills you with envy (or another awful feeling).
2. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.
3. Feel this feeling in your stomach, in your bloodstream, filling every bone in your body.
4. Or instead, think about what helps drive this emotion from your body. Feel the relief as it leaves through the top of your head, through your finger tips, through the bottoms of your feet.
5. Brainstorm at least five metaphors for jealousy or for what makes jealousy go away. Are you a leaf and is your jealousy a worm chewing on you? Is your jealousy a ring in the bathtub being scrubbed clean with Ajax cleanser?
6. Write a poem using one of your metaphors.
7. Write honestly—even if it embarrasses you.
ANYTHING I CAN DO YOU CAN DO BETTER
CAN OF WORMS
by April Halprin Wayland
Varda once told us
that we were all cans on a shelf.
Cans of chili, kidney beans, split pea soup.
I decided that I was a can of apricot halves.
She said that the shelf was only one can deep
but that it stretched out forever
so there’s always room
for one more.
“You don’t have to be afraid that adding another can
means there isn’t enough room for you,”she said.
“You can even help a new can
onto the shelf next to you.”
And she never talked
about jealousy again.
© April Halprin Wayland
All drawings by April Halprin Wayland