If you know any Type A people (or are one yourself), you won’t be surprised to know that I like to write these letters well in advance of sharing them. This helps me avoid deadline-induced stress, and it allows me to put the letters out of sight for a while before I review, revise, and post them. (Authors who’ve worked with me: yes, I try to follow my own advice about putting drafts away between passes! It really does make it easier to return to what you’ve written with fresh eyes.)
However, I’ve found it more difficult to write over the last few weeks. While I’ll talk about dealing with writer’s block in a future letter, today I wanted to touch on the times when it’s hard to see the value or remember the importance of your creative work—especially in the face of everything else going on in the world.
What this looks like for me: I have a list of ideas and topics I’d like to write about, but when I try to get them down on paper, my mind jumps from the topic at hand to everything else that’s going on in the world. I start to lose my train of thought, to worry about the most recent headlines, to scold myself for not being able to just organize my ideas on the page, and to criticize myself for trying to do so at all. Before I know it, I’ve used up my time and have only jumble of false starts to show for it.
This struggle certainly isn’t unique to me or even to this period of time. I’ve seen writers, artists, editors, agents, and others expressing similar sentiments, recently as well as in previous years. I wish I could say that these struggles are temporary, but the truth is that many of the traits that drive the creative process—empathy, sensitivity, curiosity, kindness, imagination—can also make us paralyzingly attuned to the painful and urgent injustices in our world.
While each of us has different approaches for engaging with current events and prioritizing our responses, what I can share from a creative standpoint are two reminders that have resonated with me and helped me refocus. The first is that, in addition to making monetary donations, we can often make the largest impact when we utilize our individual strengths and skills. For those of us in the book world, that impact can start with the books we write, represent, edit, publish, buy, and share. We can also make an impact by adding our voices, expertise, efforts, and support to those already doing important work, such as volunteering with local literacy initiatives; supporting organizations like We Need Diverse Books; participating in author-driven charity auctions; and supporting the work of marginalized and vulnerable creators.
The second reminder is that stories offer sustenance, especially to kids and teens. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote, books provide readers with windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Stories help us feel less alone; they build courage and hope; they help us to process the incomprehensible; they offer much-needed moments of joy, inspiration, and escape; they foster empathy for ourselves and for others; and they show kids and teens that they—and their actions—matter.
I’ve been lucky enough to see firsthand how deeply children’s book authors and illustrators care about kids and teens. I’ve also seen how they can struggle to prioritize or celebrate their work during challenging and uncertain times. If you’re struggling, I hope that you can remember the value of your work; give yourself grace on difficult days; take time to celebrate every achievement; and find the support you need to keep moving forward and making an impact.
Your Editor Friend,
P.S. If you found this letter helpful, please consider sharing it with a friend or subscribing to receive letters straight to your inbox every Wednesday. If you’d like to say hello, share feedback, or submit a question that I might answer in a future letter, please email me or ask me a question anonymously! I’d love to hear from you.