Words @ Play: Going forward

Welcome back to Words @ Play. I’m Jennifer J. Stewart.

When I signed on to be the Pima County Public Library’s Summer 2020 Writer in Residence last October, I had no idea of the changes in store for the world. No one did. Almost overnight, everyone had to pivot, and get used to what I call “the new abnormal.”

As I finish up my term, I want to acknowledge all the dedicated librarians who worked behind the scenes to make this program possible. Beth, Heather, Holly, Jen, Margie, and Renee—you rock. Thanks to them, I was able to present two virtual workshops. I wrote blog pieces on metaphors, the five senses, and advice to aspiring picture book writers. I advised writers during one-on-one virtual consultations, and I enjoyed commenting on the manuscripts that some of them were brave enough to share.

Now I look forward to returning to my own words, but before I go, I want to leave you with a piece of advice that has made all the difference to me. Write every day. Even for just a snippet of time, that’s enough to keep your creative well full. During this residency I have been starting my own daily writing practice with a haiku:

Starting a new book

Is like beginning a race

The end’s not in sight

Invite the muse to come play by creating your own writing practice.

I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry lately. There’s something freeing, maybe even subversive about poetry. Here’s a poem by Juanita Havill, a writer I admire and respect, who graciously allowed me to share this poem with you.

Poems Stay Free

In the hotel of my heart

no charge for poems

no matter how much

they cost me—

ordering room service,

dancing in the lobby,

zipping up and down in elevators,

filling buckets and buckets with

ice at midnight,

scribbling on every page

of hotel stationery.

Gotta love those poems.

Gotta let them stay free.

                        ©Juanita Havill (from Dear One: A Tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins)

Of course, you need more than a slice of time to sustain writing a novel or any long-form project. It’s important to carve out the hours you need to devote to your work. If you have to get up earlier or stay up later than everyone else in your home—so be it. It also means cutting out anything that impinges on your time or wastes it. (I’m looking at you, Shiny Internet.) Time allows you to find your focus.

The pandemic sloughed off the busyness of our lives, and reduced it to the essentials, with an added soupçon of anxiety. What helps me, and what I suspect will help you, is reading good books. After all, writers are readers first. If you need book recommendations, librarians are among the most helpful and knowledgeable people in the world. Currently, they are curating book bundles for all ages. Even though you can’t browse the stacks, you can place holds on recent award-winning books. You can even join a virtual book club through the library.

I recommend the following books, covering both the craft and business of writing. Some are tailored to those who want to write for children and young adults:

Bird by Bird

Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market

Novel & Short Story Writer's Market 2020

Free Within Ourselves

How to Be An Artist

Keep Going

The Magic Words

Mastering the Process

Neon Words

On Writing

Self-editing for Fiction Writers

Steering the Craft

The Way of the Writer

Write Away

Writer's Market 2020

Writing Magic

Writing Picture Books

Thank you for trusting me with your stories and your dreams. I’ll be crossing my fingers for you. Someday we can grab a coffee and chat from across a table.

Happy writing!

Jennifer J.