(Editor’s Note…If you’re like me, adjusting to a new, COVID-19 world is a bit stressful. Everywhere you look…radio, TV, newspapers, and even the internet…are stories of the latest stats from around the world. Hospitalizations. Unemployment. Social distancing. How do we keep our sanity in the middle of all the craziness?
BY STAYING CONNECTED WHILE STAYING SIX FEET APART
For the next several weeks, many of my writerly friends will be virtually dropping by to inspire, uplift, and make us laugh as we look for reminders that even the scariest of times do not last forever. I hope you enjoy this FEEL GOOD FRIDAYS series and if you want to know more about me, Donna L Martin, or my books, check out my Story Catcher Publishing website at www.storycatcherpublishing.com )
A LETTER TO YOU
by Heidi E Y Stemple
Owl Cottage on Phoenix Farm
Dear Socially Distant Creative Friends,
There is one thing writers say all the time. It comes in many forms. “Someday, I’ll get to that story.” “Someday, I’ll find a way to fix that manuscript.” “Someday, I’ll figure out what to do with that idea.”
Guess what—“Someday” is today.
It can be difficult to jumpstart a new project when your routine changes–more people in your house or fewer. Anxiety levels are high. Speaking engagements (those things that keep us afloat financially) and conferences (those things that feed us emotionally) are cancelled. We’re all counting toilet paper rolls and milk and eggs. It’s hard not to be consumed by the fear of the unknown future.
The first week I was home, I did what I always do with my anxiety—I organized. Shuffled books, cleaned out desk drawers, recycled a million pieces of paper. Then I had to come to grips with the fact that I needed to write. When I say “needed,” all you writers reading this know what I mean. Creative people function better when they are creating. I needed a kick in the pants artistically. For me, it’s always a poem that gets me up and running. I wrote this:
Quarantine with Cats
The cats don’t care
that my hair is growing gray
and my nails
are too long
because the nice man,
that’s not his real name,
isn’t around to cut them down
to a reasonable length for typing.
They could not care less
or even that I made sure to have 4 extra bags
of cat food.
They don’t know running out is a possibility
because they never have.
They are just happy
that their human
and under duress,
because it means
I am here.
All the time.
And though, I’m sure
they miss the nice little girl
that checks on them when I’m gone,
and plays with them,
which I never do,
And to be honest,
through the worry about both
mother and daughters,
and every tickle
at the back of my throat,
I am not unhappy
Slow is not something I’ve done
I’m thinking of knitting
I should write, but
creative hasn’t come yet.
And, I’m past worrying
when it disappears.
it always returns.
Fear and sickness both have the same
But, neither last long enough
to scare the muse
too far gone.
I’ll write again
when I can.
I’ll just sit with a couple cats.
When I write poetry like this, I give myself permission—permission to write without expectation, without revision, without caring what others think. I posted it on Facebook because I thought others might be helped by it. I sent it to my mom who told me I needed to change the line “too far gone” because it didn’t make sense and wasn’t needed. You see that, though she is right, I didn’t change it. Permission—to do something imperfect.
And, just like that, I was ready to tackle some other writing. Let the Someday projects begin!
Here’s what I have done since:
- Finished a manuscript that had all the right plot points but only about 20% of the right words. Sent it out.
- Revised and resubmitted a manuscript that an editor wanted completely changed and needed lots of research.
- Un-gendered (is that a word?) an entire manuscript from being about a girl (very specifically, not just pronouns) to being about a kid. I’m still fiddling with the ending.
- Worked on/reworked the first half of a nonfiction picture book with a co-author. It’s my turn to work and will do that today (I promise!)
- Reread and prioritized all the half-manuscripts on my desktop. Found 2 I would like to look at again.
- Made piles of the research books and articles I want to read to see if a couple ideas I have could be made into books.
None of these things took huge chunks of concentration, though some did take me into that wonderful headspace where everything but the project at hand melts away. They were all in some form of in-the-works. I have yet to start a brand-new story. But, I am working. I am writing. And, it is certainly helping get me through the now, month-long quarantine (I am not, technically quarantined—but I like a good word and “stay-at-home order just isn’t as good). It feels good to be writing—creating.
Think about some of those projects you have in your Someday pile. It’s time to revisit. Perhaps, that is looking through those saved tidbits that made you think, “this could be a story.” Maybe, it’s returning to a story that didn’t work. Or, your project could be going back and throwing out things that, now that you are further in your learning or your career, you know are not viable—and finding that one that may still be. Maybe, it is finally finding a critique group of trusted friends now that we are all developing new technological skills for not-in-person meetings. Maybe it’s re-envisioning an old, rejected picture book manuscript into a chapter book or a chapter book manuscript into a graphic novel. All these things are forward movement.
The anxiety and fear of the future unknowns are going to be with us for a while. The kids are going to be out of school longer than first guessed and they probably need help with math as you read this. Or, like me, you may be alone and missing humans. (The cats are nice, but…) We will all be touched by this illness and there is death all around us. I can’t help with that—I am in that rocking boat on the roiling seas with you. What I can tell you is that the muse is not lost forever. If you are struggling with her absence, looking back is a step towards moving forward. Grab something from your Someday pile or file. See if it sparks you to reimagine.
You got this. I believe in you.
Coming October 2020
A tornado, a blizzard, a forest fire, and a hurricane are met, in turn, with resilience and awe in this depiction of nature’s power and our own.
In the face of our shifting climate, young children everywhere are finding themselves subject to unfamiliar and often frightening extreme weather. Beloved author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple address four distinct weather emergencies (a tornado, a blizzard, a forest fire, and a hurricane) with warm family stories of finding the joy in preparedness and resilience. Their honest reassurance leaves readers with the message: nature is powerful, but you are powerful, too. Illustrated in rich environmental tones and featuring additional information about storms in the back, this book educates, comforts, and empowers young readers in stormy or sunny weather, and all the weather in between.
Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published more than twenty-five books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
Heidi lives and writes on a big old farm in Massachusetts that she shares with one very small cat who lives inside, and a dozen deer, a family of bears, three coyotes, two bobcats, a gray fox, tons of birds, and some very fat groundhogs who live outside.