Monday, March 25, 2013

The Productive Slacker

Over the weekend, I decided to take off my usual Productivity Cape and spend an afternoon at the movies.  I bought a ticket for "Rise of the Guardians" and guiltily walked into the theater, knowing that I should have been writing, or reading, or revising, or querying, or working on a grant.  But the movie had been out since December and would surely be out of the theaters soon--and besides, didn't I deserve a little break?

So I shut up my inner nagger, put on my 3D glasses, and promised myself I'd make up for my slacking off later.

A mere 97 minutes later, the credits were rolling and I walked out of the theater amidst throngs of chattering kids.  Some kids jabbered about the cool battles; a few giggly girls gushed that the tooth fairies were soooooo cute; and there were at least one or two boys who wanted the entire audience to know that the Australian, boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny was AWESOME.  Then in front of me, I watched a little girl take her mom's hand, look up and say, "Wow, that was so inspiring!"

If you haven't seen "Rise of the Guardians," I can vouch that this little girl was right on the money.   I wouldn't declare it the best animated movie I've ever seen (hey--you already know "The Lion King" holds that title in my book), but it was inspiring on so many different levels for different audiences, myself included.  I won't go into why the writer in me was inspired, or why the kids in the audience were inspired, because you should really go see it for yourself.  But a familiar white-bearded, red-suited, jolly old elf had this to say at a moment of revelation: 

"We are very busy bringing joy to children!  We don't have time for....children."

Ouch.  So harsh and yet, so very true.

I think it's incredibly easy for children's writers to get stuck in this situation.  We spend all our time writing, revising, querying, submitting, reading, researching, and doing everything we can so that one day, our books will find their way to children and bring them all the joy we've dreamed of.  But how many of us actually spend much time around children, or pay attention to the things they love?

At conferences and workshops, I always hear that aspiring writers should read, read, READ!  While I agree with this 100% (and then some), I also don't think it's nearly enough.  In a perfect world, kids would spend every moment of their free time snuggled up with a book, but that simply isn't the case.  Kids will always share their reading time (and attention spans) with going to movies, watching TV, and playing video games.  (And who knows what else in the future?!)  As writers, I think keeping up with children's book trends is incredibly important, but it's also our job to understand why they love a pony named Twilight Sparkle on TV, feel the urge to catch every Pokemon, and still want to see "Ice Age" movies after four installments on the big screen.

What can't you get from a book that you can from sitting in a movie theater with sixty kids?  Simply experiencing the story with them: what makes them laugh, or gasp, or kick your seat in boredom, or feel the need to tell their mom, "Wow, that was so inspiring!"  It may just make you realize how you can write more comically, or adventurous, or tweak a young reader's heartstrings in your own touching scene.  And it will certainly inspire you to create worlds and characters they love as much as an Australian, boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny.    

I don't have children of my own, but I feel very lucky that I have a little sister twelve years younger than myself who has helped keep my inner kiddo alive.  I will openly admit that I'd rather see a kids' movie than an adult one any day of the week, and that I adore TV shows on Cartoon Network and video games of the Mario variety.  (And yes, that's probably why I write about talking pirate ferrets and boys who turn into horses.)  But I also know how easy it is to get bogged down in the responsibilities of being a "good writer," and how weeks can go by when I meet more children in the pages of a book than in real life.

If that sounds like you from time to time, then maybe you're overdue for a trip to the movies, too.  (Or the local zoo--or video game store--or library--or any place kids congregate!)  I may have gone to "Rise of the Guardians" feeling guilty, but I left with more inspiration than an afternoon spent tweaking my synopsis and catching up on Twitter feeds has ever given me.

Note: Image is the DVD cover from "Rise of the Guardians."  It is (c) Dreamworks and linked from


  1. This is so true! I had the same dilemma while teaching. I was beig encouraged to work on mastering my art and yet had to spend so much time with students and student work! It's hard to find that balance even as a mom with what Should be an "easy" job... Motherhood! There's so much that goes into jobs in the arts world especially but it sounds like you do a good job balancing it out... And don't worry I will make sure my kids are ks powers readers :) we will have all your books right next to our Harry potters. Ill be out in July for two weeks, hope to see you then!!

    1. Exactly! It bet it was hard to find a balance between cultivating your own work and inspiring your students when you want to give 100% to both endeavors! (Which I know you did!) I'm sure all your students were incredibly inspired by the time they spent in your classroom. :)

      Awwww, you'll put me next to Rowling? I'm so honored! Haha, now I just have to get something published!

      Hope all is well and I get to see you this summer with your newest bundle of joy!

  2. Love this post so muchhh. I've been going to the book store with my dad and Eevee every week to read children's books and get a feel for what styles of illustration are being published vs what we have made. At first I got envious of a lot of these books with these very beautiful artistic/minimalistic/realistic/serious pictures but then I realized their appeal was primarily targeted at adults like myself, which makes sense bc I'm the one buying the books, but that the books children were actually pulling off the shelf to read on their own were very different (crazy/ bubbly/cartoonish) than the illustration styles I was initially drawn too. I know there are a trillion perfect instences already out there that appeal to both adults and children, which is the ideal, but i sure wouldnt be unhappy to only appeal to kids. Heck even Eevee is giving me a feel for child tastes at her young age just by watching which board books she tosses to the side and which ones she gingerly flips through and dedicates her very limited attention span to for more than 5minutes. Anyhow, this post is really great advice for anyone trying to make things that will make children happy because watching children interact with people's creations is truly the most inspiring.

    1. Oh, it makes me so happy that you liked this post! (And you totally read my mind--this dilemma absolutely applies to illustrators, too. I felt I was getting all rambly, so I didn't bring it up, but I'm very glad you did!)

      I think it's so wonderful that you're spending time looking at children's illustrations in book stores and studying how they appeal to different audiences. (And I'm sure Eevee will be extremely helpful in sharing her opinion as she grows--as well as keeping your inner-kid alive, too!) I agree--I wouldn't be unhappy just appealing to kids, either! :) I hope you are learning a lot from your bookstore browsing and can't wait to see some illustrations from you! (You need to join a Massachusetts SCBWI chapter missy!)