If you guys don’t know, Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a master’s program specifically for writing for children and young adults. This is a very cool thing. They actually accepted me and I got a degree there. Eventually, I was even awarded a Distinguished Alum degree at a surprise event in D.C, which was ridiculously cool and a great line for my obituary.
But when I started? I didn’t think I would ever get that far. That’s because I get super shy and social anxious about public events. I present an extrovert, but I basically have stage fright about things like singing in public, or going to board meetings or parties. I still go, but I get anxious ahead of time.
I was so anxious about going to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor. That is not the same as writing books for kids and I would be surrounded by people who were devoted to the craft of writing and that seemed so scary.
What was going to Vermont like?
Um…. It was great. No plots were stolen. I did not go to jail or die. All in all? I’d say it was a success.
But when I first got there it was a more than a little scary. I was petrified. You know how when you go into the cafeteria and realize that you know absolutely nobody. No, seriously, and everyone else looks like they know everybody else and so you just stand there with your tray … wondering how you can go into the kitchen and eat with the cooks because they seem really nice … the cooks.
And then you meet all the other people in your class and it feels like everyone is SOOOOOOOOO much cooler than you are and they all sort of have roles.
There was HE WHO WRITES YA SEX SCENES and SHE OF THE PEACEFUL POETRY and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN and PICTURE BOOK GURU and I AM FLUFFY and then of course, THE ONE CUTE GUY. This is a children’s writer’s program. There is usually one cute guy. There is also usually one ridiculously beautiful woman.
(Note: We were a rocking class because there were actually three cute boys out of our 18 writers. There was also three beautiful women. This made our class ultra-cool.)
Anyway, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everyone else was so cool, and basically I almost had a complete nervous breakdown the first residency until Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down and said, “Carrie, writers never feel like they fit in. That’s why we’re writers.”
And I said, “But I’m from Maine. I’m not used to all these people talking everywhere about writing. Actually, I’m not used to people, which is part of why I wear a parka inside buildings at all times. You can hide in a parka and pretend to be a snowman or something.”
And she said, “I know. I’m from Maine too, but it’s good. Really. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but it’s good. And parkas are fine.”
And it turned out she was right.
Everyone in my class at Vermont helped each other and HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES eventually WROTE PEACEFUL POETRY, occasionally and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN wrote an occasional picture book, and everyone in my class just basically loved each other, creating a happy ending much better than any 1980s teen movie and we eventually all crunched up together and looked all emotional and dramatic but right together. And we connected and learned.
And I kind of miss it because as Molly Ringwald (1980s actress always wearing pink or black) said in the movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, “Us loners got to stick together.”
And you know? Writers wrote that line. And they also wrote that movie. Which is why we all need to support each other because sometimes… well… we writers stink.
Anyway, I really miss learning about craft instead of teaching about craft and becoming an exponentially better writer because of these other amazing writer/teachers.
And I really miss throwing cookies at people in the cafeteria and then looking all happy-faced.
Us loners got to stick together, baby, and that counts for writers and readers both, and writing programs give us writers a place to do it. So congratulations to all my friends who are starting programs, and to all my friends who aren’t. Because, basically, we all have our own paths and they are all cool.
Well, almost all of us.
As C. JoyBell C. says,
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
A few years ago (in June) there was a Vermont College of Fine Arts party at American Library Association’s conference that I was completely stressed about? It was at Tami Lewis Brown’s House. Katherine Paterson was there and I had no idea what I was supposed to say if I actually met Katherine Paterson.
I mean, what do you say to someone who wrote THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA?
1. You made me cry 2. You made me make my own fantasy world in the woods in my backyard. 3. No, really you made me sob. 4. Can I have 1/100th of your talent? 5. Gasp! Chortle! Squee!
Well, I did NOT make a fool of myself about Katherine Patterson. And I didn’t avoid the author M. T. Anderson even though he’s so tall I find it intimidating.
And I ended up having to wear my cardigan the whole time because my dress was way too cleavage-y.
How do I know this? I know this because the doorman at the hotel stared at it and asked if I wanted to hang out. Really. And I am a children’s book author! I am supposed to be not the type of person the doorman thinks he can ask out.
I think part of the problem was I told him I loved him when he ran after the shuttle bus for me. Bad Carrie! Bad!
Side note: Don’t tell random people you love them even when you do love them in that moment.
Anyway, I went to the party and my hair was flat and I had a cardigan on even though it was 98 degree.
And then… and then…
Katherine and Tami made speeches about the awesomeness of Vermont College. I think Tobin may have too.
And then… And then…
They gave Kekla Magoon of awesome an award for being a distinguished alumna and she cried and was beautiful and I pet her on the back and tried to comfort her while thinking how awesome she is and then….
I GOT ONE TOO!
Seriously! I don’t know what they were thinking, but I was awarded a plaque and everything and I almost died because I kept thinking, “People are going to take pictures and I am wearing my dumpy cardigan to hide my cleavage AND my hair is flat. Crud. Crud. Crud. Why did nobody tell me?”
But it was amazing.
The whole time I kept thinking that I wouldn’t even be a writer if not for the people at Vermont College and how there are so many amazing graduates who deserved that award, and I kept looking out there in the crowd and seeing those amazing writers, and it was so completely humbling.
But then I also thought about how terrified I was when I first started at Vermont. Some people were already published. I had barely written one book. I felt – no, I knew – that I didn’t belong and I almost quit that first week because I knew there was no way I could possibly belong there with all those people who had been writing for forever and who knew all the terms like objective correlative and who all the publishing houses, and I knew nothing.
I didn’t believe in myself at all.
Lisa Jahn Clough and Emily Wing Smith and Ed Briant (who said something awesome at a reading to me) then Tim Wynne Jones were the reasons I toughed it out that first semester. I am so very glad I did because Vermont didn’t just make me into a writer it gave me a community of fellowship, of learning and of people who I adore (even if they are tall).
I am still trying to make it so I can deserve that award. I really am.
More than that though, I want to make it so everyone can get that kind of dumpy cardigan moment, to get loved and recognized. It might be for running after a shuttle bus. It might be for making a children’s book, but we get to choose who we are, how we interact with the world, who we can be.
I want so badly for everyone to choose empathy, to choose their own power, to choose to make the right choices. I want everyone to feel that love and recognition that I was lucky enough to feel that June.
Sometimes our fear of failure gets so super big that it keeps us from going towards our goals.
Do you know what I mean?
Like sometimes that fear keeps us from going after what it is we really want to do or be or experience? That’s how it is for me sometimes at least.
It almost kept me from getting an award
One time, fear almost held me back from experiencing what was probably one of the biggest moments in my little life. This is because I have social anxiety. It’s almost like stage fright. I’m so good when I’m at someone’s house or an event or a meeting, but before I get there? I spend most of my time thinking, “I do not want to go here. How do I not go here? Agh… Maybe they will cancel.”
But it isn’t because I don’t enjoy myself when I’m at my friend’s house or at an event. I love being at friends’ houses and events. I present as an extrovert and I love people.
Honesty moment: Sometimes I totally don’t enjoy myself at a meeting and my anxiety makes sense because being bored is not fun.
Anyways, my ahead-of-time anxiety comes from this weird fear of failure – that I won’t be good enough, that I will be too awkward, that people will make fun of me.
It’s all pretty second grade.
A couple of years ago this fear almost kept me from a really cool life event. I was in D.C. for some American Library Association conference. And there was a Vermont College of Fine Arts party that I was so stressed about. It was at Tami Lewis Brown’s House. Katherine Paterson was going to be there.
Yes, that Katherine Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson!
I totally didn’t want to go. I was stressed about making a fool of myself in front of Katherine Paterson.
And to make it worse, I was totally freaked out about how I could avoid M. T. Anderson because he’s so tall I found it intimidating. And his book FEED was why I even applied to Vermont College. He taught there then.
And I was worried about what I was wearing because my social anxiety sends me right back into a spiral of awkward worries about superficial things.
To be fair, it was summer. So people wore dresses and sleeveless dresses. I am from Maine. I am used to fleece and flannel.
And I ended up having to wear my cardigan the whole time because my dress was way too cleavage-y.
How do I know this? I know this because the doorman at the hotel stared at it and asked if I wanted to “hang out.”
And I am a children’s book author! I am supposed to be not the type of person people can ask out. Wait. Am I??
Or the type that is supposed to have their boobs hang out?
I mean, either meaning of ‘hang out?’ It wasn’t a good thing.
Anyways, I think part of the problem was I told the doorman that I loved him when he ran after the shuttle bus for me. Bad Carrie! Bad!
So, I sat on the shuttle bus, buttoning my cardigan, almost hyperventilating.
I resisted the urge to scream, “STOP THE SHUTTLE BUS!”
I resisted the urge to slip out of the shuttle when it stopped and call a cab that could take me back to the hotel.
I resisted and resisted.
And I went to the party and my hair was flat and I had a cardigan on (and buttoned) even though it was 98 degrees and then…. and then….Katherine and Tami made speeches about the awesomeness of Vermont College. I think Tobin (M.T. Anderson) may have too. And then… And then… They gave Kekla Magoon of Awesome an award for being a distinguished alumna and she cried and was beautiful and I patted her on the back and tried to tell her how she was great and deserved this so much, all while thinking how awesome she is and then…. and then….
I GOT ONE TOO!
I look short don’t I? And Tobin looks tall and intimidating. And Katherine, Tammy, and Kekla had enough confidence to be sleeveless. Then there’s me… in a cardigan.
Seriously! I don’t know what they were doing giving me that, but I was awarded a plaque and everything and I almost died because I kept thinking, “People are going to take pictures and I am wearing my dumpy cardigan to hide my cleavage AND my hair is flat. Crud. Crud. Crud. Why did nobody tell me?”
But it was amazing. And the whole time I kept thinking that I wouldn’t even be a writer if not for the people at Vermont College and how there are so many brilliant graduates who deserved that award, and I kept looking out there in the crowd and seeing those freaking phenomenal writers and it was so completely humbling.
But then I also thought about how terrified I was when I first started at Vermont and how that fear of failing and not fitting in almost kept me from being there. Some people were already published. I had barely written one book draft if you don’t count books written in spiral notebooks in grade school.
I felt – no, I knew – that I didn’t belong and I almost quit that first week because I knew there was no way I could possibly belong there with all those people who had been writing for forever and who knew all the terms and all the publishing houses and I knew nothing.
I didn’t believe in myself at all. I was positive I would fail and I was SO AFRAID, bitterly afraid.
Lisa Jahn Clough and Emily Wing Smith and Ed Briant (who said something awesome at a reading to me) and then Tim Wynne Jones were the reasons I toughed it out that first semester. I am so very glad I did because Vermont didn’t just make me into a writer it gave me a community of fellowship, of learning and of people who I adore (even if they are tall).
And I promised myself that I was going to do my best to write books kids deserve and make it so I could deserve that award, which I almost didn’t get because:
I almost missed the shuttle on purpose
I almost went on a date with the hotel doorman – no just kidding!
My fear of failing in front of people was SO overwhelming that it took everything I had to go.
So, how do you fight your fear of failure? Here is how I do it.
Tough Love Yourself
Realize that if you don’t try, you’re not going to have the experience. Imagine how crappy you’re going to feel if you don’t at least try to write a novel when all you want to do is be a novelist. Realize, that you can’t publish a book unless you submit it.
IMAGINE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES And Realize that they aren’t that bad, Honestly
When my daughter Em was little and stressed about something and/or failing I’d say, “Buddy. Is anyone going to die if you fail? Will you go to jail if you fail? Will you be forever injured? Then do it. Nothing horrifying will happen.”
I tell this to myself, too.
MAKE SMALL GOALS AND NOTICE WHEN YOU REACH THEM
Thinking about writing an entire series of novels can be overwhelming. For some of my students, thinking about writing 80,000 words (basically one YA novel) is terrifying and they are certain that they will fail when they think of it that way.
This is why I never think of it that way.
You put your big goal into smaller, more attainable bites. Writing 250 words a day for five days a week doesn’t seem as potentially fail-possible as writing 80,0000 words. And when you hit that goal? Allow yourself to notice, to feel your success. Train yourself to be successful so that failure feels like a really far away thing.
Have an Escape Route
Lots of times when we think; I am going to completely fail as a writer and have no job and go bankrupt, it helps to have a cushion, a back-up plan.
When the Emster was applying to colleges, she had a back-up college, but she also had a contingency plan about what to do if she got in nowhere. She’d take a gap year and try again. Maybe get a couple cool life experiences and skills.
In writing, when you fail? You do the same thing. Rethink your story’s structure. Start over again with your writing goal. Find a new way to get what you want, but the most important thing is to actually enjoy doing what you’re doing. Goals are awesome, but most of your life is spent is in process not achievement. Make sure you love the process and/or task so much that it doesn’t matter if you’re what society defines as ‘successful’ or not.
Sidenote: I was having all sorts of issues with wordpress yesterday so Do Good Wednesday is actually being posted on Thursday. It’s probably still Wednesday somewhere in the world, right?
Here is a cool and amazing project that Rotary International is doing. If you can’t help financially? That’s totally okay. Just tell the world about the project and/or Rotary. It’s 1.2 million people all around the world doing good, making change and taking action all while making friends.
And the project?
Here’s what Kate Sieber of Rotary quickly says about it:
“Rotary members from Durango, Colorado, USA, team with the Navajo Nation to bring solar lights to remote, off-the-grid homes on the country’s largest Native American reservation.”
The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.
PRAISE FOR CARRIE JONES AND WRITE. SUBMIT. SUPPORT:
“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”
I swear, I did not pay anyone to say that. I didn’t even ask them to say it. The Writing Barn just told me that the feedback had intensely kind things like that and gave me a quote.
FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
These books are out there in the world thanks to Tor.
What books? Well, cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.
This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action–School Library Journal
TIME STOPPERS THE MIDDLE GRADE SERIES OF AWESOME
Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.
Time Stoppers Front and Back Covers – US versions
Time Stopper Series
Dogs are Smarter Than People
And finally, our podcast had a new episode Tuesday. You can check it out here. It’s about making your characters and yourself memorable.
If you enjoy podcast, we’d be so super grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or subscribing to it on iTunes or Stitcher or rating it there or somewhere. Thank you! We know it’s a super small thing, but it means so much to us.