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Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author is Dana Carey. When I was in Bologna, I met one of her critique partners, which made me feel one step closer to knowing her in person. Dana is the Associate Regional Advisor of SCBWI France, and as such, she has kindly made me an honorary member. I hope to one day make that more than honorary and visit them all there! Please welcome Dana!

Balancing Acts

One of the things I love about the 12 x 12 challenge is getting to know people who share an interest in picture books. Something you may not know about me is I’m an American living in France with a daughter I’ve been raising as a bilingual. I wanted her to know both families, French and American, to keep things balanced. Or at least as balanced as possible.

To do this, I speak to her exclusively in English and her father speaks to her in French. I swing back and forth between the two languages on a daily basis, sometimes within one conversation. It probably seems weird to others looking in but as a family, we’ve gotten used to it. I don’t live immersed in one foreign language and my French is fine but keeping both languages up to snuff is a concern.

We all strive for balance in our lives between family, job, friends and more with writing. Or illustrating. Or both. Some of you 12x12ers may be like me an author/illustrator. The dream is to have lots of great dummy books of our stories. And the hard part is doing both things at the same time and getting better at both.

What can we do to keep to everything balanced and progressing at more or less the same speed?

The 12 x 12 has been great in providing some balance for me. Instead of thinking about writing, I write. Every month! Especially when the 12X12 deadline looms: I have to get something down on paper. It swings the balance back.

A monthly critique group complements the 12 x 12. Through my SCBWI France chapter, I found a group that meets in Paris. One problem I live about 6 hours from there. But thanks to my Virtual Identity (I skype in), I’m part of the group. They put me on a sideboard while they gather round the dining room table of our host. Again, it may seem weird to others looking in but it works for us. And each month I have a rendez-vous with writing.

What about swinging back to illustration?

While I find time and distance a great help to revising texts, I find this to be less true with illustration. Breaking the chain of sketching page layouts or painting spreads slows progress. The more time I spend illustrating, the better it is. If I get sidetracked for awhile, diving back in is slower than diving back into writing. Much like if I were to stop writing a first draft of a picture book halfway in and let it go for a week or two. Doesn’t work for me but if I finish and come back to revise 2 weeks later, that’s perfect.

A skype meeting on Monday mornings with an illustration partner helps swing the balance back to illustration. To prepare, I scan in sketches or finished work from the week and email it. This makes me conscious of what I’m doing each week. Come Sunday night, I assess how I’ve spent my time. Sometimes all I have to send are rough sketches but this helps. For one thing, I realize I did do something. And I won’t forget those sketches by showing them to my partner I’ve legitimized the effort and can continue to push that work forward. All those sketches eventually add up to layouts, character studies, ideas for a portfolio piece.

We are all familiar with the “To Do” list (that daunting document that mocks us all week long). I’ve taken the Sunday night prep scanning a step further: writing the “Done” list everything I’ve actually accomplished during the week. I’m learning that a big part of balance is mental. I feel like I haven’t done enough but I did push things forward. Acknowledging my weekly accomplishments, however humble they may be, helps create
continuity and keeps me on track.

Swinging back and forth between French and English got easier over time. Happily, it has provided balance to my family my daughter loves talking to her American family and they are so happy that she can.

And I’m so happy Julie came up with this great challenge because it helps me even the scales between writing and illustrating. Imagine the “Done” list we’ll have at the end of the year! In the meantime, what do you do to maintain balance in your lives? Writing and illustrating? Or writing picture books/middle grade/young adult? Verse and prose? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Dana Carey was a graphic designer and art director in New York and then Paris, and later taught English in Versailles (Architecture School) and Paris (Art School). Now living in Brittany, she’s a pre-pubbed author/illustrator of picture books. She reads MG/YA books in English and writes reports in French for a French publisher as well as doing some translation and painting. Find her on twitter: @danaFR; facebook and at her blog: http://danacarey.blogspot.fr/.

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Please welcome author Rebecca Fyfe to the Tuesday 12 x 12 series.  She manages to write while raising seven children!  She didn’t stop at the 12 x 12 either – she’s also participating in February’s picture book marathon.  Whew!  Excuse me while I go take a nap… 🙂  Welcome Rebecca!

I first heard about the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge through my Facebook friend and author Jo Hart. She had joined the challenge and posted about it on Facebook as well as on her blog. Having previously written three children’s stories that were currently sitting on my computer without any idea what to do with them next, I knew that this challenge would be a great one for me.

Being a mom to seven children means that I have read a large amount of picture books (usually to my children as I tuck them into bed). Sometimes, I would make up stories to tell them instead of reading them a book, and often they would plead with me to tell them a “made-up story” because they always loved these stories. As a result, I have a library of ideas in my head for picture books which have never been written down.

With the new year arriving, I re-evaluated my writing goals for the year ahead and decided to set myself monthly writing goals in order to keep myself productive and to circumvent my tendency to procrastinate. Joining the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge seemed like the perfect way to both get those children’s story ideas of mine written down and to give myself a set time frame in order to do so.

After joining, I found out that the 12 x 12 in 2012 group on Facebook had opened up many new connections for me with other picture book writers and the whole community is so helpful and supportive that it has been a wonderful experience so far. I am enjoying reading the many blog posts from the different published and unpublished authors who have joined this challenge along with me.

As I attempt to get my stories out of my head and typed into my computer, I am learning that it is much easier to come up with the idea for a picture book than it is to write it down. Aside from finding the right idea to run with, there are word counts to consider and deciding whether to rhyme or not to rhyme. While it is a challenge paring down my stories to more acceptable word counts, I am enjoying the process and the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a story.

Rebecca Fyfe is a wife and mother to seven children, a writer, blogger and she writes kid-related health and fitness articles for a monthly magazine. She has a BA in English and an AA in Child Development. Born and raised in California, she now resides in the United Kingdom. She is an advocate for raising healthy children and has appeared in several national magazines and has appeared on the UK morning television show Daybreak.

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Today is the kick-off for the weekly Tuesday 12 x 12 series, which, each week will feature a pre-published 12 x 12 participating author and/or illustrator.  I hope this series will enable you to get to know these hard-working, talented people a bit better, and that you will discover some fabulous blogs to follow along the way.

I am thrilled to welcome Stacy Jensen today for the inaugural post in this series.  Stacy was one of my first regular blog followers, and she also hosted me on her blog for my very first guest post.  She is generous with her time and talent, and you can find the myriad ways to find and contact her at the end of this post.  Without further adieu, here is Stacy.

Which way to go with your writing? Photo credit: Stacy Jensen

Write Without Rules

Do you ever get confused about what to write? I do.

I read about writing rules on blogs and in books. I hear, “Oh, you can’t do that” in critique groups.  Or, “That’s a tough topic in this market.”

As I’ve been studying the craft of writing picture books, I decided to say “No more” to this chatter when I write. I turn off the rule checklist, stare at a blank piece of paper and go for it.

Last year, I wrote my first intentional picture book manuscript for a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ retreat. As I faced a deadline, I researched the basics of how to write a picture book, but realized I needed to scrap them and just write.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote in rhyme. I’m not very good at it. I should be in rhyming jail, but I did it anyway.

I drew a map of my main character’s neighborhood. I’m not an artist, but the black squiggles helped me visualize where my main character misbehaved in the story.

I studied my ABCs by creating a list of words for my story. It pushed me to not only consider the setting, but also the things, people and places my characters encounter in their world. Plus, I had to find logical items for Q, X, and Z.

I gave myself permission to be a newbie. I signed up for the retreat to learn. I submitted my manuscript to the published author in charge and my small group with no regret.

My drafts are layers in a larger project. Each draft is helping me reach my goal of submitting polished stories to an agent or publisher. I spend non-writing time studying trends, writing tips and word counts. These rules are applied to my story during the revision process.

Just like my son doesn’t like to hear “No” all the time, neither do the stories in my head. They just want to escape and explore the page for a bit before reality reels them in.

So, I’m writing my 12 x 12 in 2012 drafts like there are no rules.

How are rules part of your writing routine?  Can you live without them or do you need them?

Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she mothers a toddler at home, one boy in her picture book manuscripts, and a memoir manuscript. She does this with no rules in mind during the draft stage. You can find Stacy on her blog – http://stacysjensen.blogspot.com, Twitter – http://twitter.com/StacySJensen, and Facebook –  http://www.facebook.com/StacySJensen

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