This past weekend I dusted off the ol' printed portfolio, donned my grey crochet cliche beret and headed to a day-long SCBWI workshop. Gulping down my fish-out-of-water trepidation, I sat reverently and listened as three successful illustrator and author professionals taught us how to be astonishing. I'm not sure I'm ready to be astonishing just yet, but my mom-sabbatical is nearing an end. I will soon only have one remaining child not in school all day, and I am at least ready to start gearing up for astonishing...-ness.
Among many great words of advice, there are two main things I thought I would share here as they will apply to you writers as well. First of all, the great Will Terry spent a lot of time talking about the ways to take advantage of the technology we have today. In particular, he focused on using social media. He emphasized the importance of networking. I'm a little loath to sacrifice my personal use of Facebook to my career, but he recommended that we do just that, using it as a forum for announcements, networking, and generating interest in your past, current, and upcoming projects. He also said you've got to blog and do it faithfully. If you don't post in a long time, you will lose your audience. He also recommended doing how-to videos or interviews and post them on youtube. Make yourself highly visible and searchable. And absolutely have a website dedicated to your work. As an illustrator, it's imperative that you have an online portfolio. And slap your web address on everything. You can even get one of those nifty scan codes that allow people with smart phones to go directly to your site. Not sure where, but somewhere...
But the advice I loved best, because it is something I have long felt, was that we need to redefine ourselves as creators. Don't pigeonhole yourself as an illustrator or an author or whatever it may be. Think broader and include all aspects of your life and interests. This will enrich your work and broaden your possibilities. It will also keep you a more well-rounded person.
I first realized I needed to think of myself this way the first time I showed my future husband my art portfolio. Up until that time, one of the first things I wanted people to know about me was that I was an artist. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I even flaunted it. But when my husband-to-be saw my art the first time, he didn't seem that impressed. He flipped through the pages with nary a comment, and soon afterward we said goodnight. I didn't know whether to rant or cry. I felt like the attractiveness rug had been pulled out from under my feet. If he didn't like me for my talents, how would I ever be able to keep him interested in me?? After some thought, though, I realized I didn't want to be loved for my talents. I wanted to be loved for ME. Which meant I needed to work on me even more than my art. A wise friend once counseled my husband (who is a musician) to make sure that along with developing his talents he also develops his soul and character. Otherwise his work will always be hollow, and it will be hard to hide that.
We are all creators. In the words of Deiter F. Uchtdorf, "We each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before." We all want to create a work of art that is great and memorable, but don't discount the many other ways you can create. Some days it may be a casserole for your sick neighbor, and some days it may be a well ordered flower bed in your yard. Some days it may simply be a smile, but don't ever feel like you are unfulfilled as a creator. Just broaden your definition of who you are and what you are here to do.
And write or draw whenever you can.