Write Now . . .

WRITE NOW…with Jen White

 

AuthorPhotoJenWhite

There is nothing “almost brave” about Jen White’s debut novel. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is big and bright and full of courage and heart. And there is nothing “almost brave” about Jen White–particularly when she talks about finding her way back from her “maybe place.” Her wise words resonate and offer light to us all as we struggle through our own murky worlds of maybe. It’s my pleasure to welcome on WRITE NOW, the lovely, and most certainly brave, Jen White.

Writing Through the Maybe Place

Last week, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by my three-year-old daughter; her small face inches from mine, her slight breath on my face. I felt her before I saw her.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“My mouth hurts,” she said.

I turned on the light to inspect the inside of her mouth. It looked normal. My husband woke. He gave her acetaminophen, thinking maybe she had a sore throat, and then put her back to bed. Just as I was about to drift off, I heard the pad of small steps across our bedroom floor and the familiar clink of the ring attached to her pacifier as she walked.

I sat up and called her name.

No response.

My husband said, “She’s asleep.”

“No,” I said. “She’s up.”

I called her name again. But the house remained silent. I got up and felt my way across the bedroom to check the bathroom, my closet, the hallway, the laundry room, her room…no three-year-old. And just as the worry started to rise in my chest, I saw her in the dark, crouched against the wall, wrapped in her blanket.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m hungry.”

It was one o’clock in the morning. And generally, with five children in the house, I say no to middle of the night mealtimes, and normally I would have put her back to bed, but….

Maybe it was the way she whispered, “Say yes, Mommy.” Or the way her eyes seemed almost too bright, too fully awake, that I let her lead me by the hand, the two of us like mirrored ghosts–one large and one small, down the dark stairway toward the kitchen.

A house is a different place in the early morning. It felt almost shrouded in a mist of fairy dust, like an unexpected secret. We stared at one another over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (her request any time of day when food is being offered).

She sat on the stool at the island, and ate her sandwich in silence–her eyes round and clear. The great window in our kitchen, which usually framed our backyard–grass, patio, trampoline, fireplace–was now gone, replaced with nothing but a deep, inky black.

“Where’d the park go?” she asked suddenly, a worried crinkle between her eyes.

“It’s outside,” I said.

She seemed to take that in, but stared into the dark night like she didn’t believe me.

“Where’s the beach? And Disneyland?”

“They’re outside,” I said, now understanding her concern. “They’re still there, even though you can’t see them. It’s just dark. The sun will be up tomorrow.”

She nodded. “Maybe,” she said.

I put her back into bed and then lay in my bed thinking about such a world where anything was possible. A three-year-old land where one day the beach existed and then in the next, maybe it didn’t. That world must seem like a gigantic vacuum, a precarious place without boundaries, but also with endless possibility. A maybe place.

JenWhiteBookCoverI believe this place is also where writers live. We can’t always see where our art will take us, but it’s the endless possibility–the maybes–that keep us writing. Dan Santat said in his 2015 Caldecott Acceptance speech for his book Beekle, “’Maybe’ is a dangerous place to be, because it fills your mind with hope, and sometimes that can be an awful thing.” What are the hopes that keep you writing? I have thought a lot about hope as my first book, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, was published only mere months ago. With its release came the maybes.

Maybes like:

1) Maybe my book will bomb.

2) Maybe it will be great.

3) Maybe the publishing company will forget to publish it.

4) Maybe it will get a second run.

5) Maybe no one will read it.

6) Maybe someone will read it.

7) Maybe this will be the only book I ever write.

8) Maybe I’ll write ten more.

See. The maybes are dangerous. Each one of those thoughts were equally terrifying because with art there is no norm.  There is no equation that will give you what you think you want. There is no formula that tells you, “Hey, you’ve made it. You’re an expert now.”

As a writer, in the beginning, I only wanted to ease the anxiety in my chest. And that would only happen if, first: I was brave enough to let someone read my work. Then I wanted the reader to like it. Then I wanted a publisher to like it. Then I wanted a good house to publish my book. Then I wanted to publish another. After traversing through these steps, I noticed my anxiety about my writing never waned. Sometimes it grew quieter, but it never went away, because deep down I thought maybe I didn’t deserve success…but then other days, I thought maybe I did. As a writer, there is always glorious hope trapped between terrifying maybes.

Austin Kleon calls this the “imposter syndrome,” a very real thing, he says, that runs rampant in educated people (Steal Like an Artist). This is where we think at any moment someone will discover that we don’t really know what we’re doing; that we’re faking it. A side note: As a general rule, no artist really knows what they are doing. Art is almost always winging it, a doing of what feels right. As we create, we have hope that our current inspiration will be just that: inspired. Steal Like an Artist

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”  How true. You have to wade through the creative process and reach the end to finally realize the full potential of what you’ve done. Even then, there are no statistics. There is no crystal ball. You can do all the research in the world, but when it comes to creativity, you have to go with your gut. You must jump in and create without a map or guide. And then, once your creation is finished, the mere production of it has to be your reward. I can now say from a place of experience, regardless of what you produce, someone will love it and someone will hate it. And that outside opinion can’t affect your ability to continue to create art.

Jandy Nelson says in her book I’ll Give You the Sun, “We wish with our hands, that’s what we do as artists.” Perhaps it’s that desire, that wish for something better, which keeps us creating even within the throngs of doubts and maybes. It’s that expectation of what art can provide that keeps us pushing forward. We stare out through the window at the dark night and trust that what we wish for is still out there. We take a step forward, not knowing what it will bring. It’s this step by step procession that makes creating art so very gratifying. I’ve decided, the maybe place can be a beautiful place to live, as long as hope is its friendly neighbor.

Jen White has a degree in English teaching and also earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is her debut novel and was born from the real experience of Jen being accidentally forgotten at a gas station with her younger sister and cousin.  Jen lives with her five children and husband in Southern California.
 
GIVEAWAY! We’re so excited that Jen is offering a signed copy of her wonderful new book, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, a Survival Journal, plus super cool book swag! Just comment on the post for a chance to win!

 

 

Posted in WRITE NOW... on 10/07/2015 06:00 am
 

8 Comments

  1. Lovely, lovely. And inspiring–thank you for this.

    Reply

  2. Thank you to both Jens- one for providing the blog and one for sharing the exciting and terrifying journey of a writer to publication.

    Reply

  3. Pamela Haskin

    It is the maybes that stop us from moving forward. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  4. Rebecca Wise Eklund

    Wow, I never really considered how all those maybes get in the way. It’s inspiring to hear it’s okay to let those go and create just for the sake of creating. Thank you! I’m running to the library right now to check out your book!

    Reply

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