Please welcome today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 guest, Shelley Smithson, a fellow Michigander. I love Shelley’s realization that there is no “typical” writer. We’re all unique and have stories to write only we can tell. Writing is indeed a “calling.” Thank you, Shelley, for sharing your journey with us!
The 12 x 12 writing challenge has been eye opening to me in a number of different ways.
As a psychotherapist now in my early 60’s (how can that be?), I listen to people as they share uncomfortable aspects of their lives and often find my mind wandering back to picture books my children loved when they were little that address these very issues from fresh, open, innocent perspectives.
Over the years, I would fantasize about the possibility of addressing these concerns in the form of picture book manuscripts, but then felt that perhaps that was merely wishful thinking and not anything to be taken seriously.
But the urge to write kept tugging at me. With my children older now and more or less on their own, I have time to dedicate myself to the hours it seems to require to take ideas that seem almost simple and then try, over and over again, to get a story onto paper in a form that is captivating and helpful.
12 x 12 has taught me that people come to writing from many different backgrounds and training and that has made me feel that there is no such thing as a typical “writer”. I relish this perspective that 12 x 12 provides-a sense that writing comes from an internal calling and there is not a specific “requirement” one has to meet in order to delve into serious writing.
I also appreciate how inclusive 12 x 12 is and how much I am learning about specifics of the craft of picture book writing, from all the opportunities to read people’s works, attend the webinars, and use learning resources that are posted.
I have become a member of two online critique groups via the communication forums set up on the website. These two groups each have their own “personality” and provide such a sense of safety and camaraderie. Within these groups, we have diversity of age, location, and literary or illustration interests. Culturally and ethnically I am not sure of the backgrounds that we represent but we have had talk of meeting up personally at some point and perhaps the bonds can then be deepened.
One final aspect of 12 x 12 that I want to mention is that writing can feel intimidating and 12 x 12 seems to help take the edge off of that in a soulful way. There is a place within all of us, I believe, that wants to share stories in part because we love to connect and learn from one another on levels that deal with emotions, our humble states as human beings and life experiences. So there is a sense of “putting oneself” out there in joining this kind of group.
I am reminded of this feeling often when new clients in my psychotherapy practice let me know that they feel they are taking a risk to come in and begin a dialogue that has no clear destination or path. Well, I felt that way myself at the start of this venture to write more and fortunately had a great experience when I attended an SCBWI conference for the first time in October of 2013 (the Michigan autumn annual conference). I told a conference chair who was at the check-in desk, when she asked me how I was, that I was actually feeling nervous about attending the conference. She looked at me (Leslie Helakoski) and told me that it was natural to be nervous and that I was at the right place, that people take care of one another at these conferences and barriers are broken down, not created.
My whole experience has been this way going forward over these past two years, with 12 x 12 continuing in the spirit of welcoming people and giving the message that there can never be too many writers.
Shelley Smithson resides in East Lansing MI and fell in love with picture books when her two now-grown children were little. She found the stories enriching and the illustrations remarkable. As a psychotherapist full time, she finds the work with people inspiring her as well to delve more seriously into writing, with more freedom to create stories that focus on emotional journeys. Shelley lives with her husband of 36 years, also a psychotherapist, and enjoys piano, singing and volunteer work.