Keep Shooting: Inspiration from Kwame Alexander

Last Thursday, I hesitated for a few seconds in front of the blue mailbox in my neighborhood. I held an enveloped copy of my latest picture book manuscript in my hand and wondered, is it good enough?

In October, SCBWI SoCal is hosting an Editor’s Day and I can’t wait to attend. I’ve been so energized and productive since SCBWI LA 2015 a few weeks ago and I know this upcoming event will keep my writing flame burning bright. I signed up for an individual manuscript critique with an editor at Editor’s Day. This takes my writing to a whole new level—someone outside of my immediate family and writer friends will read and critique my story. It’ll be read by an industry professional.

This is exciting but SCARY! And I know I’m not the first writer to feel this way. I did as much as possible to polish my story before sending it off in the mail, including waiting until the last minute! I’m a very punctual person and I rarely wait until a deadline to get a task done. But this was different. I wanted to use every second to compose a manuscript worthy of an editor’s time.

I originally wrote this story about five years ago while at UCSB. My family and friends love this story. My sister, who majored in studio art at UCSB, illustrated the story and created a bound version of it for her senior project. It was beautiful! The bound form aside, I dusted off the text a few months ago and realized it needed work. A LOT of work. A complete overhaul. Thank goodness for the writing classes I’ve taken and the research and growing up I’ve done in the last five years, because this story wouldn’t go anywhere if I sent it out in its original form. It was even written in full rhyme. EEEK!

So I revised and revised and revised. I wrote it in different POVs, different tenses, with different characters, and no rhyme. I went through many versions before I was happy with it. A made a book dummy and polished it further, especially in places where the language wasn’t as melodic and where flow needed tightening. In my eyes it was ready. And time was up if I wanted to send it off by the deadline.

But after all that work and revising, after I knew I was generally happy with where I’d taken the story, I still hesitated at the mailbox. Is it good enough? Will these even appeal to an editor? Who am I kidding? Self-doubt is a powerful feeling and it grows as you inch closer toward an accomplishment. I stood there for a few seconds before I remembered what poet and author Kwame Alexander said during his keynote at SCBWI LA; one of his basketball rules:

“It might look like a long shot but you’ll never make it if you don’t just keep shooting.” —Kwame Alexander

That’s all it took for me to muster the courage to let go of the envelope. This is me shooting. Signing up for an individual manuscript critique means putting myself and my work out there. If I don’t take chances and opportunities like this, I and I alone guarantee that my stories will never be published. This is a necessary step, a necessary shot, if I want to advance as a writer. Keep shooting, even when it feels like the longest shot you’ve ever taken.

So the manuscript is gone! It’s literally out of my hands now, at least until Editor’s Day. More to come on how this unfolds.

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