I don’t like making resolutions. Instead, I make creative goals and an image to remind me of my path all year long. Read on as I review the year behind, look forward to the year ahead, and spill the beans (just a tiny spill) on a secret.
Forgive me if I ramble a bit. My thoughts don’t feel quite cohesive yet, but the goals and pictures are all there. It’s a new year.
A new year usually makes me think of what lies ahead in pursuing my lifelong dream, what work there is to be done. Yet this year, I’m taking two different frames of mind. First, I’m feeling lucky. That doesn’t mean I haven’t done the work to feel that way, just that I’m starting to see some of the fruit of my labor (even if it is only a first meager crop).
This year, I wrote twelve new picture book manuscripts (and I’d say at least 10 of them are viable for publication). One of those was a story I’d hemmed and hawed over writing for three years. I finally forced myself to write a first draft, revised it quite a few times, and took it to a couple of SCBWI webinars for professional feedback. I had two very positive responses from agents that left me floating a bit with hope. Nothing has come of it yet; there are still major revisions of that story ahead. And yet, the potential looms large. I created one brand new dummy from scratch for another manuscript with a nonfiction backbone that I’m looking forward to exploring on a trip next June. I might actually get to see my story’s subject! And most surprising of all (are you ready for this secret?) … I signed my very first book contract.
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but I’ve been afraid of jinxing it. Even now, I’m still afraid of doing so as it feels surreal. It’s only a manuscript (not illustration work) that sold and it’s with a small press in Hawaii that I’ve always loved. I’m not hearing a lot of details at this stage of the game so I can’t update anyone on anything (nor do I know what’s safe to share). They told me the book might come out as early as this summer (2023!). BUT there’s no definitive timeline for anything, just yet. That’s about all I feel comfortable sharing, but trust me, there are more stories to come this year about this whole thing. In the meantime, I’m absolutely elated. YAY!
On the other hand, my other frame of mind is full of … struggle. Let me explain. Perhaps it’s a bit of imposter syndrome where my art is concerned, but honestly, that’s not really it. I know my art work has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. I saw some of my first drawings crop up in a memory and I can’t believe the stuff I started posting on socials back then. CRINGE! But I keep hearing from feedback on my art work that I have “great ideas, just work on the skills.” My basic art skills … well, they are a constant struggle. I’m self-taught but I’ve had drawing and art classes pretty much ever since I can remember.
Recently I heard Will Terry say something at our SCBWI Making Waves (an online illustration event Alaska does every fall so far) that kinda dug roots in my thoughts. He talked about the most talented illustration students in his class rarely making it through to an illustration career because everything came easy for them. When it came time to struggle, they couldn’t bear it. I’m really feeling the struggle right now with my art, but I’m preparing to face it head on this year. My goal is to grapple with my struggle like a wrestler. I’m going to get dirty and sweaty with the struggle. I’m probably even going to cry over the struggle at times, because it will be HARD. But I’m determined to come out the other side of this year with better art work.
That being said, my year ahead feels daunting. In some ways, it feels exactly like this:
BUT it might be better to look at it this way:
Because ultimately this is only the starting trail marker of my journey ahead. The path might be long and difficult, but there is an end to it somewhere. And I’m determined to find the end of this path. That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there might not be another path for me to follow next year. But for now, I’m taking this one.
I found this quote by Neil Gaiman and it feels weirdly appropriate to all of this as well.
I plan to make mistakes. I plan to push myself to the point of breaking (but not quite). I plan to work hard and change the problems I’m seeing regularly with my art. It’s the only way forward for me, if I truly want to illustrate my own stories someday.
And so, this brings me to the two images I created for my goals this year. I don’t know if you need them like I do. I don’t know if they’ll inspire you, but I share them here nonetheless. First, there’s this one:
This is how I feel right now. I’m stuck in the muck. I’m bogged down. And yet, I can tell by the cattle approaching, that I won’t be in the mud forever. I will struggle, but soon enough, I will see my crops growing if I persevere.
Second, there’s this image:
Again, it’s all about the current struggle, and yet … this is “me” in the middle of my mountain (note: this isn’t a picture of me for real, I’m using a metaphor). If I don’t climb, if I don’t keep pressing on, I can never reach the top. But look at this picture. We know that there’s a top somewhere just out of sight.
That is the goal I’m working towards. That is my inspiration for the year ahead. I might feel lucky, like I’m on the verge of change, but I know there’s still work ahead of me if I’m going to get there. Of course, the other option is to quit, but I refuse to do so after all the work I’ve done. I don’t want to leave my tractor in the field. I don’t want to climb down the mountain. Look at the progress I’ve made! I absolutely cannot back down now. Plus, there’s a deep desire–a dream so big it scares me constantly–and it refuses to let me quit. I must struggle for every inch I want to move forward, but I’m going to keep my head down as I climb. Maybe someday I’ll make it, but for now, I’m ready to feel the sting in every muscle as I struggle forward.
12 thoughts on “2023: Goals and secrets”
Love those graphics and the idea of the struggle. It is very real, my friend. I’m in the same stage. Let’s win or learn! Might need to copy that one. Also, LOVE your postcard! Such a great idea! LOVE your art!
Congratulations, Jena! And please never cringe at your creativity. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and goals and all the wonderful images. A Blessed New Year to you!
Thank you Marsha. Happy New Year to you too!
Do not give up, and it sounds like you won’t. Balance on that rock until you can reach the other foot up. Climb off the tractor and push. Go.
Aww! Thank you Karen. I most definitely will keep going. 😊❤️
Jena!!! This is wonderful! I can’t wait to hear the details when you’re allowed to share them. You have helped so many writers and artists–I’m thrilled to see that your own dreams are coming true!
Thank you Janet. I’m very excited and will share as much as I can as soon as possible. 😊❤️
Great thoughts, Jena! Congrats on signing a contract! I hope 2023 is full of more good things!!
Thank you Marci!
I’m SO excited to hear more about your book!! YAY! And YES to all of the rest of it. It is ALL struggle, but only those of us who keep on keeping on will ever reach the top. You’ve got this!!! xoxo
Thank you Rebecca. 😊❤️
Congratulations on your book deal! And keep up the struggle. If you enjoy the work, the benefits will come.