Our WOW this week is from the incredible Cynthia Leitich Smith, the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, and the forthcoming Diabolical (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperCollins) and Holler Loudly (Dutton). She has also published several middle grade and YA short stories.
Her website at cynthialeitichsmith.com/ was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest (so well deserved!) and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column. You can also find her on the Web at Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LiveJournal.
Your Only Real Competition is Yourself
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
You should read with a critical eye but also a celebratory one and consider what’s possible at the zenith of excellence. For that matter, you should reconsider phrases like “the zenith of excellence.”
Writing and reading are all about discourse. It’s worth knowing where your work falls in the conversation of books, where you’re making a fresh contribution and where you’re thoughtfully nodding to those who’ve come before.
But that’s secondary to facing off against yourself, day after day, page after page, for the rest of your writing life. In your literary art, set against an always-changing publishing landscape, this is where you should focus as a competitor.
Where you should challenge and s-t-r-e-t-c-h and go for the win.
If you’ve been competing against other writers, try instead to reframe them as friends, soldiers-at-arms, brothers and sisters, colleagues and especially teachers.
When I was in my writing apprenticeship, I studied Paula Danziger’s body of work. I read all of her books in the order that they were published.
She always had a sparkle, a kid-friendliness, an understanding of heart and humor. But what impressed me most was how she grew as a writer over time. Not always in a straight line. A book or two may not have been as strong as its predecessor. (Who knows? Maybe they were written in a different order.) But big picture, she pushed herself. She pushed against herself. She taught me the importance of that.
I’m talking about me versus me and what that means to my writing life. I’m talking about you versus you and what that might mean to yours.
It’s about starting over again and again like it matters—making no excuses, holding nothing back. Working in sprints and working in marathons. It’s about giving yourself a sidelong glance and saying, hey, that was fun. Rock on with what you’ve accomplished today. I appreciate your work, the skills you’ve built, and your passion.
Now, let’s write better tomorrow and the day after that and in the years to come.
Ready? Set. Write!