My daughter sang a solo in the school talent show this year. I was surprised, because lately, she doesn’t want to sing for us at all. Gone are the days of her belting out “Let it Go” for anyone who will listen. The preteen years have meant less living room performances, and more headphones and closed doors. So when she came to me with her music selected and a fire in her eyes about performing it, I was both proud and puzzled. Proud, because she is more brave than I will ever be. And puzzled, because how could singing in front of her entire school be an option, when singing in front of her family wasn’t?
If there’s one thing you’ve heard a million times at Sub It Club, it’s that putting our art out there for others to critique is difficult. And sometimes, I think it is easier for us to send our work out into the big, wide, publishing world, than it is to hand it to a friend and ask for feedback. Because out in that huge publishing abyss, we are (mostly) anonymous. If the work really stinks, then we get a form rejection or no response at all, and no one ever has to know. When we give our work to people we know, we are being vulnerable with folks we interact with on a regular basis. What if they decide I’m a terrible writer? What if they tell other people I’m a terrible writer? It’s scary. Singing in front of our family means the possibility of being hurt by the people we love the most.
But here’s the thing. Singing in front of our family is also full of wonderful possibility. The possibility of deepening relationship. The possibility of learning from others. The possibility of getting better! When we close ourselves off to exchanging manuscripts with others in the writing world, we close ourselves off to possibility. No matter how great a writer you are, we all have our blind spots. You might be great at description, but terrible at pacing. Or able to write a kick-ass beginning but your endings lack punch. By swapping manuscripts, we are able to both work on our weaknesses and build others up with our strengths.
Steve Light is amazing, and his newest picture book, SWAP!, is no exception. The detail in his artwork is so fun to pore over, both for kids and adults. In SWAP!, a pirate is unable to head back out to sea because of a broken-down ship. With a little help from a crew-mate, the pirate is able to trade for all the things he needs to repair it. He trades a button for a couple of teacups, the teacups for some rope, and so on, until he has everything he needs to get his ship back out on the water.
And the cool thing about it is, he starts with a button. A single button that has fallen off his coat. If he had stopped to think too hard about that button, he might not have done it. He might have told himself that surely a button was not enough. A button! No one will want a button! But someone did indeed want and need a button, enough to give him two teacups. He took the risk and it paid off.
Don’t we do this with our writing? We convince ourselves that it’s not good enough. No one will want what we have to offer. But if we don’t take the risk, we won’t gain the tools we need to rebuild our ship. It will never leave the dock. So, if you are not already getting feedback on your writing, (which you should be doing before you submit!) what do you need to do?
Get ready to SWAP!
- First…figure out what you have to offer. What are your strengths? Maybe you are just beginning and all you have is a single button. That’s okay! I guarantee you, there is someone out there whose coat is in need of a button just that size.
- Next…where do you need work? What are your weaknesses? If you need someplace to put your tea, you need to find someone with teacups to spare. Let me give you an example. For the first time this summer, I wrote a non-fiction picture book manuscript. And to top it off, it’s in verse. Two things I have never done before. I knew immediately I needed help, so I went to my friend who is gifted when it comes to poetry. I was asking her all these questions that felt silly, like, “Do all of the stanzas have to have the same number of lines?” Meeting with her was insanely helpful, and I wanted to return the favor. But when she gives me manuscripts in verse, I don’t feel like I can help her much with the poetry part. And she knows that. But what I can help her with is story structure, upping the tension, and creating endings that make a manuscript feel complete. So we swap, even though I often feel like a road-weary pirate, offering up a single button.
- And last…don’t be afraid to sing in front of your family! Find someone here in this fabulous Sub It Club community to exchange manuscripts with. I promise you, even if you go a little off-key, we’ll still love you! And we’ll feel that much better about being vulnerable when it’s our turn to step up to the mic.
Now me hearties…GO FORTH AND SWAP!
You can check out the SUB IT CLUB CRITIQUE PARTNER MATCHUP HERE.