Election Reflections & Caring for Your Creative Heart

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

This week I’ve caught myself for two minutes here, five minutes there, reading a scene from my manuscript in progress.

Not to edit it. Not because I’m nervous about what my new editor will say (that won’t kick in for another couple of weeks).

Not because I don’t have other things to do. I’m busy teaching and writing speeches.

This week I’m reaching for my work in progress because it comforts me. It’s tangible proof that I’m working steadily to the best of my ability to offer something positive to this world, to its future.

I feel a need for tangible proof right now. I’m holding myself accountable and weighing my efforts.

Of late, several writers and illustrators have thoughtfully spoken with me about navigating the dialogue around the current U.S. presidential election.

Here are my thoughts:

First, engage in nurturing self-care. As creative people, we must be courageous and empathetic. That makes us vulnerable. As a creative community, we must take emotional and mental health seriously.

Especially for diverse writers–more so for those who’re also women, the landscape is precarious and allies too often undependable.

So, again, please take care of yourself and each other.

That said, no, you don’t have to surrender your freedom of political speech for your career. If you believe that your democracy is at stake, your community is at stake, know that publishing as an industry is not going to punish you for saying so.

As for the gatekeepers and the general public, yes, it’s possible that you may not sell a copy or, for that matter, two hundred copies of your book, if you speak out. It’s possible you may not be invited to a particular event or win a particular award because a given individual disagrees with you.

In a traditional partisan contest, with its typical rhetoric, it may be worth weighing whether to raise your voice or let your books do the talking, especially in cases where those particular books could save kids’ lives.

But, my friends, I seriously doubt any of that’s in play this time.

We’re talking about a national dialogue in which Tic Tac felt the need to issue a statement: “Tic Tac respects all women.”

You know, in case you were worried about the position of a mint company on gender.

We are neck deep in the surreal.

So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re triggered or baffled or or disheartened or outraged. Everyone I talk to keeps apologizing for having feelings. Of course you have feelings!

My suggestion: Participate in a way that preserves, reflects and/or affirms your creative life. If what’s best for you is to be quiet and go vote, okay. That’s fine. If you want to engage on Twitter and then go vote, that’s an option, too. But regardless, focus on your own work.

Continue to craft great books for children and teenagers. Maybe not this minute or this week, if you’re not up to it. But when you’re ready.

This is the world we’re giving to future generations, and those of you who create (produce, champion and connect) literature for young readers are among my heroes. Hang in there.

I believe in you.

Cynsational Notes 

Switch to Indigenous People’s Day by Yvonne Wakim Dennis from The Buffalo News. Peek: “While not a perfect panacea, a nationwide Indigenous People’s Day could be a powerful ‘first step’ to righting some of the wrongs indigenous peoples have suffered.”

See also Italian Americans Who Fought for Justice from Teaching a People’s History.

Indigenous People’s Day YA Collection from Lee & Low. Peek: “This Young Adult collection highlights indigenous cultures and the issues they face. These paperback and hardcover books for both on-grade level and struggling readers are sure to engage and offer a range of complexity to meet all students’ needs.” See also Interview: Shana Mlawski on the History Surrounding Christopher Columbus.

Best Books About Native Americans/First Nations by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

7 thoughts on “Election Reflections & Caring for Your Creative Heart

  1. Yes to all of this!!! Space, time, and comfort are so essential to creativity!

    It is so easy to be overwhelmed–especially because so many of us do so much and work so hard. After the first debate, I found that I had literally run out of gas. I searched for energy–in silence. In my favorite books. In Lake Michigan.

    I can't write when I don't feel safe. Writing well, at every stage, requires trust. Thanks for this reminder! I'm going to go take a walk!

  2. Thank you for this, Cynthia. I've been feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I have to speak out, and yet my "normal" is to focus on the positive, to inspire, to get along. But I can't be silent this year. I can't. I want to focus on my writing, but my heart is too angry and afraid right now. I take comfort in those of like mind who are also speaking out, respectfully and thoughtfully. This year, I think no one can be silent and survive.
    Cathy Lentes

  3. Thank you so much for this – it's been on my mind, of course, wondering if moral courage diminishes opportunity. But as my son once said, if we shrink away from it, it's not really courage. And so many of our wonderful books for children and young adults are stories about finding our voices. Each in our own way.

  4. Thank you for grounding me, Cyn. You're right–for some it's enough to stay inside and vote. And hooray! For me, I have to put on my boots and walk into the muck–I need to know I've done all I can, no matter the outcome.

    I have great faith in humanity, Cyn. We will heal. And you're right–our books will help in the healing.

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