It is the most delightful serendipity that a few months ago Julie Hedlund (founder of the picture book a month challenge known as 12 x 12 in 2012) and I agreed that she would do an interview for my blog on June 27th. At that time, we had no idea whatsoever that a celebration of the six-month half-way mark of 12 x 12 would be happening at the same time. Is this perfect timing, or what?
Like many others in the 12 x 12 “family,” I got to know Julie through the online PiBoIdMo challenge in which participants came up with 30 picture book ideas in the 30 days of November 2011. Julie then extended a challenge to us to attempt to write twelve actual picture book draft manuscripts in the coming year — 12 manuscripts in 12 months in 2012 — and 12 x 12 in 2012 was born. As I said in my post on Monday, we’ve since become an amazingly supportive, encouraging group, cheering each other on in so many ways. It has been, and continues to be, wonderful. You can learn more about 12 x 12 at Julie’s website.
Julie Hedlund is a picture book author, a member of SCBWI, a monthly contributor to author/illustrator Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast, and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Julie’s website is http://www.juliehedlund.com.
I am so grateful to Julie for taking the time to participate in this interview as we celebrate the half-way point in our challenge. So, let’s get on with the interview!
Me: Julie, many of us just “met” you when we were in PiBoIdMo last November, others have come to know you through 12×12, others of my readers haven’t met you at all – until now. Could you give us a brief overview of the life journey that brought you to this point in your life?
Julie: Wow, way to go straight to the jugular in the first question Beth! Just kidding of course. My path to become the writer I am today is so squiggly and circuitous that it even has loops in it! The short version of the story is that I’ve always been a writer in my heart, and a big part of me knew I had to share my stories with the world. Eventually, I decided it was time to get on with it after trying very hard to convince myself that I was meant for a “high-power,” corporate career. The long version, if your readers are interested, is on my About Page on my website.
Me: This week we’re celebrating the midway point of 12×12 in 2012, your challenge to us to create 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. I suspect that the reality of 12×12 has exceeded your expectations. How did you initially envision the challenge, how has it evolved over the past six months, and how has that evolution impacted your life?
Julie: To say that the reality of 12 x 12 has exceeded my expectations would be the world’s biggest understatement. I initially envisioned the challenge as a personal one that I would do on my own. Then, toward the end of PiBoIdMo last year, I decided it would be nice to have company. I expected maybe 30-50 of my most faithful blog followers who were also picture book writers to join me. I NEVER could have imagined we’d end up 400 strong!
One way the challenge has evolved has been how much the participants take care of and support each other. In the beginning, everyone was naturally looking to me and asking a lot of questions (the answers to which I made up as I went along!). Now, the participants buy and promote each other’s books, read and comment on each other’s blogs and share resources. If you want a great example of how this community works, check out author Susanna Hill’s April Fool, Phyllis World Tour.
The fact that I had a hand in creating this community is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, both personally and professionally. I’m sure it sounds corny, but I’ve always wanted to help people and to feel as if I am making some small difference in the world. The 12×12 has given me that in spades. When participants mention how the challenge has inspired them, helped them overcome their fears, made them feel like writers… it can bring me to tears.
It has impacted my life by proving to me (again – corny alert!) that we can all use whatever talents and gifts we have to make a difference. Just think of how many picture books that will have been written by the end of this year!! The fact is, many of those stories will be in the hands of children someday and will then work their magic in those children’s lives. This feels very gratifying.
Me: So many serendipitous things seem to have happened in your life because of 12×12, such as becoming a regular part of Katie Davis’s popular podcast “Brain Burps About Books.” On Brain Burps, you talk about gratitude. You also have a regular feature on your blog about gratitude. Would you be willing to share with my readers why gratitude means so much to you?
Julie: Practicing gratitude has shifted my entire worldview, which is why it means so much to me and why I want to encourage others to build a practice. I used to be a pretty negative person. So much so that my best friend once said to me, when I was lamenting one negative aspect of a mostly positive situation, “Don’t pull the gloom out of the jaws of happiness.”
The reason I call gratitude a “practice” is because it is not easy and it takes constant effort and reinforcement – much like writing. After a couple years of regular gratitude practice, I can say truthfully that I am more likely to see the good in a situation. Not only do I notice good things more, I make sure to appreciate them. Gratitude makes the bad things more bearable and the good things more wonderful. What’s not to love?
Me: I can’t help wondering if you sometimes feel as if 12×12 has taken over your life. How do you balance the demands of this rather unwieldy organism, your own writing, family responsibilities, and the apparent myriad other things you do?
Julie: Um, I don’t really… I am still working on that balance, as I suspect all of us are. Ironically, although the existence of the challenge certainly takes a lot of my time, it also forces me to set aside time to get the writing done. I feel a responsibility as the founder to do the best job I can in my own challenge – LOL.
I continually experiment with different systems to maximize my chances of getting everything done that needs to get done. Setting short and long-term goals at the beginning of the year has helped a lot, because I track my progress to those. I have also had to learn how to prioritize, which means I’ve had to turn down some opportunities or discard story ideas that didn’t seem like the best use of my time.
I also try to get my kids involved in the writing process. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I took them to the library, and while I was working, I asked my daughter to search for books I needed for research. Then she read through them to see which ones she thought would be best. So, I’m not above child labor either!! 🙂
Me: In the midst of everything else, you have launched a new website. For those of us still just doing blogs, what does the website offer that a simple blog cannot? How did you decide that the time was right to take the step to a full-blown website?
Julie: I’m not sure every author needs both a website and a blog, but because I am expanding the “business” side of my writing, I wanted to have the flexibility of a full website that could include pages and tabs for products and services without disrupting or cluttering the blog. I also felt it was time to bring a more professional design into the mix since I was using an “out-of-the box” theme for my former blog.
Me: You’ve also launched a critiquing service. What was the impetus to branch out into this field? What types of critiquing/editing do you do? What is the process for submitting something to you for critique?
Julie: My impetus for starting a critique service was because people started asking me if I would critique their manuscripts! I’ve been a part of two critique groups for more than two years. I’ve also had my own work critiqued by many professionals in that time period – agents, editors and authors, so I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great critique. I apply that knowledge to each and every critique I give.
My personal philosophy is that a great critique will make the writer excited about revising the manuscript and about its possibilities.
Right now I am focusing on picture book critiques because I understand the craft and the market for those. I am especially excited about my Three Manuscript Special, which is geared toward 12 x 12 members who have now accumulated several manuscripts. We all know that agents want to see multiple manuscripts before taking on a PB client. This service is a way for writers to expedite the revision process on multiple manuscripts.
The process for submitting is simple. Choose which service you want on my Manuscript Critiques page, click the Buy button to pay. I get notified immediately and then I get in touch to schedule the critique. If you have questions you need answered first, you can contact me from my website or via email.
Me: You’ve mentioned on our Facebook Group that there may be a 12×12 challenge in 2013 as well. I was impressed that you want to build on the challenge into another year. Do you see it continuing in the same manner year by year? What are your long-term plans/hopes for 12×12?
Julie: I am definitely going to run the challenge again in 2013. So much good has come from the community that’s emerged, I couldn’t imagine disbanding it after one year. As for long-term plans? I’m taking it year by year at this point, and I also want input from the participants regarding how they’d like the challenge to evolve. I should mention that anyone who is interested in participating next year, whether new or returning, should fill out this form to make sure you receive all the pertinent information when it becomes available.
Me: When I look at all you are doing, I think that the sky is the limit for you – or perhaps you won’t even be limited by that. What do you hope will be in store for Julie Hedlund in the future?
Julie: What a great question (and you are also too kind)! Honestly, my greatest hope/desire at this point is to get my stories out into the world. Whether through traditional publishing, e-publishing or some form of publishing that hasn’t even been invented yet, I don’t much care. I’ve written stories I’m very proud of and that I want children (besides my own) to experience.
Me: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Julie: Only that I am honored you invited me to be on your Blog, Beth. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you this past year. You are so generous with your knowledge and talent. I have absolutely no doubt that the 12 x 12 group will be buying and promoting one of your titles in the near future!! I do hope we’ll get to meet in person one day. Thanks again!
Me: Thank you so much! I, too, hope we’ll get to meet in person one day. And congratulations, Julie, for leading the 12×12 group so successfully through our first six months of manuscripts. We each owe you a huge debt of gratitude.