Even though these topics are a bit behind “schedule” they are very much still relevant, so here is a November-ish newsletter in early December.
First off, November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. But let’s be real, in our house every single day, and every single minute, are drowning in epilepsy awareness. At the bottom of this newsletter I’ve shared my top epilepsy facts and basic seizure first aid that every person (especially parents and teachers) should know. I am not a medical professional, so please visit the Epilepsy Foundation and Dravet Foundation websites for more in-depth information.
I also came across this amazing video of a singer stopping his concert and assisting with a seizure rescue in the crowd. It’s truly wonderful, I am so thankful this singer did what they did, but it highlights how even trained event staff and first responders often do not know basic seizure first aid. We should all know. You can too… just scroll on down or keep reading :-)
Thanksgiving may be behind us, but I am still reflecting on the many things I’m grateful for. My family. My home. Seizure-free days that are (finally!!) happening. Spicy chai tea. Christmas decorations. The time to work on things that fire up my soul. And additionally, something that I didn’t know would play such a significant role in my writing life until a little over a year ago: my critique community.
When you set off to write a picture book, it usually starts with an idea for a manuscript. As soon as you start poking around you realize that no one in the industry wants a manuscript that hasn’t been polished and critiqued. But what does that even mean?
Well, here’s what I thought it meant. I would write a book, and it would be absolutely amazing (obviously). Then I’d share it with a few friends and family members that know about books (teachers, parents, etc.) who would undoubtedly agree that it was amazing (obviously). Then it would be ready to go!
And this is exactly what I did. I sent a book off to a publisher and agents that went through this process.
Newsflash: it was not ready to go.
Here’s the thing. Your friends and family, they love you. They want you to be successful. And even though they may read a TON of kids books, they probably aren’t studying the craft of writing. And you’re a new writer, so you’re probably looking for a pat on the back. A “Yeah this is great! No typos!” kind of response. I was.
But a pat on the back does not make you a better writer. And it doesn’t make your book a good book.
When the publishing industry didn’t immediately drop everything to send me millions of dollars, I decided to take steps to really learn the craft and get meaningful feedback from fellow writers. Enter: critique groups.
I’ve been lucky for over a year now to have worked with more than fifty(!!) critique partners. Some have been through conferences and workshops, others through my local SCBWI chapter, 12x12, and the writing class I took last year.
The groups I participate in are all very different, and every person who critiques my work offers something unique. They meet at varying intervals (weekly, biweekly, monthly, or as needed) which keeps me on my toes and accountable. They bring different areas of expertise (picture books and longer works, verse and prose, author-illustrators and author-only), and they are oil to the gears that keep my writing machine chugging.
My critique partners are equally invested in learning how to create really good stuff. They want to learn alongside you. They want to discuss mentor texts and practice writing prompts. They will help you recover your Procreate pencil that was accidentally deleted, and they will let you know that a really great webinar is coming up. They also want you to succeed, and they know how to help you achieve your goals.
When my book needs work, they offer me honest and constructive suggestions.
When my stories are working, they encourage me to take a leap and submit.
When things don’t go well, they commiserate.
When good news comes in, they celebrate!
Critique partners are such an essential part of the process. And for as isolating as writing can be, they make it feel less so.
They’ve also taught me how to ask for and receive feedback! These skills are so important when you’re a writer. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there, and being told it needs to change can be really hard to hear, no matter how nicely it’s said. This skill came to me over time, and I often still mute my microphone when receiving feedback to help me remember to listen.
I also come to my groups prepared. I sometimes begin with “I’m struggling with X or Y” when I share a manuscript or “I’d like feedback on this one specific thing.” When a suggestion comes that totally rocks my plot or writing… I listen. I absorb it. When it feels right (which is often the case), I take the advice. But if it doesn’t feel right, I leave it. And through it all, we share an understanding that we are all here to help each other make the best work we can.
So this gratitude post is for you, my valued critique partners. Thank you for helping to shape me and my stories. The KidLit community is truly amazing and I am so thankful to be a part of it, I only wish I had found it sooner!
And now… Epilepsy stuff! I’d like to reiterate: I am not a medical professional, so please visit the Epilepsy Foundation and Dravet Foundation websites for more in-depth information.
1 in 10 people will have a seizure at some point in their life.
1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy.
More than 1/3 of people with epilepsy are not able to control their seizures with available medication. This is called “intractable epilepsy.”
SUDEP is Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy and is a common cause of death in those with epilepsy in addition to seizure-related accidents.
Dravet syndrome is a rare and catastrophic epilepsy syndrome in a category of Developmental and Epileptic Encephalopathies (DEEs), which are syndromes that cause both uncontrolled epilepsy and developmental delay or loss of skills.
Seizure First Aid
Seizures can look like:
A sudden drop/passing out
Convulsions (AKA tonic-clonic or “grand mal”) on part of or the entire body
Stiffening or rigid limbs
A person who suddenly goes limp or non-responsive
Staring off into space
Twitching on part of the face or eyes deviating to one side
If you see someone having a seizure:
Note the time. This is important! Our sense of time is skewed when we are panicked and it’s important to know how long the seizure lasts.
Lay the person on their side. This is so they do not choke on saliva or fluids.
Look for a rescue plan. Do they have a service animal? A medical ID bracelet? Rescue medication?
Call 911 if: this is the person’s first seizure, it lasts longer than 5 minutes, or you need assistance.
Stay with the person until they return to consciousness or help arrives.
It is common for someone to be “out of it” after a seizure. This is called a post-ictal phase and it can last for minutes, hours, or even days. Do not leave someone alone until they are back to baseline or other help has arrived.
Do not move a person who is seizing unless they are unsafe (in a road, burning building, etc.)
Do not restrain a person who is convulsing (You might hurt them!)
Do not put anything in their mouth!!! (They will not swallow their tongue, that is a misconception.)
Do not leave the person alone. Please. Please do not leave someone alone during a seizure.
Some people who have frequent, prolonged seizures will use rescue medication. There are different kinds: oral, nasal, and rectal. These medications can help stop a seizure that’s gone too long or a cluster of seizures. If you see someone has rescue medication and are able to use it according to their plan, you can help them not only recover faster but avoid serious medical complications and possibly death.
Lastly - Never be afraid to call for help! Never ever! Call 911, call your doctor, call me! Help is out there. No one should have to fight this awful disease alone.
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Always so inspiring!!
Grateful for you, Wendy. ❤️