Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Yes, I Can! ~ by Christy Mihaly

You've probably been told that it's good to say "yes." (Not the kind of "yes" when someone tries to bully you into doing something that is not good for you. Rather the "yes, I can" that Shonda Rhimes pursued during her
Year of Yes -- accepting invitations to do things that scare you.) 

Why should a writer say "yes"? The first reason is because that's how we grow. When I started writing, my fantasy of the writerly life involved sitting in glorious solitude and letting the deathless prose pour forth spontaneously, with no need to interact with actual people. 
This notion was, shall we say, incomplete. If you're writing for kids, interacting with young people helps bring your writing to life. And being a "real writer" requires interacting with adults. It means working with editors. It may mean agreeing to write something that you didn't expect to write, or providing critiques to colleagues, or promoting yourself to sell your darn book, or giving presentations to kids and adults. (It may even mean, ahem, writing a last-minute blog post despite worrying that you have nothing original or worthwhile to share.) 

Many of these things are scary. But I've learned that saying "yes" to scary things--things that weren't in my initial vision of "writing"--has made me feel more like a "real writer."

In addition, recently, I've experienced one of the best reasons to say "yes:" it's that a single "yes" can catapult you into whole new oceans of possibilities. "Yes" makes good things happen -- and offers more chances for more "yeses." Here's the story of my chain of yeses.

A Chain of YESes: The power of a "yes"

In early 2020 I received an email asking if I would like to write a book about water. Well, that was not on my to-do list. (A book about water??) But I soon realized it was an interesting idea, and that I had some relevant background. The more I considered it, the more I realized my answer should be "yes."

My "yes" led to a happy, year-long collaboration with Barefoot Books editor Emma Parkin and an amazing team of editorial and book design staff, along with super-talented illustrator Mariona Cabassa. Despite various setbacks, supply chain issues, and a ship blocking the Suez Canal, Barefoot Books WATER: A Deep Dive of Discovery came out in the fall of 2021.

Serendipitously, around the same time as publication, the national 2022 library summer reading program theme was  announced by CLSP: "Oceans of Possibilities." So in early 2022, because of Barefoot Books Water, the Vermont Department of Libraries contacted me with an invitation: Would I deliver the keynote to kick off their "Oceans of Possibilities" summer reading training program for state librarians? Yikes. That was definitely outside my comfort zone, and my introvert brain screamed "no!" But it would be a virtual presentation, and I knew I should say "yes." So, my mouth said "yes," and my introvert brain went into panic mode to write (and practice!) the keynote.

Creating the slideshow for the Department of Libraries was a ton of work. And it was worth it. It made me delve deeply into Water and revisit what I'd learned in writing it. It helped me think anew about how librarians and educators could use the book to engage kids in discussing Earth's water, the almost magical properties of this element, how we use it, and how we can protect it. 

When it came time to deliver the talk, I was pleasantly surprised. It was fun! I love librarians, they appreciated hearing about the book, and I enjoyed sharing ideas for activities with them. We had some lively Q and A and I think we all came away feeling inspired.

But wait, there's more! Several librarians who saw the keynote contacted me afterward. Some invited me to do author visits at their schools. Others asked me to participate in their summer library programs. I don't consider myself a natural performer and I have no background in education. My brain said "no!" But these folks thought I could present an entertaining program, and I knew I had just developed a bunch of good program ideas. So I said "yes!" 

From the talk that I'd written for the Department of Libraries, I created a series of school visits. Then I adjusted it for library visits. I experimented with different activities from the book. Each new group of kids reacted differently, and I figured out more about how to get them engaged. I was learning and having fun. 

That wasn't the end of it. Last month at one of my summer library visits, a representative of the school district attended (because the local district had funded the program). A couple days later, the woman directing the district's after-school program asked if I'd do after-school workshops during the school year. Clearly outside my comfort zone, right? Brain says "no," right? She and I brainstormed some possibilities, and I said "yes." I'll be visiting each of the seven schools in the district to present poetry workshops. I'm excited! It's a chance to talk with kids about poetry, guide them in writing their own, learn more about what kinds of poems they love, and do some deep thinking about how to write better poems myself. 

(And ... it's about something other than water!) 

So ...

Lessons learned: 

👉 Say "yes" to get out of your comfort zone and learn. It can be a lot of work and make you nervous. But it's also energizing and fun.

👉 Say "yes" to expand your writing life and engage in different ways with kids, readers, educators, and librarians. It's inspiring! 


👉 Say "yes" to create new opportunities for yourself and your writing. And when one "yes" leads to another, say "yes" again! 

As we head into a new school year, where can "yes" take you?

I'd love to see your comments: Do you have a good story about saying "yes"?


  1. Oh, my gosh, Christy! What a powerful piece and so full of the positives that come from yes! I experimented a few years ago with making "yes" my go-to for new writing experiences. It was a great year! What I learned was, once you say "yes," you learn how to do it! BRAVO

    1. Thanks so much, Kathy! Yes, exactly, first say "yes" and then figure out how to get it done!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Lisa! I often have to remind myself to not just default to "no," and I figured other writers with introvert tendencies might like a little inspiration ...

  3. Great post, Christy! Sometimes I'm torn between saying "yes" for those new opportunities, and saying "no" to preserve my time for writing. This year my "yes" was to opening my blog to guest posts. I'm glad I did because so many creative people have shared their love of writing, nature, and science - and I've learned a lot from them.

    1. Sue, that is a great "yes!" Of course, my impression is that you do a lot of yessing ... which is why you're always doing so many interesting things! (Of course, sometimes, the right answer is still "no" -- like that wfh project offer to write 15,000 words on an unfamiliar topic for, oh, $300 or so ...) Thanks for your comment!

  4. Great post, Christy! My last year's yes was to speak to a bunch of adults (eek) about writing and publishing and a little about myself. It turned out great, and I had a wonderful time (and sold a few books)

    1. See? That's what I'm sayin.' It's so easy to assume we're not "good enough" to, or shouldn't, or don't have anything to offer -- but if we go ahead, it can be affirming and energizing and inspiring and worthwhile! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Love this positive post, Christy! Perfect timing with a new school year filled with possibilities approaching!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! Yes there are Oceans of Possibilities!