Kjersten Hayes is the kind of person you can count on for a smile or a sunny perspective on a not-so-sunny situation. While I am crushed for her that someone gave her a “stinging” critique, I am completely inspired by how she chose to respond to it. And I am not surprised– being creative is part of Kjersten’s DNA. Which is why she is able to write books as much fun as The Elephant’s Guide to Hide and Seek, illustrated by Gladys Jose (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). UNFORTUNATELY Kjersten’s launch events are cancelled because of our state stay-at-home order. FORTUNATELY, we can all order her book from our favorite indie! Here’s a link to Kjersten’s local bookstore, Village Books (Bellingham): https://www.villagebooks.com/book/9781492678465

Kjersten Hayes

When I wrote the first draft of THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), I didn’t set out to write anything good. Instead, I set out to play. Kind of like my son here in this picture playing hide-and-seek—he wasn’t trying to be any sort of expert hider, he was just having fun.

And it shows, or it would if you could see him. He was giggling, he was happy, even if he wasn’t hiding very well. Who cares if he wasn’t hiding well though—fun was the goal!

Lest I sound too breezy, like writing this book was a no-brainer, as easy as hiding behind a tree—let me back up a bit.

When I wrote the first draft of this book, I was fresh off of a stingingly horrible professional critique. It was one of the lowest lows and smallest smalls I’ve ever felt as a creator. I wondered why I was even bothering with this foolish passion of mine—and for so many years! I felt fed up with myself, fed up with not meeting my own high bar, and most especially fed up with the effort to share what I wrote with anyone else.

But I also knew no one could get me out of that creative funk other than myself. I had to be the one to do it. So, I asked myself a simple, honest question. What, right then, would I enjoy? What would delight me?

Which is how my muse struck me with an aha moment.

It turned out, the answer felt obvious. I just wanted to make stuff and—for once—simply not care what anyone thought of it. I wanted to write just for fun.

Even if having fun wouldn’t necessarily make my work better, at least it would take an edge off of my self-loathing and maybe get me going again. So, I tried it. I’d just finished jotting down a new picture book idea every day for a month for another year of author Tara Lazar’s Storystorm brainstorming challenge (then called piboidmo). This meant I had lots of ideas sitting around. Using the same spirit of brainstorming play I’d just used with (what’s now called) Storystorm, I created my own quantity-over-quality personal challenge. 

I decided to spend two weeks total, writing 5 new manuscripts, without caring if any were good, just aiming for five full crappy drafts in two weeks. Kind of like nanowrimo, but for picture book drafts. When I got desperate, I’d write something ridiculous. I figured, if nothing else, I could laugh at my own lousy work like I did at the end-of-month ideas during Storystorm, and it would delight me.

But then an amusing thing happened. It worked.

It worked not only for forcing myself to care less, but it also worked for making my writing better. A few of those manuscripts turned out to be much more interesting than anything I’d ever written before. One, after revision, ended up winning a big SCBWI International writing prize. And another will be my first published book: THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK.

To be fair, I’d spent years developing my craft beforehand. I think those manuscripts were promising mostly because of those years. But those years, coupled with a strategy to get over my own perfectionism, really became my way in toward my personal best and happiest writing self.

So now I do not think of my work as work. I think of it as play—like my son playing hide-and-seek on the playground. And that has made an elephant-sized difference in what I make and how I feel about it. Maybe someday I’ll also get over how terrible I am at hide-and-seek!

By Kjersten Hayes
Illustrated by Gladys Jose

Kjersten Hayes lives in Bellingham, Washington, in a century-old house full of color, books, pottery, art, music and happy kid noises. She has spent many years creating and selling collage work, greeting cards, and handmade journals. She loves adventure, crafting, and teaching art classes for kids. You can learn more about her at her website or on Twitter/Instagram: @kjerstenhayes.