I started blogging in mid-October last year. I never really planned on it. Never saw myself doing it. But now that I am, I’m loving every minute of it.
Exactly one year ago, I left a wonderful job at a big multinational, packed up our things, and moved to Singapore with my family. The transition from working-mom to stay-at-home-mom was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to go through. I’ve always loved my job, and always worked hard to strike a healthy balance between the office and my family. The challenge always was to do less of the former to focus more on the latter. Now that I’m home, I’m faced with a totally different challenge: trying to remember to give myself some “me time”, time to think, time to unwind, time to recharge. And although it doesn’t always happen, I am happy that I did manage to discover what I want to do with my life right now, given my current circumstances. I now know I want to do those things I used to dream of doing when I was stuck at the office working for someone else.
One of those things I used to dream of was writing children’s books targeted at Highly Sensitive Children. Books that don’t set impossible standards. Books that understand that children don’t fit a specific mold, although it may feel that way. Books that get that birthday parties, sprinklers and the playground are not fun for everyone.
It makes me proud to say that it was my son who inspired me to write in the first place. My writing experience is limited to writing angry emails to the sales, marketing and supply chain teams I used to work with. And even though in my opinion they were really good emails, I don’t consider myself a writer. But I do understand Highly Sensitive Children. And through the years I have managed to get through to mine. Books have been a very important medium. We have read (and own) thousands of books. My son is so inspired with the right stories, and loves his books so much, he was reading on his own at the age of 3. He is the reason I dream of reaching as many Highly Sensitive Children as I can with stories that might help them grow.
Last week a lovely lady named Vanessa Rouse tagged me for a Blog Hop. I have to admit that I’m still not sure what a Blog Hop is or if I’ve worded the previous statement correctly. What I do know is that the topic struck a chord with me. And although the steps of this Blog Hop made it feel like a college application, it’s always good to stop and reflect on what you’re doing, not only to better understand why you’re doing it, or where you want to go with it, but also to better be able to communicate to the world just what it is you’re trying to say.
So here goes.
Step 1: Acknowledge the person and site that involved me in the blog hop.
As I mentioned earlier, it was the lovely Vanessa who invited me to join in the hopping fun. The rules of this game say that you’re supposed to choose 1-3 bloggers to introduce in your post, and the fact that she, an established children’s book writer, even thought of me, gives me goose bumps. I’m sensitive that way. The mere fact that somehow what I’ve done so far, which isn’t much, meant something to her, simply gave me the confidence boost I needed to push myself further. So Vanessa, thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for the invite, and thank you for the inspiration!
Step 2: Answer 4 questions about my writing process.
(1) What am I working on?
Before I start talking about what I’m currently working on, I just want to say that it’s a wonderful feeling to actually have an answer to that question in the first place!
I have written two stories about a specific character, a Highly Sensitive boy to be exact, who is very similar to my little boy. One of the stories is currently being illustrated by a good friend of mine who also happens to be the mother of a Highly Sensitive Child, which is perfect! I am strong believer that a children’s story is told not only through its words, but also through its pictures, and neither can accomplish this effectively without the other. And that is why I am lucky to have found an illustrator who knows exactly how to tell my story.
While waiting for my friend to finish her part, I thought I would test out the eBook distribution channels for self published books. Before I started working on this, I knew nothing about the publishing world. And by nothing, I mean nothing! I wasn’t even aware that you could self-publish your work instead of taking a potentially impossible shot at finding a willing traditional publisher. That was a happy discovery I’ll tell you, and it was the reason I decided to take this project seriously, because now I knew it was up to me and me alone to make it happen! So for the purpose of a test run, I wrote a Christmas story a month before Christmas. It wasn’t going to be illustrated. It was supposed to be a fast and educational project. That’s it. But despite it’s experimental nature, the story still had to be good. I sent it to my illustrator to hear what she thought about it, and she ended up doing something I didn’t expect her to. She stopped me from publishing the story. She said it was too good to be used as a test-run and that we should illustrate it and market it properly before next Christmas.
So now I have a Christmas project to look forward to. But I still needed to learn about distribution and sales processes. And that’s when I decided to use a treasure map I had made for my son’s fourth birthday to make a baby picture eBook. I took some quick snaps of all the elements of my map with my phone (!), used Instagram to edit the pictures (!!), and quickly put the book together using my iPad (!!!). It was then that I learned that pictures are not very e-friendly. The book didn’t go as far as I’d hoped down the distribution channel I chose, but I did learn a whole lot! Plus I got to immortalize my treasure map, which I am quite fond of.
Finally, I have always wanted to write a story about being different. I know there are countless “I’m different and that’s alright” stories out there, but honestly, I don’t think we can have enough because being or feeling different is still a huge source of anxiety for too many children. After having put my story down on paper, I am now trying to figure out how I’m going to craft the illustrations myself the way I did my Pirate Treasure Map. And although it’s been a difficult process so far, I’m excited about using my hands to try and recreate the pictures that are so clear in my head.
(2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Typically, many children’s books will try to deliver a message or teach a lesson in a subtle, or sometimes not so subtle way. Some are funny about it, some are serious, some even slightly abstract. Some books use people as characters, some use animals, and others will bring objects to life. Whatever the style however, most children’s books are written with the typical child in mind. However 15-20% of children are born Highly Sensitive. Books have been written about both children and people who are Highly Sensitive, and I could go on and on about what makes a Highly Sensitive Child different. And that’s exactly what I do in my blog. In a nutshell, a Highly Sensitive Child is more sensory than the average child. He/she can feel things more intensely than others, which is why these children are often sensitive about how their clothes feel on their skin, about the textures of certain foods, loud music, crowded areas, strong odors, and so on, simply because they take in more information from their surroundings than most children do. They also tend to be more cautious, calculating their every move, worried about making mistakes or getting hurt. They are extremely empathetic towards others. They tend to feel shame when they fail, make mistakes, or upset others, which makes it useless, even cruel to punish them since they seem to punish themselves.
I worry about reading stories like “The Gingerbread Man”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, or “Chicken Licken” to my Highly Sensitive Child. A little man made out of cookie dough who is eaten alive? A wolf who swallows two people whole and is then sliced open with an ax? A fox who gobbles up a poor little chick and all his friends while he attempts to save the world from a falling sky? We all grew up with these classics and we might not have given them much thought. But some Highly Sensitive Children will analyze stories like this to shreds, trying to make sense of them, leading to confusion and even fear.
Even some of the best-selling children’s books of our time might pose a problem for us. Books such as Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo or Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, despite being incredibly creative, funny, and lots of fun to read, might lead to questions about this monster who was supposedly made-up but turned out to be real, or about the dinosaurs turning Goldilocks into a chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon.
Many books are more serious, trying to recreate real life to illustrate an example for our children to follow; helping them to deal with potty training, accepting a new baby, overcoming fear, the passing of a loved one. These lessons are important for everyone, regardless of their level of sensitivity. Highly Sensitive Children however also need help with other things which may seem trivial to others, like accepting to try new things, dealing with loud and crowded places, or learning how to socialize with others their own age. Not all Highly Sensitive Children are the same of course and not all of them deal with the same issues, but they do share a world of characteristics which lead to the very similar challenges, and those are the ones I would like to tackle through books which appeal to them, and through human characters who demonstrate real and easy-to-read emotions.
(3) Why do I write what I do?
I chose to do what I’m doing now not so much because of my love of writing or children’s books, but rather because of the effect they have on children. I have watched my son grow immensely in a short period of time, and this was in big part thanks to the books that have influenced him. There was a time when he would go to his book shelf and pull out a relevant book for every struggle he was going through, be it potty training, swimming lessons, or the arrival of his baby brother, and ask me to read it to him. These stories help him cope and give him the courage to try and be better.
If I can manage to do that effectively for him and other children who go through the same challenges through my stories, well, I don’t think anything I can do with my life right now or any job in the world can make me feel better or more accomplished. It’s a big dream, and sometimes it feels like I will never be able to make it come true, but I will not let my fears get in the way. Not this time.
As for my blog, the true and honest reason I even considered starting it was because I needed one. I had no clue where to start, and 4 months later I am still struggling with the inner workings of the blogging and networking world. It’s been challenging, but it’s been fun and very educational. But most importantly, shortly after I started blogging I wondered why I hadn’t thought of doing it before. For the first time I felt like I was openly talking about the difficulties and joys that come with parenting a Highly Sensitive Child, and that not only did it make me feel better and put things in perspective, but it offered others reassurance that they weren’t alone. And that was something my husband and I desperately needed for YEARS before we found out what ‘high sensitivity’ was and that we weren’t the only ones dealing with a normal, Highly Sensitive Child. If I can make just one parent feel better about what they’re going through, I’d feel like I’ve done my job properly. Nevertheless, I am still working on reaching more people who want, and need to be reached; parents, caregivers, teachers, and even loving relatives.
(4) How does my writing process work?
I don’t think I have a writing process. When inspiration hits you in the face when you least expect it, and a story falls from the sky when you finally stop looking for it, I don’t think that really qualifies as a process.
It’s funny, and it little scary sometimes, that when I try and try to come up with something good or useful to write about, and scratch my head for days, or maybe even weeks, jotting things down, making graphs, meditating (in the shower mostly because that’s the only time I’m completely alone), desperately digging through my thoughts and experiences, I will have nothing. I am unable to force anything onto paper. So now I just wait for it to come.
I’m pretty sure all that thinking and digging doesn’t go in vain. The brain works in mysterious ways. I’ve know it since I was in high school, racking my brain to solve a difficult math problem only to dream up the solution while I’m sleeping.
And once I’ve dreamed up my story, it just flows out effortlessly. My fingers seem to type on their own. And that’s a feeling I just love! Of course once everything’s down on paper, there will be a process of reading and re-reading and editing and deleting and inserting. But once it’s down, the rest is easy.
Step 3: Introduce to you 3 lovely ladies who, although they might not know it, have influenced and inspired me in different ways
And they are…
I am the Founder of former President of Pump It Up, the Inflatable Party Zone. I founded the company in 2000, and grew it to the largest Children’s recreational franchise system in the country. I sold majority ownership in 2007, and have been working with in business ever since. Currently over 10 million children a year visit a Pump It Up nationwide, and that this is one of my favorite accomplishments to date!
On a personal note, I am on a spiritual enlightenment journey myself. Although I have the same life & business issues arise, I now handle them very differently. I believe in living in the present, and am so excited to help anyone else on this same journey.
How do I spend my spare time? There is nowhere I would rather be than with my family, friends and my dogs. I also enjoy nature, animals, meditating, creating, reading, inspiring and writing.
Amanda van Mulligen
Amanda van Mulligen is a British freelance writer who is slowly learning how to be Dutch. She has lived in the Netherlands since 2000 and finds that raising three little Dutch boys with her Dutch husband results in daily cultural conundrums and linguistic lapses – but she wouldn’t change a thing.
Tarana Khan is mom to a toddler living away from home in glam city Dubai. She loves writing and has done her stints as a copywriter, reporter and content editor, before embracing parenthood full time. She blogs at Sand In My Toes, where she writes about the adventures of being a first-time parent, life in Dubai, her travels, apart from sharing blogging and social media tips.