Tuesday, February 27, 2024

On Kindness and the Lenses We Work Through

It's one week from the publication of my fourth book, A Different Kind of Brave

cover of Lee Wind's YA novel "A Different Kind of Brave"

It's my gay teen love letter to James Bond movies, and a book packed with so many of the story things I loved as a teen—secret identities, cool gadgets, exotic cars, high-stakes adventure, and something I never got as teen: a gay love story. Starring two gay teens. Surrounded by a diverse cast of Queer and allied friends.

My book recently got a couple of really nice trade reviews, and that external validation felt so powerful it scared me. I joked that the starred review was like telling my imposter syndrome to go sit in the corner and shut up. 

I joked about it, but then found myself thinking about how negative self-talk isn't something I've completely gotten past.

That, and being on the cusp of this YA novel coming out and finally reaching readers has me thinking a lot about my author journey. After all, I started writing for kids and teens in earnest back in 2004, and this is my first traditionally published YA novel, coming out March 5, 2024. 

The math is easy (that's twenty years). The lessons feel more hard-won.

So, with the vision that it might be helpful to share, some thoughts:

We writers (and other creatives) are not always kind to ourselves.

We drive ourselves to produce (write every day!), ignoring the wisdom of the seasons: you cannot only harvest. You need to let crops lay dormant (winter), germinate (spring), grow (summer), and only then can you harvest (fall.) Plants and trees don't skip the resting time of winter, and we skip rest at our peril. That's also called "burnout."

The real world is on fire (as the news constantly tells us), and we are tasked by the publishing industry and ourselves with "rising above the noise" to somehow help our book stand out amid millions of other books. Like our book's box office opening week is the most important thing about it (ooh--you wrote a best-seller?) rather than remembering that the impact of one book on one heart is how the world actually changes. That impact is also what truly makes a book sell, through that age-old chesnut: "word of mouth."

Maybe most insidiously, we often view our work with the wrong lens. Most writers and other creatives have multiple lenses we work though, including:

1) The creative lens, when you're researching and crafting something new: I'm an artist!

2) The editorial lens, when you apply your critical eye to evaluate feedback and revise. It's not everything I wanted it to be, but I can make it better.

3) The critic lens, when you beat yourself up about what you didn't accomplish, and occasionally feel okay about what you wrote. This is the home of my "imposter syndrome," which I have to keep reminding has been told to go sit in a corner and be quiet...

Drafting with your creative lens, and the editorial lens intrudes? That makes writing painful and slow. Insert tortured artist cliche here.

Drafting with your creative lens, and the critic lens gets in the way? Hello writer's block.

So I'm trying to learn. To not demand I produce every day. To allow myself the grace of seasons to my creativity. To do my bit to get the word out, and trust that if I created the best book I can, it will reach readers for whom it's important and meaningful. To use the right lens at the right time. And most of all, to be kind to myself on this adventure.

I hope you will be kind to yourself on your creative journey, too...

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

p.s.: You can learn more about my books at my website here: leewind.org

Friday, February 23, 2024

To Be Visible: Why Writing Intersectional Identities for Kids Matters

Throughout this week, there's a picture that I just can't shake. A kid, smiling at the camera, looking dapper and happy in their vest. A picture that reminds me it's possible to miss someone who you've never met. Grieve someone you've never met. Wish you could turn back time and prevent the seemingly unpreventable.

That kid is Nex Benedict, an indigenous nonbinary teen who was killed in Oklahoma this last week. They died after a school fight, during which they and a trans friend were attacked by peers in a school bathroom. Their story is all over the internet, and there's been an outpouring of grief and rage and love.

When people ask why it's important to write about marginalized and intersectional identities in children's literature, look no further than Nex, and the millions of kids like them. The kids like me. As a kid, I didn't have words for all the things that I was--ADHD and autistic and queer and Arab-American, a kid who struggled with mental health and would become disabled as a young adult. I didn't have the words because no one gave them to me. But I knew I was different. And I often felt so lonely and just plain wrong because of it. But because I didn't have the words, in my mind, there was only one person to blame--me.

This is why it's important to not just be accepting of marginalized and intersectional identities as writers for kids, but also embrace, uplift, and purposely include these voices in our work. In today's world, it's not just "nice" for kids to see themselves in the books they read--it is a matter of life and death.

Reading Nex's story over and over again, I've had to grapple with the truth that this was done to them by their own peers--by teenage girls. Kids themselves, who had to have been so overcome with fear and shame and anger to lash out at what they didn't understand. Kids who had to get those messages of fear and anger somewhere--from the adults in their lives. The same adults who don't want diverse books in classrooms and libraries.

And here's the often overlooked fact--it's just as vital to champion and write books about intersectional and marginalized identities for the kids that hurt Nex. Because this world is not kind to people like me, and kids like Nex. And as important as it is for kids to be able to see themselves in books, to know they're not alone and not wrong for being who they are, it's also just as vital to have these books to help people who are afraid of what they don't understand or ashamed of their own insecurities finally be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

Because that's the magic of story, right? It helps us feel more human, and helps us understand the beauty and complexity of everyone else, being human in their own unique ways.

So please. For kids like Nex, who are also nonbinary, or indigenous, or raised by a grandparent, or are bullied, or who also love cats and video games and reading and Minecraft and friendship bracelets--write these stories. Write your own stories. And if you don't feel comfortable writing an own voices narrative, then include complex, 3D, fully-fledged secondary characters with these identities and experiences.

We can't afford not to be visible. And if not you personally, then at least your stories, if you are safe enough to do so. All authenticity is a risk. But it's a risk I'm willing to take. Because as we all know, stories can change the world.

We love you, Nex. And we won't forget. I promise.


About the Author

Ashley Wilda is an Arab-American, neurodivergent, queer, disabled writer and mental health advocate living in eastern Virginia. Their debut novel The Night Fox, a YA magical realism tale written in poetry and prose about mental health and nature, was published in 2023 with Penguin Random House, and her following YA contemporary novel, Cleave, will be published by Penguin in 2026. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to writing, they love rock climbing, exploring the mountains, creating art, and adventuring with their husband, Ethan, and rescue pup, Phoenix. Find Ash on Instagram: @ashleywilda_ or at www.ashleywilda.com.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Join the SCBWI and KidLit Community for the Golden Kite Awards Ceremony -- Free and Online this Friday Feb 23, 2024

SCBWI Golden Kite Award Gala logo

Sign up here to join the online event and find out who wins in the these seven categories, and hear the acceptance speeches!

Young Reader and Middle Grade Fiction

Young Adult Fiction


Text for Younger Readers, Nonfiction Text for Older Readers

Picture Book Text

Picture Book Illustration

Illustration for Older Readers

Explore the finalist books at bookshop.org here.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Liminal Spaces: Where Our Writing Thrives

“I don’t know if I can do this.” That’s what I said to my husband after reading the editorial letter for my debut novel, The Night Fox. There was one major problem - I had too many walls.

At first glance, it seemed like a story problem. Scenes that weren’t shown, characters that didn’t interact enough. But the real issue? There were important places where I was holding back.

But those walls were there to protect me. From the grief, the memories. When I pressed against those places in the story, I felt… blank. Like some invisible force held me back.

How was I going to uncover the raw emotional truth the story needed, if I couldn’t even go there myself?

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever reached a point in a story–or even your life–where you want to move forward with every fiber of who you are, but you seem to be stuck in this shadowy, in-between place?

You’re definitely not alone. You may simply be in what we call a “liminal space.”

VeryWell Mind defines a liminal space as “the uncertain transition between where you've been and where you're going physically, emotionally, or metaphorically.

To be in a liminal space means to be on the precipice of something new but not quite there yet. 

The word "liminal" comes from the Latin word “limen,” which means threshold.”

Not here, and not there. Not past, and not yet. Now now, and not then.

We all have lived through liminal spaces, whether we realize it or not. Grief is a liminal space. So is hope. Or being engaged. Or pregnant. Or watching a loved one go through hospice.

Sometimes we get stuck in these places, when the thing we’re waiting for changes or never comes. Sometimes exiting one liminal space ushers in another.

When it comes to our writing, we move through many liminal spaces.

A story germinates as an inkling in the back of our head, then simmers, turning into something more.

A first draft is a liminal space, where we are telling the story to ourselves for the first time.

Having work out on submission is a liminal space, where we may struggle to keep writing other projects as we wait to hear news.

The bottom line - liminal spaces are slippery things. It can be hard to recognize when we’re in one, and even harder to know how to embrace that liminality and make magic happen while we’re there.

But here’s my challenge to you–

The liminal spaces are where the true work takes place, taking your stories from good to transcendent.

So at this point, you may be thinking - okay, I understand the concept of liminal spaces. I even can understand how they can be useful to us, even magical. But how can I write through these spaces, when I don’t know which way is up or down?

Great question. Honestly, moving within a liminal space is different for everyone. But I’ll share with you a few things that helped me continue my writing practice, even while not entirely knowing where I was going to end up.

1. Be gentle with yourself.

In other words, allow yourself to just be. So much of creating is just being. Is just presence. Allow yourself to fully feel, without worrying about productivity or what may happen as you feel those feelings. Trust in yourself to know the way back home. Because the best work comes out of these feelings.

2. Establish rituals.

Grounding elements help me feel a connection to my writing practice even when my life or my project feels like a disorienting liminal space. Lighting a candle, steeping tea, starting with a poem, or even just re-reading something you wrote last session can help you find your footing in these moments.

3. Stop worrying about quality.

You can’t move through a liminal space with your judgmental mind, or your editor mind. It’s about intuitiveness, flow state, and trusting your gut. I’d even recommend not fixing little errors like grammar or punctuation, and just commit to the stream of words. There will be time later for that exacting, precise part of you. For now, you just have to let the magic of the present moment, of not knowing, take over.

4. Focus on doing versus getting somewhere.

Liminal spaces can’t be forced. You can’t will-power your way through the in-between - you’ll just find yourself right back where you started. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you aren’t making progress.

Focus on the act of writing. Focus on consistently sitting down to do the work, without worrying about how much you’ve done or where the work is getting you. Focus on the why versus the what.

And when you emerge, you’ll be surprised at how far the work you have already done has taken you when you weren’t looking.

Okay, so now that we have a few tools under our belt, back to my story. Where did working in this liminal space take me?

When I started writing The Night Fox, a tale about grief and mental health and magic, because I had to, for myself. But also because when I was going through the darkest time in my life, it was the book I wish I had. The book I couldn’t find. And on the chance that someone else out there was going through something similar… I had to write it for them too.

The story was unconventional to be sure - between the magic and the faith elements and the dual narrative arcs and poetry thrown in there to boot, I worried the story wouldn’t find a home. It didn’t fit neatly into a box… but that was the point. Neither does grief, or love.

Facing those daunting edits, I was in a liminal space, and so was this story. My life wasn’t easily defined or held to one shape, and neither was the story I was writing–and neither were the stories and lives that have had the most impact on me as a person and as a writer–and I would guess the same is true for you.

There’s something about the stories that are birthed from these liminal spaces that are raw and authentic and just deeply true in a felt sense that’s hard to put your finger on. These are the stories that change the world.

So how do you forge ahead in a liminal space? This might be the question you’re holding now, either in your life or in the story you want to write.

And the answer may surprise you -

You don’t.

You don’t force things. You don’t forge ahead, blasting through walls, feelings be damned.

You sit with it. You feel. You slowly push deeper into yourself, and the story. You give the emotional truth time to reveal itself by slowly but surely probing deeper into the heart of things, trusting that it’ll one day become a clear picture.

That isn’t an easy process. It’s hard, taking steps that feel blind. But that’s when the magic of the liminal space takes over.

So there I was, faced with that cursed editor’s note, that insisted I dig deep into feelings I didn’t want to touch - in other words, lean into my liminal space.

I returned to my beloved grad school as a graduate assistant for the summer residency and sat with my feelings. I soaked in the craft and the astounding courage of the community. I pulled it all in until I felt full. Then I sat down. And cried. And wrote out a plan.

Sitting in the faded blue armchair at my favorite coffee shop, I finally arrived at the part of the story that was hardest for me. It wasn’t the climax or the flashiest part. But for me, it hit the deepest.

I wrote the scene.

I hurried to pack my things.

I made it to my car and closed the door.

And I sobbed.

But I knew the story was complete. I knew I had honored my liminal space, and because I worked with it, instead of in spite of it, something magical had unfolded on the page.

That’s the thing, writing about the liminal. You may be writing fiction. But the feelings are real. You know it’ll be worth it, in the end. To tell the story you need to tell, to reach the reader who desperately needs that particular story. But I’m not going to lie - it can hurt. But it can heal too. Both yourself, and your readers.

Turns out, that draft was my best work yet.

So to all my writers who feel broken, invisible, opposing realities held in one beautiful, flawed body… don’t give up. You’re simply in a liminal space. You’re not alone - there are others here, beyond their own thresholds, making something beautiful, even if they don’t know it.

Somewhere, someone needs the story you have yet to tell. Don’t give up on you. Don’t give up on your stories. Don’t give up on the magic. Keep on feeling and sitting and writing and transforming - and you’ll find it may just become the story of your dreams.

Ashley Wilda is an Arab-American, neurodivergent, queer, disabled writer and mental health advocate living in eastern Virginia. Their debut novel The Night Fox, a YA magical realism tale written in poetry and prose about mental health and nature, was published in 2023 with Penguin Random House, and her following YA contemporary novel, Cleave, will be published by Penguin in 2026. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to writing, they love rock climbing, exploring the mountains, creating art, and adventuring with their husband, Ethan, and rescue pup, Phoenix. Find Ash on Instagram: @ashleywilda_ or at www.ashleywilda.com.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Catch up on highlights from the 2024 SCBWI Winter Conference!


scbwi conference blog logo

It was a whirlwind weekend of SCBWI illustrator, translator, and author goodness!

Get a taste over at the official SCBWI Conference blog, and/or browse these links below:

Portfolio Showcase / Industry Party

We're minutes away from the 2024 SCBWI Winter Conference (blogger welcome)

Welcome with Sarah Baker, SCBWI Executive Director

Keynote: Joseph Coelho

Creative Lab- Illustrators Break Through! with Pat Cummings, Cecilia Yung and Christy Ewers

Creative Lab - Don't Call it "Self" Publishing with Andrea Fleck-Nisbet and Lee Wind

Creative Lab: Kate Messner - Revision Half-Marathon

Keynote: An Interview with Cece Bell

The Outlook for Children's Publishing in 2024 (photo)

Panel: Patrice Caldwell

Panel: Mallory Loehr

Panel: Alvina Ling & Susan Ven Metre

Networking Party

Awards Presentations!

Creative Lab: The Jump Start: with Phil Bildner

Creative Lab: Emily XR Pan - Storytelling Structure

Keynote Address - James Ransome, Author/Illustrator

Wrap Up with SCBWI Executive Director, Sarah Baker

Thank you for joining us!

Cheers to Jolie Stekly and Justin Campbell for joining me for "team blog" duties, and to everyone who attended.

virtual scbwi 2024 winter conference logo

You can still sign up for the Virtual Conference happening on Feb 24, 2024

with recordings of the keynote sessions from the in-personal conference and completely new online creative labs...

virtual scbwi golden kite award ceremony logo

And we hope you'll all join us for the free virtual Golden Kite Award ceremony

Feb 23, 2024

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

Thursday, February 8, 2024

For the Weird Ones: 3 Writing Block Rituals for Built-Different Brains

Hello, SCBWI! I’m Ash, your guest writer for the next few weeks. I’m a queer, neurodivergent, Arab-American, disabled author and poet, mental health advocate, and overall wild creative. To learn more about me, check out the bio at the end of this post!

Today’s topic - rituals for busting through writer’s block. I’m sure you’ve heard a plethora of advice from wise authors and creatives on this topic, including the time-honored command to “sit your butt in the chair” and just write, which is a kind of ritual in itself.

Why rituals for writer’s block? A ritual is any action where you purposefully follow a routine or pattern but with an air of intentionality, even sacredness–motions you move through as an entry point into something grander. Science has shown that ritual “buffers against uncertainty and anxiety… [and] guides goal-directed performance by regulating the brain's response to personal failure.”

Sounds like the perfect antidote to writer’s block, yes?

But here’s the twist. What if you aren’t a neurotypical writer? What if you have mental health struggles? What if you have ADHD or are autistic? What if you have chronic illnesses that make your everyday levels of motivation and stamina unpredictable?

Whew. That’s the question for the ages. How can we bust through creative blocks, when our brains and bodies don’t work like everyone else’s?

Over the next few posts, this question is going to come up quite a bit, and I hope that my experience as a neurospicy, chronically ill, trauma-savvy creative can perhaps give you some ideas for your own writing practice, along with a heaping ladle of affirmation.

And it all starts with this simple but radical statement… You aren’t alone.

Although no one has lived your unique experience, and no one has your exact brain, body, or untold stories, you are not the only creative to ever face these challenges along with the “standard” writer’s block struggle. In fact, we creative types seem to be more prone to this particular flavor of life challenges… or more honestly, just more prone to creativity.

All that to say–you’re in good company. So release a deep sigh, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw. We’ve got this.


My first tip for busting writer’s block as a neurodiverse, disabled human–stop. trying. to force it.

Wait up. Doesn’t that fly in the face of the tried-and-true “butt in the chair” mentality? Fake it till you make it? Run at the writer’s block brick wall headfirst?

I’m aware; it does seem counterintuitive! But honestly, I wish someone had told me this trick a looong time ago. It would have saved me countless hours of beating myself up internally, banging my head on the proverbial keyboard, wondering why the words just won’t come out right.

I needed to give myself permission to write awfully. Yep, you heard me right. Give yourself permission to write crap. And I really mean it–stream of consciousness that ish. Don’t stop and fix grammar, or punctuation, or spelling. Just barrel on, blindly trusting that something good will come out of the flow.

And let me tell you, this method has almost never failed me. Either I will end up getting into the groove and writing good material, or I’ll finish the session feeling a little sheepish, only to later discover not-so-hidden gems amid the rubbish.

And at the end of the day, any time spent writing is time spent well.

So, how to turn this into a ritual?

Begin each writing session with a brain dump. Sit in your chair. Roll your shoulders. Allow the first thought that floats into your mind to bleed onto the page. No criticizing, no shaming. It doesn’t matter if the thought is as mundane as “What should I eat for lunch?” Just begin to write what you think, and how those thoughts attach to feelings. Allow your subconscious mind to lead you in a childlike dance.

And when you can recognize that you’ve entered that state of flow, like a new pen finally rolling smooth, you can turn your attention to your story.


Tip number two: the vibes matter.

As someone whose brain focuses intensely on my environment–minuscule sounds, the shade of the lights, the itchiness of my chair–I have found that cultivating a purposeful atmosphere greatly aids in conquering writer’s block.

What lighting helps you feel the most in flow? What colors help you sink into your creative self? What sounds and textures create a space where your brain can stop being so hypervigilant and instead tune into your subconscious and enter your characters’ minds?

Now, I know most of us aren’t the most affluent. You can make any space work for you in this manner. Whether it’s an office, a desk, a corner of a room, or even part of a closet, the goal is simply to find an environment you can tailor to suit your unique vibey needs.

How to turn this into a ritual? When you enter your space with the intention to write, pick a few things you always do before beginning. Whether that’s making a cup of Earl Grey tea, lighting a candle, or spraying lavender essential oil, pick sensory actions that help you feel the most grounded and ready to create.

The cool thing? Eventually, your brain will associate those particular sensory experiences with the act of writing, and your body will even more quickly slip into that oh-so-coveted writing flow space.


Last but not least–accept that some days are not good days.

Some days, no level of “tricking” your brain is going to cut it. Some days, the pain or fatigue or flashbacks or buzzing distraction is just too much. It’s easy to feel defeated–like circumstances outside of your control are sabotaging your creative process.

But here’s the thing–writing is about so much more than just stringing words together and arranging them on a page. Every good storyteller knows that a story begins long before you ever think to write it. Each one synthesized from your experiences, ponderings, memories, and wanderings. In order to write good stories, you have to experience good stories.

So next time you have no more tricks up your sleeve–here’s a ritual for you. Take a moment to  be still. Soak in the world. Every single tiny detail. Your inner world, your outer world. Whether you’re sitting or lying down or taking a walk, let your attention settle. Focus on your breath. Bring the world into clearer view. For these are the details, the moments, that make our writing sing and cut true.

Next time you come to the page, you’ll bring all that richness with you, that you would have otherwise missed.

Because that’s the greatest secret I’ll leave you with–

For a writer, your whole life is a creative act. Don’t sell yourself short. Even your breath is a miracle of your own making.

Ashley Wilda is an Arab-American, neurodivergent, queer, disabled writer and mental health advocate living in eastern Virginia. Their debut novel The Night Fox, a YA magical realism tale written in poetry and prose about mental health and nature, was published in 2023 with Penguin Random House, and her following YA contemporary novel, Cleave, will be published by Penguin in 2026. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to writing, they love rock climbing, exploring the mountains, creating art, and adventuring with their husband, Ethan, and rescue pup, Phoenix. Find Ash on Instagram: @ashleywilda_ or at www.ashleywilda.com.

Friday, February 2, 2024

The SCBWI Winter Conference is ONE WEEK Away!

SCBWI In-Person Winter Conference 2024 logo

If you'll be joining us in person in New York City, get ready for an amazing weekend of inspiration, craft, business, opportunity, and community that is #scbwiWinter24 

It's going to be packed with Keynotes, Panels, Creative Labs, Socials, the portfolio showcase, and so much more!

There's also going to be a virtual SCBWI Winter Conference (Feb 23-24, 2024), with the Golden Kite Awards Presentation, Recordings of the Keynotes and Panels from the in-person conference, Creative Labs, The Piranha Pit, Peer Critiques, and more!

screenshot of the offerings of the Virtual SCBWI Winter Conference 2024

If you'll be in New York for the in-person winter conference, say hello! (I'll be blogging, co-teaching a creative lab, and hosting the LGBTQIA2+ and Allies Social.)

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!