A Ballet Teacher’s Advice for Authors and Illustrators

Ballet advice for authors and illustrators

By Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books

I’ve loved ballet since I was a child, and I still enjoy taking a ballet class whenever I can. My teacher, Lisa Erickson at Zenon Dance, is fantastic, and her tips for becoming a better dancer apply to far more than just ballet class. With her permission, I’m happy to share some of my favorite advice for authors and illustrators from her.

1. Breathe!

Dancers have this funny tendency to hold their breath, particularly when attempting something difficult. You know what? It doesn’t help. We do better when we’re less tense and are breathing regularly–whatever it is we’re trying to do.

2. Assume that what you’re doing is going to work.

If you’re telling yourself you can’t do this and there’s no way it’ll work, you know what? It’s probably not going to work! You have to go into what you’re doing believing you can do it. Are you worried you’ll make a mistake? Well . . .

3. Make BIG mistakes–you’ll learn more that way!

This is not to say you want big mistakes in your published work. But as you’re writing a draft or sketching or creating a sample piece, don’t just play it safe. To do something well, you are going to have to take risks and to make mistakes along the way. And when you do make that inevitable mistake, try to figure out what went wrong so that you can do better next time.

4. Listen to the music.

In ballet class, the music isn’t just a nice sort of background noise–it’s what keeps us all together and gives life and phrasing to our movements. To be a good dancer, you can’t simply execute the steps well–you must also be a good listener.

For authors and illustrators, there are a multiple voices to listen to: your critique group, your editor or art director, your research sources (in the case of nonfiction), your expert readers or sensitivity readers, and above all . . . yourself!

5. Why did you come here today? Because you like to dance! (Or write or illustrate or . . . )

Sometimes we can be so caught up in really working at what we’re doing that we lose track of the reason we’re doing it in the first place. And related to that . . .

6. Don’t feel happy only when you do everything perfectly.

If that’s the case, you’re going to spend a lot of time feeling unhappy. Part of dancing, art-making, and life in general is finding ways to be happy in the midst of imperfection.

7. And last but not least, my favorite advice of all. What’s this?

Advice for authors and illustrators: confidence
Hint: the correct answer is not me in a goofy pose!

It’s a C. What does it stand for? CONFIDENCE! Take it with you wherever you go. This is closely related to #2. But I love the idea that confidence is something you can choose to take with you. This is not the same as arrogance, mind you. I believe when we’re coming from a place of confidence rather than fear, we make better art and we more positively affect all those around us.

And that does it! I wish everyone reading well with all their creative endeavors–whether they be on the stage or on the page.

P.S. For more evidence of my love of ballet, check out this post from a while back about The Nutcracker Comes to America by Chris Barton with illustrations by Cathy Gendron.

2 thoughts on “A Ballet Teacher’s Advice for Authors and Illustrators

  1. Charles Waters

    Here, here to a blog post that goes across all sorts of obstacles we humans must face in working toward doing what we love to the best of our ability. Here’s to Twyla Tharp, here’s to Carol Hinz!


    1. carolhinz

      Awww, thank you, Charles! I love reading advice from writers, but sometimes it’s fun to cast a wider net and look to those in other creative fields too!

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