Lydia Criss Mays, PhD's Self-Discovery Lesson on the Power of Reading

I’m excited that today, Lydia Criss Mays is “Speaking From the Heart” and sharing her experiences with all of us. I have known Lydia for the past couple of years. I have been so inspired by her beautiful vision and passion that I asked her to be part of this series; she is a mentor to me. On See Beautiful’s website, Lydia shares the stories of others. In this interview, I’m delighted that we all get to hear her beautiful thoughts.

Lydia Criss Mays, Ph.D., is the Founder and President of See Beautiful™, an organization committed to inspiring others to see the beauty they inherently possess, while empowering all to see more beautiful in the world. A former elementary school teacher and college professor of Early Childhood Education, Lydia is also an award-winning children's book author.  She lives with her amazing husband, Andrew, and two wildly wonderful dogs, Lilly and Buddy in Atlanta, Georgia. Read her interview below.

(c) Lydia Criss Mays. Used with Permission.
(c) Lydia Criss Mays. Used with Permission.

Why do you believe self-expression (speaking from the heart) is important?

Speaking from the heart is what connects us on the most basic, and most important, human level. If we bat around at who we are and what we care about, we’re striking out. We miss the opportunity to authentically connect with others if our self-expression doesn’t match our self.

How has writing empowered you in other areas of your life?

Writing has empowered me to start a company that inspires others to live out their See Beautiful stories. My writing, whether for children or at the University-level, has given me an opportunity to share my beliefs and experiences to work toward equity and work for social justice. It’s also provided a space to invite families to connect, have fun, and build new memories together. Writing has humbled and inspired me in every arena.

How did you find your authentic voice through writing?

By reading. Reading. Reading. Reading. There is no doubt my authentic voice in writing was born through my deeply rooted love in reading – anything I can get my hands on (and absolutely including reading the world). Take Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, or Ralph Fletcher’s, Live Writing, and TRY to walk away from the two without the utter NEED to bring your authentic self to crafting words. It’s been a wildly liberating journey – and continues to be so.

How did you develop the courage to stand tall (i.e., get the courage to share your writing)?

Collaborative writing is so inspiring. If you don’t feel you can do it on your own, find a writing partner. Define how you’d like to write together – is it really that you’d like to craft a text together (which I did in my first co-authored children’s book)? Perhaps you want a writing partner to hold you accountable, bounce ideas off of, edit your work, or celebrate your sharing. Regardless, building a community of writers around you is seminal (or was to me) in having the courage to believe it was worthy of being shared.

When you have a hard time writing, what do you do to work through it?

Whew. My dissertation was H.A.R.D. I’m not so sure whether it was the writing itself, or the importance of choosing the “just right words” to convey my thinking, research, and hopes for “meaning” moving forward. Understanding the importance of each word placed on the page made it hard to place each. Word. On. The. Page. To work through it, I surrounded myself with others in my situation and I gave myself the freedom to write what I was thinking instead of writing what had to be perfect. I allowed myself to write in different genres and dream about how to craft my thinking into the required format for my dissertation. I gave myself freedom to be wrong. And when I did that, the words received permission to spill onto the page.

How did you find your support group?

When you’re an avid reader, you often know other avid readers. Chances are, if they’re avid readers, they’re writers of some sort too. On the University level, it was easy to connect with other professors who were researching similar topics and publishing on them. Connecting with others at the university-level is the life-blood of growing understanding in our fields of research. Collaboration is seminal. On the children’s book scale, finding a support group is less easy, but readily available. Check out the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market conferences and “area chapters.” Stay connected with those writing on your topics and those reading your topics. My support group is also children. I need their feedback and inspiration and their interests. They always guide my writing.

Any advice for new writers/authors?

Yes, read about writing. As mentioned above, some of my favorite “teachers” of writing were Anne Lamott, Ralph Fletcher, Katie Wood Ray, and Donalyn Miller. Also check out Stephen King’s On Writing. It is brilliant: A nail-biter for the book-writer in you. If writing children’s books is what you’re after, definitely get your hands on the yearly copy of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book – and it would behoove you to join their organization and your local chapter to engrain yourself in that culture. It’s a beautiful one. Happy penning your story.

Thanks for speaking from your heart and empowering others, Lydia! Keep up the fantastic work empowering others to See Beautiful!

If you have any specific questions for Lydia about her writing process, please feel free to ask :)  Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & Pinterest.

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Have you ever wanted to write a children's book? What lessons did you learn from reading Lydia’s interview? Write the lessons down and why they spoke to you. How do you See Beautiful in the world? Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below or in your personal journal.

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.

See you at the beach!