One Little Word for 2021

Last January, I chose the word dare as my first official One Little Word, and all I can say is wowza did that work for me. (More on that here.) So—no pressure—rounding the corner into 2021, with the heightened awareness that the one word I choose has the potential to dramatically impact the year ahead. . .

With this in mind, I’ve decided to go with the word heart

In 2021, I will be deep in the heart of my MFA program—semesters two and three of four total. And while I’m frankly amazed that I managed to be successful in my first semester while simultaneously navigating the chaos of coaching and teaching the first half of this school year, I’m determined to maintain my momentum. Writing is at the heart of me.

In the semester that begins next week, I’ll be part of a small cohort of writers in the Picture Book Intensive at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Ten MFA students will read, write, and closely study picture books with advisors Liz Garton Scanlon (!!!) and Linda Urban (!!!), an intense learning experience that will challenge me as a writer in all the best ways. There’s no space to hide or gradually reveal the heart of a picture book; heart must resonate clearly on the page (and in the writer). 

If I’m being honest with myself, the circumstances of the past year have led to some numbing of my connection to my own heart. No one is at their best in survival mode, and I have definitely not been at anything close to my best. It feels a bit like myself has been wrapped in layers of something soft and thick, making it impossible to fully engage with anything on the inside or the outside. This year I want to be aware and intentional enough to feel and express what is at my heart without fear that I can’t or others won’t or it’s just not the right moment with the world falling apart all around us. There are times when self-protection is necessary. . . but I’m ready for that time to be over. 

A month ago today, I lost a family member who I would describe as all heart. The kind of person who made everyone feel loved and important. She took such care with the smallest of details, with the physical and emotional aesthetics of her life. Her craftsmanship for building relationships, for carving out space for her own artistic life, and for making love visible through her actions and undeniable warmth—it is impossible to not want to be more like her. Losing her decades before I ever thought we would adds a sense of urgency to this year’s word. 

I’m hyper aware that I can tend to focus on professional goals at the expense of personal ones. (That’s so much easier and less scary, isn’t it?) The word heart reminds me that it doesn’t have to be either/or; it can (and should) be both/and. Keeping heart front and center in 2021 will help me to stay connected to what is most important to me as a human. And as a writer, this connection to my own heart (and the hearts of others) is essential to create art that speaks to a reader. 


  1. glenda funk

    Your words are gorgeous. Your description of the person who passed makes me long to know her. I never realized how complicated picture books are until attending the Highlights Foundation workshop I won in 2019 during the SOL challenge, but in 2020 several picture books offered catharsis when no other reading did the trick. They made my heart heal just a little from all the heartache foisted on us by the pandemic. Your cohort is lucky to have you.


  2. Fran Haley

    Heart is a powerful word! What strikes me most is your decision to free yours from fears that entrap it, choosing to “feel” versus being – in the words of Pink Floyd – “comfortably numb.” We do have to know our own hearts to begin seeing and connecting with those of others. Love that focus on choices not having to be either/or. There is often a both/and, if we pause and let wisdom guide our hearts…here’s to you pursuing your heart’s desire and all the gifts that lie ahead in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Denise Krebs

    Amy, it sounds like a great semester ahead immersed in picture books. I will look forward to buying and reading your picture book in the future. Here’s to a year full of heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stacey Shubitz

    First, I’m sorry for the loss of your heartstrong family member, Amy. This is such a tough time to lose someone.
    Second, I think you chose the perfect word for the year ahead!
    Oh, and you’re so fortunate to be studying with Urban and Scanlon!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cvarsalona

    Amy, I, too, am sorry for your loss. Your heart will be filled with beautiful memories that will lead you on this year. Heart is a one word not often used so I look forward to your journey with that word as your guide. Best of luck with your MFA program.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

    Amy, your writing is vulnerable, honest and engaging. I deeply appreciate your reflection on DARE from last week and your post about your new word HEART. I believe you have a lot of heart and I am so impressed by you. I can’t wait to see what his year brings for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jonathan Rivera

    Great word choice! Pun very intended! I feel like the more I read about OLWs the more I definitely want to try it. I think heart is perfect. If you ever need inspiration for your word you can listen to one of my favorite podcast episodes of On Being. One of the speakers reads e.e. cummings [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Melanie Meehan

    Amy, I love this post and this word for you SO much! Having been through a similar program, I understand the intensity. You’ll crush this! You have entwined so much in heart– there’s hope, grief, commitment… it’s a perfect word for you in 2021.

    Let’s have a virtual coffee soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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