When I started pursuing this ludicrous, ill-advised thought of becoming a professional children’s author I was cheerfully ignorant of the things writers do to create and sustain their creative lives. Nobody told me people like Natalie Dias Lorenzi create teacher’s guides for children’s literature, or that people like R.L. LaFevers run blogs as priceless and useful as Shrinking Violet Promotions, or that people give keynotes at massively fun events like the 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference.
I wasn’t at that conference, but I followed it on Twitter like a slew of other people, and of course I heard many good things about Sara Zarr’s keynote address on constructing your creative life. During that keynote she said “the time between when you’re no longer a beginner but have yet to break into the business is probably the hardest in your career,” which really struck a chord with many people, if you can believe all the interwebz chatter. It struck a chord with me too, although I think for different reasons. What it made me think was this:
DUDE. That time is over for me. I GET TO MOVE ON TO THE NEXT PART! WHOA!!!
Now, I’m not trying to gloat. It’s not that I’m just so classy that I never gloat – good grief, I gloat about stuff all the time – but there’s definitely a gigantic feeling of relief at the thought that the hardest time in my career is over, and an equally gigantic feeling of elation that now I get to experience the next part for myself.
I don’t think it invalidates any of the other standard post-debut writing career advice out there, just so you know. For example, I’ve already discovered that the terrible, terrible waiting process just plays itself out over and over again in a variety of settings – the glacial pace of the industry has never felt more real. The danger of spending too much time goofing around on social media feels like it’s even greater, ludicrous as that might sound coming from someone who spends 22 hours a day updating his Facebook account. All my standard-issue insecurities about belonging, self-worth, putting my foot in my mouth and coming off as a weirdo are still in full effect. In other words, there are difficult things that haven’t become any less difficult since I landed a book deal.
That’s not true for everything, though. A few years ago (and holy mackerel it’s quite the trippy-dippy experience to say “a few years ago” about ANYTHING related to my still-budding writing career) BEDTIME MONSTER author and writer pal Heather Ayris Burnell interviewed me on her blog interview series THE UNREAD. She asked me about my career goals, and I spewed out a typically puffy and bombastic answer about how I believe writing for its own sake is a totally worthy pursuit, but grraaawwwwrrr, I wanted more, and my next two bigBigBIG goals were representation and publication.
And whaddayaknow, I‘ve actually checked off both of those goals! My hope is that I’ve checked off “representation” for the last time and “publication” for the first time, but it’s pretty darned cool to have checked them off at all. Now as I mentioned previously, I’m aware of the dangers of crowing too much, and I want to be sensitive to my friends and colleagues who still ARE in that trench. L.B. Schulman articulately discussed this in one of the very first posts on this grizzled old blog, and I don’t find much appeal in the thought that my successes might result in the diminishment of someone else’s self-opinion. Maya Angelou said it best: “If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” I’ll argue to the death that children’s writers are engaged in a pursuit that is all about caring for our readers, whether it’s by communicating truths about existence in this world, holding up a mirror to a kid’s own life, or providing a few precious moments of laughter and forgetfulness. Of course we care about the feelings of our comrades-in-literary-arms too! How could we not?
And yet, and yet, in the end I find myself circling back to this quote by Marianne Williamson, one that’s resonated in me right down to my bones ever since I first saw it posted on a professor’s office wall during my grad school days:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I care a great deal about my fellow children’s book creators, whether y’all know it or not. I hope at least SOME of you know it. And for those of you who are battling your way through the thorniest patches of the trail, my heart goes out to you, truly it does. I’m with you. I support you! I want you to succeed.
But I also want to share my own joy over reaching some of the goals I’ve set for myself, you know? Professionally speaking, this is the first time in my life I’ve achieved something that qualifies as a real, honest-to-goodness, no-doubt-about it Dream Come True. It’s a new feeling, and an incredibly good one! Someone recently suggested I might consider acting like I’ve been here before, but gee whizzy whiz, why the heck would I do that? I haven’t been here before! I’m very happy these days, and it’s sooooo not a reflection on anyone who’s in a different spot on the grippy macadam of the road to publication.
I’m gonna let my light shine, my friends. And I’ll bring a big fat armload of kindling to your campsite when it’s time to let yours shine too. We’ll make s’mores, I’ll play a little Poi Dog on the ukelele, we’ll share some grins and brighten up the place with our respective lights, what do you say?