Happiness, a.k.a. something I think it’s actually okay to feel

Look, it's me not hiding my light! Get it? Get it? OH COME ON. I know it's feeble. I'm making this blog post really late, you know...

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?



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29 responses to “Happiness, a.k.a. something I think it’s actually okay to feel

  1. Brills post, Mike! (I expect nothing less from you – tee hee!)

    That Marianne Williamson quote has spent a large amount of time posted at various places around my house. It is so true! We are here to shine our light and that in turn helps to light the way for others. It’s really just the way it is, isn’t it?

    Love you!


  2. Marianne Knowles

    Dear Mike, CONGRATULATIONS!!! And S’mores and warm cider and great big armloads of wood for your bonfire! Thanks for your upbeat post. Thanks for giving yourself–and everyone else, by extension–permission to FEEL GOOD about success! We writers know all about worry and self-doubt and isolation. We often have much to learn about celebration and confidence and camaraderie. And thanks for sharing Marianne Williamson’s quote, which has has been taped to the wall of my own writing space for several years, now.


    • Mike Jung

      Thanks Marianne! And yeah, I totally get those issues with worry, self-doubt and isolation – they have an insidious tendency to feed off each other too.


  3. Dana Carey

    Someone I met at a SCBWI conference sent me that Marianne Williamson quote and I hung it right over my computer but I haven’t actually read it for a really long time; just stopped seeing it! It’s nice of you to point it out.

    Bask in the brilliance of your light, enjoy the good feeling, and yes let it shine. You deserve it.

    Thanks for a great post, Mike. You made me smile.


  4. nan marino

    Do all ya/mg writers have that Marianne Williamson quote posted someplace in their home? I had it tacked onto my pc for so long that it yellowed, then fell behind my desk and got thrown out during one of my big cleans. But this post has inspired me to paste up another copy.
    Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate dreams coming true?
    Thanks for the great post, Mike.


    • Mike Jung

      Hey Nan! In the years since I first saw that quote I’ve also seen it on the walls and bulletin boards of activists, musicians, businesspeople and yes, writers.


  5. Cynthia Levinson

    Practically everyone so far has used the word “brilliant” to describe your post, Mike. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “This is brilliant.” I love the quote and will paste it over the window pane in front of my desk. (See photo attached to my last post!)

    When I was growing up, my father frequently said to me, “Don’t hide your light under a basket.” I had no idea what he meant. Light? What light? More importantly, what’s MY light? How do I shine it?

    One of the favorite songs of the kids I’m writing about is “This Little Light of Mine.” It’s a civil rights song. The second line is “I’m gonna let it shine.” I’ve always loved that song, too, and, in light (ahem) of the kids’ extraordinarily brave actions confronting huge, meanies in uniform, it made sense to me.

    Interestingly, although I never did figure out how to make my internal light shine, which is probably a major reason I didn’t succeed as an educational consultant, I’ve become absolutely driven about promoting my book about these kids. I’ve already done school visits, even though the book won’t be out for nearly a year. I’ve submitted 5 proposals to give presentations at national teachers’ conferences. I’m planning cards, campaigns, launches. I’m even developing an invitation list (you’re all on it, even though I don’t have dates or venues yet!).

    Maybe my light is to shine it on other people’s stories, which I get to tell. I kinda love that.


    • Mike Jung

      Thanks Cynthia! And you know what, “shining a light on other people’s stories, which we get to tell” seems like a very apt way to describe it, especially if you put any stock into the idea that we’re all tapping into a collective pool of creativity (as Elizabeth Gilbert discussed in her TED speech a couple of years ago when she talked about the historical concept of daemons).


  6. L.B. Schulman

    Hey, Mike, I just bought a real ukulele! Oh, wait, that wasn’t the point. Sorry. Your post made me happy inside. It reminded me of the moment, so far kept very private, of happiness that I’ve felt. Like just last week, when I kissed my contract in the post office than handed it over, then went outside in the downpour and was the only person around smiling. You are absolutely right that it’s okay to feel it, and I have become more comfortable with living in the happiness recently. Your post is thoughtful and so true. And I have been looking around for that quote for awhile, so thanks for bringing me back to it so I can tack it to my bulletin board. You’re awesome, Mike.


    • Mike Jung

      UKELELES ARE AWESOME. ANd thanks Lisa! I do think the points you made in your post are always valid – it’s a matter of finding balance, right?


  7. Thanks for sharing your happiness so we can celebrate with you!

    Book news AND s’mores?! You rock 🙂


  8. I am so HAPPY for you Mike :-). As one of many waiting in the thorny patches trying to reach the light, I love hearing about fellow writers successes. It makes it seem reachable, just a matter of perseverance, hard crafting, a tincture of luck and good timing!

    Okay, so I have to admit I am a little envious that you play the uke – is there no end to your talents?
    But what I really want to know is will you come do a talk for me and play the ukelele?


    • Mike Jung

      I WILL COME DO A TALK AND PLAY THE UKE. But only for you, Keely. 🙂 I believe in you, btw, you’re gonna make it through the thorny patch. There is most definitely an element of luck and timing involved, but I have faith that your dedication and skills will have you thoroughly ready at the moment when luck and timing come together. It’s gonna happen!


  9. Hey Mike, Congratulations on meeting your next two bigBigBIG goals! What are the next two?
    I used to play very small, thinking it served the world — but I knew it didn’t serve me. It felt dirty and wrong. When I first saw the Marianne Williamson quote I understood why, for the first time. (And that wasn’t too many years ago…) Now I try to live that quote. Very nice to see it repeated here.
    And I love this blog.


    • Mike Jung

      Thanks Ruth! Funny thing, the scope and tone of my goals seem to have mutated quite a bit. Signing with an agent and getting a book deal both seemed so vast and monolithic, you know? They felt like these HUGE, UNATTAINABLE goals from my earlier perspective. So in a way all of the upcoming goals (successfully revise for my editor, launch the book, sell another book, rinse, dry and repeat) seem less like having to leap HIGHER than before. It’s more like I have to continue making leaps as mammoth as those first two, if that makes any sense. I do have at least one really big new dream, however – one day, when I’m much more established and successful than I am now, I’d love to give a keynote at a national SCBWI conference, preferably LA. That would be amazing. Oh, and apparently you’re the person I need to ace out for the status of Favorite EMLA Client. 😉


      • No, no, no. You have me confused with someone else. I hold the title of Most Neurotic EMLA Client, upgraded last year from Really? Again You’re Panicking About Deadlines; Don’t You Recognize Your Own Process? EMLA Client. I’m aiming toward Most Normal EMLA Client, but it’s a multi-year stretch. (and let me remind you, I also hold sub-title of Most Neurotically Competitive; I want to give the keynote at the national SCBWI conference the year before *you* do)


      • Mike Jung

        YOU DON’T FOOL ME, RUTH! And besides, we’re all neurotic. None of us are normal! Err, are we? I’m not calling everybody abnormal…well okay, I guess I am. I myself am the current champeen in the division of Most Neurotically Anti-Competitive, so hey, go ahead! Give your keynote first! (pssst blog readers, my clever use of reverse psychology totally guarantees that I’ll get to do it first…


  10. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    S’mores, light, and Mike on the ukelele–how much better can it get?! Thanks for brightening up my day. 🙂


    • Mike Jung

      It could probably be better with someone who knows more than three chords on the ukelele, Natalie. 😛 And you’re welcome, thanks for commenting!


  11. Michelle Ray

    I love Poi Dog. And I love your attitude.


  12. Pingback: Happiness, Part II (or the Publishing Sweet Spot) | EMU's Debuts

    • Someone recently suggested I might consider acting like I’ve been here before, but gee whizzy whiz, why the heck would I do that?

      The computer ate my quote from your post, so I repeat. Why indeed?
      This is something to celebrate.


  13. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    As usual, Mike, your post is fantastic! So well written with many universal “writerly things” and opportunities to laugh. I remember seeing that quote a few years ago and being stunned by it.


  14. What? You’ll carry firewood?

    Hee hee.

    Lovely, lovely post Mike. I’ll sit around the campfire with you anytime.


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