Both of last week’s posts here were about failure, or at least the constant perceived threat of failure that so often makes it hard for us to move forward. I’m going to continue the theme, but on a slightly different note. Our own Emu Empress, Erin MUrphy, once said something along the lines of, “For every success, there is a waiting period that feels like failure.” And in a post on this very blog almost three years ago, she followed that up with, “But it’s NOT! It’s just waiting!”
When she wrote that post back in 2011, I’d only been with the agency for a few months. One year from now, I’ll have three books published. That doesn’t seem like very much waiting, especially to those familiar with the pace of the publishing industry. Many of my writer friends have walked up to me and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you’re on FIRE!” Some say things like, “I guess you’ve been busy lately!” Others ask, “So, what’s your secret?” as if I’m holding out on them. A few say, “Boy, did you get lucky!” never thinking that some authors might be a little bit offended by that. (I never am: Yes, indeed, I have gotten very, very lucky!)
So, in the interests of dispelling myths and keeping things real, I thought it might be helpful to break down my “overnight success:”
- Early 1970s: I fell in love with reading: books, magazines, encyclopedias, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, you name it, I read it.
- Somewhere around 1980: I sent away for the application to the Institute of Children’s Literature, filled it out and was accepted! Sadly, my parents didn’t think I was quite ready for a literary career, since I was still in elementary school.
- Late 1980s: I wrote lots of angsty teen poetry, got my first word processor, and discovered term papers – what fun!
- Early 1990s: I minored in technical writing and grammar in college and took honors English courses, even while I went for a “sensible” career in software engineering.
- 2000: A good friend told me I should stop telling her about all the things I was learning and just write my explanations down for everyone to read. I suspect she might have just been trying to shut me up, but I jumped at the suggestion.
- 2004: My first article was published by a regional parenting magazine.
- 2004: I started working on the manuscript that would become both EMMANUEL’S DREAM and BE A CHANGEMAKER (yes, a picture-book biography and a teen how-to guide both evolved from the same project).
- 2006: I enrolled in the Institute of Children’s Literature course… finally!
- 2006: My first magazine article for kids was published.
- 2008: I joined SCBWI.
- 2009: I wrote MY DOG IS THE BEST for an online workshop with Anastasia Suen.
- 2011: I signed with my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary.
- 2012: EMMANUEL’S DREAM sold.
- 2013: BE A CHANGEMAKER and MY DOG IS THE BEST sold.
You can see that there was an awful lot of waiting that felt like failure in there. Of course, I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing in those spaces between the bullet points, either. I was constantly taking classes, reading, studying, writing, getting feedback, revising, submitting… I have dozens of manuscripts and proposals that will never become books and hundreds of ideas that will never even become manuscripts. I’ve collected what feels like thousands of rejections, and still that number continues to grow!
Each one of those could be seen as failure (and, believe me, some days they sure do feel like it), but I try to look at them more as necessary delays, like with air traffic control… or Frogger. Remember how you had to ride the log until another one came by and then jump at just the right moment? Having just the right wait time will eventually put me on the right track with the right skills and life experience for the right idea for the right editor at the right time (hopefully!). After all, what can we do but keep working, putting our work out there, and hoping, even if that means to perpetually risk failure? It’s the only way I know of to get to success.
Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House (January 2015), and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.