Tag Archives: success

What Success Looks Like: Lessons from Little League

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This spring, it felt like my life had been taken over by little league. I had a daughter playing softball and a son playing baseball and between the two of them, we seemed to do little else. (Practice, games, driving, washing uniforms, packing snacks, Gatorade runs, etc.)

Things got significantly more exciting at the end of the season, because,

1. My daughter’s team won the championship, and

2. My son finally got a chance to pitch.

Each of these gave me a picture of what success looks like that I’ve been pondering ever since. As long as we’re writing, we’ll be judging our writing and determining its success. Sometimes by valid measures, sometimes not. Sometimes by internal measures, sometimes external. Each of us has a picture of what success would look like–a finished manuscript, an agent, a book deal, a bestseller, a movie deal, a starred review, a National Book Award. The picture changes as we move forward, and sometimes the finish line seems to recede on the horizon. When can we truly count ourselves successful?

Here’s what I learned from each of these little league experiences.

Lesson #1: As I mentioned, my daughter’s team won the championship. I think the magnitude of this is best illustrated by a conversation I had with my husband the night before the tournament started.

Me: Do you think we need to keep Wednesday clear on the schedule?

Husband: [laughs] No.

Me: Yeah. You’re right. At this point, there is a 0% chance they’ll be in the championship game.

Yes, I said those actual words. I wasn’t being cruel or pessimistic, just as realistic as possible. The team had lost almost all of their games. They were having fun, and we absolutely considered it a successful season, but 0% seemed like an honest assessment of their chances of winning their first two games and making it to the championship. But, of course, they did, and we scrambled to get her to that championship game, which her team won soundly. This is how happy she was:

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So what’s the lesson in this? You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if you’re being absolutely practical (or even pessimistic) about your chances of success and determine the odds to be near zero, success may find you anyway. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

Lesson #2: Ever since the Giants won the World Series in 2014 almost entirely on the pitching of Madison Bumgarner, my son has wanted to be a pitcher. And not in that “I want to be a pitcher and now I’m going to play video games” kind of way. He has pitched to his dad and his grandpa and his coaches and friends, and when nobody was there to catch the ball, he pitched to the back fence. He practiced almost every day, but for most of the season, there were better pitchers on the team and he played second base. But still, he pitched to people and walls and threw invisible baseballs in the kitchen.

And then his time came. He got to pitch a couple of innings. He walked the first batter, then pulled it together and shut down the next two innings, including four strikeouts. The next game, his coach let him pitch until he’d reached the league maximum pitch count. His coach later described the game as “by far the best pitching performance we’ve seen all season.”

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This one was a strike for sure. 🙂

Again, the lesson: You may be far closer to success than you think. Even if all your hard work seems to have gotten you nowhere, your big break (pun intended) may be in the very next inning. The key is to keep working. Show up for the game and do your best. That’s it.

His team didn’t win the championship. She practiced and never got to throw a pitch in a game. Neither reached every goal they set out to accomplish. But do all three of us consider these little league seasons successful? Absolutely. Because success depends on showing up and working hard and, yes, achievement, but it’s about perspective too. We have to allow ourselves to celebrate. We have to create room in our hearts to recognize the successes, and to set things aside to shoot for next season.

I believe in you, readers. Whatever your picture of success looks like, I would not put your odds at 0%, and clearly it wouldn’t matter if I did. If you show up and work hard, good things will happen, often when you least expect them. In the words of my wonderful grandmother, who never once wished me good luck:

“Luck has nothing to do with it. You’re ready! I wish you success!”

____________________________________________

profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Dreams Come True, Inspiration, rejection and success, Satisfaction

What Seeds Do We Plant?

As writers, we love to see stuff blossom. Anything, really.

Flowers? Yes! We want to see those colors, see those shapes, see that–aah, wow, yes!–stunning growth from what was once a tiny seed.

Kids? Yes! We want to see our kids–whether those we parent, those we teach, or those for whom we write–grow into confident, bold, kind, and wise human beings.

Stories? Yes! We want to see the characters about whom we care so deeply, the plots into which we pour our minds, and the conflicts through which we split open our hearts all grow, develop, and yield something beautiful.

And because we are writers, we know that stories need endings. We know that planting a seed–starting something off–can be satisfying in its own way, but were we to always stop at the Starts, we’d feel somehow aloof, adrift, maybe even…angry. (For more on anger, read Susan Vaught’s remarkable post on the emotion here.)

But as writers, our desire for strong finishes, redeeming denouements, blossoming finales leaves us, well, kind of with our hands tied when it comes to one issue: publication. We can create and craft and revise and submit to our heart’s delight, but we have no control over the endings. None.

And if you’re anything like me, this kind of hurts to admit. It feels powerless, scary, and confusing.

So when I found a line from Robert Louis Stevenson that spoke directly to that fear, I wrote that line in my journal, posted it on the wall by my desk in the classroom where I teach 7th grade, put it on a sticky note inside my wallet, texted my friends with the quote, and pretty much repeated it to anyone I met. Even grocery store cashiers.

Stevenson wrote, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

About five years ago, my wife, Jennifer and I decided that we were going to give away most of what we owned, and bring our two-year old son abroad to live in England for three years. She would work on her PhD, and I would be a stay-at-home dad and write. I thought that some of the many seeds I’d planted as a writer would blossom at some point during our three-year excursion, helping us to have a little  more income other than the student loan on which we were going to live.

And I planted a lot of seeds during those three years. I wrote drafts of four middle grade novels. I wrote drafts of 50 picture book manuscripts. I wrote proposal packages for three non-fiction books. I wrote two drafts of literary fiction-esque novels. I wrote a slew of poems.

And then I revised many of these projects, trashed many of them, rewrote many of them.

Hands in dirt! Planting seeds! Going deep!

Dirt in fingernails! Still planting!

And I woke up each morning with that magical thought bubble: Hey, you know, well, yeah…THIS COULD BE THE DAY. 

But it never was. And as we watched electric bills pile up, “Rent Due” notices gather, and as we marked on the calendar when each student loan installment was going to come–itching for that student loan disbursement day with hopeful fear–another thought bubble began to form: Maybe this isn’t going to work. Maybe this was crazy.

And so I looked for a “real” job while my son was in preschool. I applied to janitorial jobs, substitute teaching jobs, grocery store clerk jobs, secretarial jobs.

Hey, more dirt! Digging! Fingernails dirty with job applications! Yeah!

But none of those job applications yielded, well, JOBS. In fact, none of those seeds even yielded an interview.

This went on for a long time, and eventually the only job I could find was to deliver newspapers. So I delivered newspapers. And I was a little angry about it some mornings. (Again, thank you Susan Vaught for your incredible post!) And some mornings I managed to listen to music and see the bright side of it: it was teaching me to wait, to struggle, to hope, to be looked at like I was insane by the tweens delivering newspapers, to appreciate my wife and son who did the route with me some days, hleping me feel like I really wasn’t a complete failure as a father and a writer.

To shorten what may already be becoming a belabored story: nothing happened. All three of those England years yielded no blossoms that would help us make rent, no successes to which we could write home about. And we flew back home humbled, yes, but also more together as a family. More aware of the actual journey of a writer. More ‘okay’ with failure. And more able to be honest about those emotions inside that aren’t always happy and glad and smiley (yup: again, a nod of gratitude to Susan!).

Now, looking back, those three years in England sometimes take on a resplendent glow. When books are under contract and coming out, it feels easier to look back at those three years and say, See! They were all worth it, all leading up to this point! The planting MATTERED! Dirty fingernails, huzzah!

But that would be a mistake. More than a mistake, I think it might be downright wrong–the absolute opposite of what Stevenson meant by his quote. I don’t think the planting is worth it ONLY if / because it reaps a harvest. Instead, the planting is worht it because that’s what good writing and good living are all about.

We cannot control outcomes. We cannot control blossoms and harvests. And if we see seed-planting as worthwhile only because a harvest is reaped, then I think the point of seed-planting is lost. If I go back to those years in England and reconnect with what mattered there, I would see that it was the turning on of the computer after another rejection. It was the delivery of the morning paper after another late bill. It was the relationships that formed between my wife and I, and with our son.

Those were the seeds.

And if a harvest or a blossom ever comes, in a weird way, it carries with it the danger of losing touch with seed-planting, and focusing more on the harvest. If I’m being honest? Right now, that’s my struggle. I need help from friends to go back to the turning on of the computer–to WRITE, not to CHECK on stuff. To plant seeds, not to see what kind of harvest might be reap-able.

If I don’t end each day with dirty fingernails, then am I really living? Am I really writing, after all?

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Filed under Uncategorized

Time to take the next step

Oh, my feathered friends—the time has come for this Emu hatchling to stretch her legs and race off into the sunset. But first, perhaps, there’s time for one last stroll down memory lane?

I joined this blog more than two years ago, within weeks of getting my first book deal. You might say that I was a little overenthusiastic. I will be eternally grateful to founder Jeannie Mobley and the rest of the early Emus for welcoming me so warmly to the mob.

In my first year, I shared what it was like to see kids read (an early, unedited version of) my book for the first time.   I learned the ropes by helping to launch several Emu books. I made plum dumplings in honor of Jeannie’s debut, Katerina’s Wish, and accepted the dare of stuffing my face with chocolate cake while reading Matilda to help launch Jeanne Ryan’s Nerve. 


To this day, I still can’t eat chocolate cake.

ALL FOUR STARS cover

There’s nothing quite like seeing the cover for your first book.

2013 arrived, and I tried to write some quasi-helpful writing- and publishing-related posts. I shared my star-chart method of motivation. I obsessed about selling a second book…and then I sold one.  And then, suddenly, All Four Stars had a cover and 2014 was looming and, lo and behold, my debut year had arrived.

In the first week of 2014, I published my most personal post—“A Different Kind of Call,” about my mom’s illness and the joy of being able to share an advance copy of my novel with her. It went a little bit viral, thanks to WordPress picking it up for their Freshly Pressed page. What an unexpected honor, and my first real experience with a large number of strangers connecting with my writing.

 
And then what happened to the rest of the first half of 2014? I’m really not sure, though I know I tried (and often failed) to remember that there was life outside of my looming book launch.   We launched Adi’s and Joshua’s awesome novels, and then it was my turn. The Emus were their brilliant, creative selves, inventing “Flat Gladys”s and custom recipes and sending Gladys Gatsby out into the world with all of the love and enthusiasm she could ever hope for.

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman

*pets the pretty cover for book 2*

So, now I’m a published author. My day-to-day life isn’t too different from how it was before–I still write, and teach, and hustle to get the next book project going. But I do get the occasional awesome e-mail from a fan of All Four Stars, and sometimes I get to go to libraries or schools or bookstores to talk readers and sign books. (Event alert—I’ll be in Larchmont, NY, this Monday evening doing exactly that!) And, of course, I’m gearing up to do this book-launch thing all over again next May, when my second book—The Stars of Summer,  sequel to All Four Stars—is released. (I just revealed the cover over at my own blog, and you can enter to win a signed ARC over there as well if you’re so inclined.)

So the time has come for me to move on and help make room for the next clutch of Emu eggs. I know that they’re going to hatch into incredible authors, and I can’t wait to read each and every one of their books.

Meanwhile, I hope to see you around on the Internet!

Twitter

Facebook

Website/Blog

*waves her wing*

*gallumps off into the unknown*

__________________________________________

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Farewell, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

On overnight success (Surprise! It’s a lot like failure.)

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 head shotLaurie 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.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Discipline, Faith, Rejection, rejection and success, Writing and Life

Thoughts on being star-struck …

Emma's StarIn the past two weeks, I’ve found out that my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, received starred reviews from two industry journals — Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

As a debut author, I’m new to this, but I knew enough to know this was a big deal. My publisher was happy. My agent was happy. My writing friends were happy. I was, to put it mildly, ecstatic. After all the work and the waiting and the rejection and the waiting and the revision and the waiting, people who didn’t know me or my book thought it was worthy of some distinction.

Wow.

And Lisa Morlock, an author friend of mine, even sent me two stars of her own to go with my Kirkus and PW stars. One, shown at the upper right, was drawn by her daughter, Emma. That was even nicer.

When things calmed down a little, I started reading other book reviews. I looked up my favorite books. Books I have displayed on my desk as inspiration that maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll be a good enough writer to write a book like that.

I was surprised to see that many of the books I adore did not get starred reviews. And one of my absolute favorite books, one that many people regard as something of a classic, not only did not get a starred review, it didn’t even get particularly positive comments.

This didn’t shatter my illusions, but it did make me pause. And remember something I knew all along.

Art is subjective. Two equally intelligent people are capable of reading the same book or watching the same movie or listening to the same music and having equally passionate — but completely opposite — responses to it.

So when all is said and done, your book is your book. Loved, loathed or overlooked, it was your best effort to tell the story you wanted to tell at the time you told it. You control that part. How others perceive it and what they see in it may have more to do with them and their life experiences than you and yours.

I’m happy my first two reviews have been positive. I’m not, by nature, a huggy person, but I’d hug Kirkus. Or Publishers Weekly. Or Lisa Morlock. The whole thing has kind of been like having an extra birthday without having to turn a year older.

But, I’m mentally prepared for the less-glowing comments as well. They may come from another well-known review journal. They may show up on Amazon or GoodReads. Or in a private email to my inbox. Or be reflected by lackluster sales and remaindered copies.

I think my mantra for when that happens will be: “It’s out of my hands.”

But for now, I’m going to enjoy the stars I have — especially the ones provided by my friend, Lisa — and focus my efforts on things I do have some control over. Promoting SOPHIE’S SQUASH the best I can. Writing and revising my next books (Maybe even using the Carol Brendler non-outline method.) Working to be a better and better writer so I can live up to the standards set by the books on my desk.

STAR-ting right now.

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Filed under Happiness, Reviews

The first book vs. the debut book

It’s pretty obvious that EMU’s Debuts is a blog for debut authors (heck, it’s right there in the name). And being “debut authors” means that we’re all getting a book we wrote published for the first time. But what may be less obvious is that for most of us, our debut book is not the same as our first book.

While I don’t have any hard facts in front of me, I’ve talked with plenty of writers and hung around on writerly forums enough to know that most writers have a book or four “in the drawer” (or, more likely these days, buried in a folder on a hard drive somewhere). These “practice” novels or picture books helped the writer learn his craft, but will probably never end up getting published.

For our young readers—and for many beginning writers—this fact can be mind-boggling. How could someone go through all the work of writing a whole book that no one else (except maybe for the writer’s mom) will ever read?

Well, for some of us, it’s not all that hard. We see that the book we wrote has serious flaws, we get all excited about a new story idea, and we move on.

But for others, it’s a lot harder, especially if that first book was a story that had real personal significance—if it was the “book of your heart.” YA author Beth Revis wrote an excellent blog post about this very topic last year, and it has stayed in my head ever since. A first book of this type can be very difficult to let go of if it doesn’t snag you an agent or a book deal. And some writers find this experience so disappointing that they never write another book.

Still, most of the published novelists I know wrote at least one book before they wrote the one that got them an agent, and for many the book that snagged their agent’s attention wasn’t the one that ended up getting published. And I imagine that most picture-book writers have even more books in the drawer than novelists do!

Of course, there are always exceptions to these kinds of rules–and on paper, I’m one of them. GLADYS GATSBY (final title still to be determined) is, technically, both my first novel and my debut.

BUT.

It took me almost five years to write a first draft of the book, and then months of intensive rewrites to get it into agent-baiting shape. Then there was more intensive revision for my editor before she made an offer on the book, and let’s not even talk about the wringer the manuscript has been through over the last few months of the editing process. I recently took a look at the first chapters of that first draft of the book, and…shudder. They will be staying deep in the Drawer of Bad Writing (preferably under a protective layer of smelly socks).

The handful of other writers I know whose debuts and first books are the same all have similar stories–as many years of toil and rewriting on the same story as many other writers would put into two or three books. And I bet that most of them would agree that while their first book and their debut book may share the same title or storyline, they really aren’t the same book at all.

The bottom line is that there’s no one right way to reach the point in your writing career where your work is ready to debut; five authors will tell you five different stories of their paths to publication. But whether they rewrote the same book nine times or wrote nine practice novels (or, um, 90 picture books?), their paths are all almost guaranteed to have been long, challenging, and highly educational.

Put another way, here are the immortal words of Anne Lamott from her excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird:

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.”

Replace “first drafts” with “first books,” and you get my drift. 🙂

***

Readers, are you surprised to learn that an author’s debut book is often not their first?

Writers, care to share how many manuscripts you have in the drawer, or how long you wrote (and rewrote) your debut book if it was also your first?

Share in the comments!

_________________________________________________________________________________
TaraDairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. Her debut middle-grade novel, THE DELICIOUS DOUBLE LIFE OF GLADYS GATSBY, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

The Curious Phenomenon of Evolving Self-Perception

My AALB bookshelf - still the alpha shelf in Chez Jung, yo.

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES belongs on the Arthur A. Levine Books shelf! Yes it does!

As the release date for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities approaches, I seem to be going through some changes in self-perception. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “Mike, you’re clearly a megalomaniac, which means you’re not capable of changes in self-perception!” Here’s a little secret: I’m not really a megalomaniac. I’m actually a quivery ball of emotional insecurity, which makes it a bit strange that lately I feel…good about my writing career? And not in a spoofy “I’m the king of the world” way, but in a “oh wow, THAT just happened” kind of way, or a “perhaps all this good stuff happening to me is justified” kind of way.

For example, I now have advance reader copies winging their way out into the world, and I was asked to whip up a list of suggested readers. I asked a bunch of people who I know to one degree or another, which was hard enough, but in a burst of uncharacteristic real-world bravado I also asked one of my very favorite kidlit authors if I could send them an ARC. Someone who I don’t actually know at all – no email, no Facebook conversations, not even a single-tweet exchange on Twitter. Nada. And that person said “sure, I’d love to take a look.” At which point my head suddenly – oh wait, I think it’s about to happen aga–

The ARC of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES!

Oh man, ain’t that pretty?

*head explodes*

Uh, sorry. I’ll clean that up later… Anyway, the fact that this person is willing to read my ARC is FANTASTIC! It’s fantastic partly because it’s something that seemed so far out of reach three years ago, when I was scuffling through the query process and revising in what often felt like a state of intense psychological isolation. I have the best critique partners in existence, but it really isn’t the same as working with colleagues in the publishing industry the way I do now. I partially defined my writerly identity with terms like aspiring, up-and-coming, and just plain unpublished. And the word I’ve used more than any other is, of course, writer. But now I find myself growing increasingly comfortable with a different term, one that I’ve always perceived as having a certain air of untouchability: author.

Starred-review-collecting EMU J. Anderson Coats touched on this in her early post on how we answer the question “What do you do?” It’s funny how loaded one little six-letter word can be, isn’t it? Writer, author, author, writer, which one am I, oh I don’t dare call myself an author, etc. One of the things I appreciate most about the kidlit world is that people are clearly invested in living the self-examined life – logically enough, since it’s a prerequisite for the writing process. There’s a widespread awareness about how we project ourselves as public figures, assess our place on the continuum of children’s literature, discuss potentially sensitive topics, and affect the feelings of our colleagues and friends. I value this tremendously.

The thing is, I also struggle with this. I’ve struggled with it before, but now it’s happening differently, probably because the advent of my career as a published author feels so much bigger than anything I’ve previously experienced in my professional life. I’m struggling with the balance between being sensitive/diplomatic/cautious/humble and being expressive/optimistic/risk-embracing/celebratory.

I don’t want to be a jerk, you know? I’m entirely too capable of being a jerk. But I also feel really good about my place in the kidlit community, optimistic about my book’s prospects, and confident in my own abilities. Back in my pre-published days (which are still pretty recent), I started making a very informal list of things I wanted to happen during my journey to publication. They were things I thought I’d really love to experience and were contained within the big dream of publication, but they also qualified as dreams in their own right. And those things have actually started happening!

Broadcast News, one of the best movies of the 1980s

Really good movie, BTW.

In a scene from the old James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News, William Hurt’s character says, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Albert Brooks’s character responds, “Keep it to yourself!” That’s not an uncommon sentiment, and I do want to be mindful of the pitfalls of excessive self-adulation. L.B. Schulman touched on this in her early post on “Spreading the Good News.” I know the danger of being perceived as a braggart is real – in fact, the danger of genuinely becoming a braggart is real. I’m both a writer and a library professional, so I spend a lot of time in the company of people who share my don’t-be-a-blowhard concerns, which I think is much more positive than not.

But.

There are times when these tendencies have inhibited me. There’ve been moments when I may have robbed myself of joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of diplomacy, and that by trying not to irritate people through excessive self-regard I’ve unnecessarily put myself down. That’s the last thing I want to do right now, because I have this extraordinary feeling that my professional life is metamorphosing into something that has more purpose and meaning than it’s ever had before.

I keep returning to the great warhorse in my stable of quotes, Marianne Williamson’s astonishing insight into our deepest fears, and realizing that I don’t want to play small. I want my light to blaze like the sun! I’m very happy, and I’ve tried to be open about expressing it. The infancy of my career has been more than a dream come true: it’s been an entire series of dreams come true. I’ve driven myself like a plowhorse to get here, and I’ll continue to drive myself as my career progresses. I’ve described myself as many things during the journey to publication. I’m a newbie! I’m a wannabe! I’m a dreamer, a writer on the verge, a burgeoning creative professional! Now I’m adding one more thing to the list, yes I am, right out there for the entire world to see.

Look alive, world. I’m an author.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, jealousy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness

Where Can You Find Cynthia?

Alas, the time has come to wrap up Cynthia Levinson’s debut week for her book WE’VE GOT A JOB. But don’t despair! We’re leaving you with more places to find Cynthia on the web. We’ve left a trail for readers, teachers, writers, and, well, just about anyone who’d like to know more about Cynthia’s writing process and what led her to craft such an important book. We’ve chosen…

…as your handy-dandy WE’VE GOT A JOB online guide. Click here for a page with several thumbnails–each a trail that ends in an interview with Cynthia.

Find the link in the gray stripe at the bottom of each box and click. Easy, right?

So go ahead–teachers, introduce WE’VE GOT A JOB to your students. (Here’s a free online curriculum guide to get you started). And everyone stay tuned to Cynthia’s website, where she’ll soon be posting a trailer produced by the 4th grade students you met in yesterday’s post.

Although we hate to say farewell to this auspicious debut week, we know that Cynthia’s book will live on in classrooms across the country and in the hands of readers of all ages.

On page 115 of WE’VE GOT A JOB, Cynthia quotes Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. as saying to the children of Birmingham:

“You are certainly making history, and you are experiencing history. And you will make it possible for the historians of the future to write a marvelous chapter.”

Cynthia Levinson is that historian, and WE’VE GOT A JOB is, indeed, that marvelous chapter.

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Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Education, Happiness, Social Media

Enough is Enough! (or is it?)

My task today is to respond to Michelle’s lovely and wise Monday post, in which she reflected on celebrating the many small victories along the path to publication. She evoked the concept of dayenu–meaning “that would be enough”–as a sort of mantra to acknowledge each moment of joy along the way.

I love this concept, and this attitude. I love the idea of reflecting on a draft or a round of revisions and gratefully saying to myself, “that would be enough.” I love the idea of smiling serenely and feeling the contentment of a job well done right down to the core of my being.

"What's that you say Mr. Darcy? You're violently in love with me? Dayenu!"

I also love the idea of meeting Mr. Darcy at a ball, having him fall madly in love with me, and professing the violence of his emotion for me right there in the Collins’ parlor. To be perfectly honest, the likelihood of either of these dreams coming true is about equal.

The thing is, the idea that my accomplishments are enough has never been something I could believe, at least not since grade school. Long before entering the so-called formative years of puberty, I had learned that most things about me were not enough, or at least not enough to earn me respect or affection from my peers. My grade school years were marred by fat thighs, cat-eye glasses, orthopedic shoes, and a wardrobe with way too much polyester double-knit. My peers responded with an understandable dose of horror. And while I did well enough in school, teachers let me know I was neither as smart nor as good as my sister, who they had adored the year before. By the time I entered the crushing years of puberty, I was already dragging an atrophied ego. My efforts to please, impress, flirt, or simply be liked, had been widely declared to be “not quite enough.”

Then I hit puberty, and the awkward years. If you feel the need for an audible groan, go right ahead. This is not one of those ugly-duckling-turns-into-a-swan stories. Nor is it the Brady Bunch episode where Marsha takes off Shy Girl’s glasses and she is suddenly transformed into the prom queen. I’ll spare you the gory details–suffice it to say I remained alarmingly unattractive, and for those of you thinking “beauty is only skin deep,” tell that to the scars on my psyche.  And yes, as long as we’re talking in clichĂ©s, looks aren’t everything, but that overachieving blaze-of-glory sister was still blazing along a grade ahead of Mediocrity Me.

La la la... what a pretty strip of green through the desert. But what does it have to do with me? La la la...

I can’t say that years of never being quite good enough did much for my self esteem, and what it did do was generally painful. But while my self esteem withered to a phantom limb, my sense of denial grew until it wasn’t just a river in Egypt, but something much, much bigger.  What years of being told I wasn’t good enough did for me was to make me strive to prove the world wrong.

This, my friends, is my maddening double edged sword of achievement. I am driven to succeed by the need to prove that I AM GOOD ENOUGH, because sometime before the age of ten, a grain of NOT GOOD ENOUGH got wedged so deeply into my soul that it will not come out. My accomplishments are the pearl that I have formed around that grain as protection, but the grain is still there.

The reason I have a PhD in my chosen field, the reason I have an agent, the reason I have a novel under contract, is because I have never been able to say “Dayenu.” Is this healthy? Were those achievements equal to the pains and humiliations of my youth? I don’t know, although I know I am not alone. CEOs, sports superstars, artists and literary figures before me have been driven by insecurity. I am in good, if somewhat pathetic, company.

Still, Michelle’s post was so beautiful. I like the idea of someday saying Dayenu. Even more, I like the idea of knowing what that feels like to say it and believe it. And maybe some day I will. Maybe I will be able to  put my insecurities to rest once and for all, embrace and celebrate my talents, and step into the light as someone who can say

That would be enough. Dayenu.

But there are still things I need to achieve first. For one thing, my editor has some amazing best-selling writers on her list, and frankly, that’s seriously scary. I’ve got to keep striving for more if I’m going to hang out in that crowd.

So for today I’ll say, “it’s not quite enough, but it’s a great start,” and I will consider that a big step forward from the crushed little girl I once was.

As for “Dayenu,” I’m saving that for the day Mr. Darcy proposes.

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Filed under rejection and success

Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about my transformation from writer to published author—and I don’t mean signing on the dotted line or that new tiara I bought myself. I mean getting serious. Shifting perspective. Taking action. (Maybe I need my own action figure doll?)

SCBWI had become a social world for me. I’d made friends and enjoyed the conferences. For about four years, I met with editors who had enthusiasm for my work. Each time, I went home and started something new—much to the frustration of my writers’ group. “Why are you working on this new thing?” they would ask. “I thought Editor X requested the other full manuscript at Conference Q.” I would shrug, telling them I had a new “voice” in my head.

Enter Editor Z. When I sat down for a critique, she raved about my 25 pages. What direction did the story go in? Was it finished? She actually said, “I have to have this.” Was this “Candid Camera: SCBWI Edition?” I hoped Geraldo would not host.

I proclaimed that it wasn’t done, but it would be. I don’t know if it was this particular editor, or that I was finally brave enough to see if I had what it took. But, for whatever reason, I went home with my eye on the prize. In ten months, the novel was ready to go. I packed it up, my kids kissed the envelope, and off it went. This was it. That was that. I was going to be published! Time to start planning the book launch, right?  

Ten months later, approx 300 days, or 7,200 hours, the rejection came. Editor Z had taken the time to write a very kind, gracious, and detailed letter. She made suggestions, but they just weren’t things that my protagonist would do. So, I wrote her a heartfelt note, and let go of the idea of working with her. I was devastated, and I licked my wounds for longer than I’d like to admit.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was people telling me it was okay. That it was great to have just written a novel and, if it never got published, well…it was still a great accomplishment. I agree. It is. But it annoyed me just the same. I know people were well-meaning, but it felt like permission to give up. So, I took on researching agents like I was training for the Olympics. I had charts, ratings, and notes from writers’ blogs, Publishers Marketplace, and Verla Kay Blue Boards.

I would soon drive five and a half hours to the incomparable Flying Pig Bookstore to meet the agent that held the top spot on my chart. More than one person told me I was crazy for making such a trip. Aside from the distance, she was Erin Murphy. I was told, “She’s a rock star agent!” to which I shrugged. “Why start at the bottom?” Did I think I’d actually sign with her? Maybe not. But I was happy to take the chance to risk the, “No.”

So, you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Are you close to finishing a ms but can’t quite get to the words, “The End?” Do you talk about querying but never actually push the “send” button? Do you spend a lot of time reading books on craft and not enough time writing? Please read this excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s quote; let every syllable sink in.

“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…”    (Full quote here. Thanks, Mike!)

I think most writers, artists, musicians and other creative types feel this sometimes; it’s part of being imaginative. For some of us, the difficulty doesn’t lay in the craft of writing, though. Not directly. I think it’s, perhaps, rooted in vulnerability—three facets of it.

The first facet is the upset of having someone not love your work; it’s easy to take this personally. Gosh, most writers and artists can understand that! However, it’s important to stay open to yourself and others during these times. Also, even if we pour our heart and soul into our work, it is still a product to be sold (if your eye is on publication) and that requires some objectivity. If you’re feeling vulnerable? That can be tough.

Secondly, I think those of us who struggled as kids sometimes feel like they are “less than” in some respects. The idea that we could be talented and “powerful beyond measure” can feel odd because, to varying extents, it goes against our emotional grain. It feels unnatural, like driving on the left side of the road or having a cheeseburger for breakfast. Even so, dare to be remarkable!

The final way relates to the work itself, I think. The letting go of the slice of yourself that you may be holding back. The cracking yourself wide open part—that’s your voice. That’s where you mine your gold. The parts of yourself that can make the rejection so hard are the very parts that can take your work to the next level. Maddening, isn’t it?

I can’t tell you not to be afraid, but I can tell you I know how you feel. The reason I revisited this quote after Mike covered it in his post last week, is this: When I first read this quote a few years ago, it triggered my attitude shift. I carried it in my pocket for weeks. It stunned me. Mostly, it saddened me. The quote defies logic, yet I knew it pegged my writing life. I decided that I may not get published, but I didn’t want to look back on all this knowing I’d just given up. And I didn’t want my kids to see me do that either. How many times had I told a disappointed kid who’d almost made a soccer goal, “You’ll get it next time!” I decided there were far worse things than rejection letters or not getting published.

So, ante up. Slide those chips into the center of the table. It’s a small gamble compared to the winnings—pride in knowing you have some gumption. Some guts. All the while, remember, that there are people who want to cheer you on, support you, and celebrate with you—including me! And you know what? If you get rejections, you can handle them. You can. Yeah, I know it’s hard, but you’ll brush yourself off, hone your book, and you’ll ante up again. You will. Just like I did.

36 Comments

Filed under Agents, Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life