I used to think of the path to being a published picture book author as an uphill climb. I figured that if I kept trudging, I'd eventually reach the summit: seeing my books in print.
Now, after years as a "pre-published author," I realize that the road isn't as straightforward as I'd thought. It now feels more like "two steps forward, one step back" or sometimes, "one step forward, two steps back."
For example, I might submit to an agent and hear...absolutely nothing, not even a generic rejection. That's a giant step backwards. But then, after submitting to agent #2, I get a lovely rejection that gives me hope to keep going. Moving forward.
Next, I submit my work to a writing contest where I feel I have a good chance of at least making it to the finals. But, alas, this doesn't happen. Just as I'm feeling that I'm tumbling down the mountain, I get great news: agent #3 wants to see more work!
Whoo-hoo! I am on my way up!
I'm ecstatic, perhaps overly so. I try to rein in my enthusiasm, knowing that this contact is not likely to end in a contract. It doesn't...and I'm crushed, although I tell myself this is still a step forward on my path.
I don't know when, where or exactly how I'll get to the point where I am finally published. All I know is that I'll keep moving and taking steps toward my goal.
Yesterday in spin class, I had a revelation: spinning is a lot like the path to publication. Both activities require a commitment to continuing to work hard even when you're not sure you're going anywhere.
In spinning, I pedal, I sweat, I check the clock wondering when class will be over. I look at other people in the class and wonder how they are pushing the pedals so much faster than I am. I know I'm doing something that supports my fitness journey...even though I'm staying in place.
Trying to get published as a children's picture book author feels similar. I work hard. I sweat, even though my perspiration is more mental than physical. I get distracted. I become jealous when I hear that other writers are getting agents, getting published, getting further along their own personal paths to publication. As in spinning, I try to use that envy to push myself harder rather than giving up.
Sometimes, I do wonder if I'm really making progress on my path to publication. But, as with spinning, I tell myself that I'm doing the right things: improving my craft, connecting with the kidlit community; researching agents, and most importantly, writing...and eventually it will pay off.
So here's to continuing to push both the bike pedals and the computer keys!
One of my perennial challenges as a writer is how much writing-related "stuff" I should take part in. There are blogs to follow, contests to participate in, forums to comment on, webinars to attend and a tremendous variety of online communities and activities to choose from. On one hand, I'd like to do it all. But if I did, I'd never do any of my own writing!
Perhaps this dilemma is why I'd never participated before this January in Tara Lazar's Storystorm - a brilliantly simply concept. Participants vow to generate at least 30 picture book ideas during the month of January. Each day, participants are asked to comment on the blog post by a a published author or other expert who shares tips on generating ideas.
I didn't quite know what to expect. I certainly didn't realize I'd learn so much about different ways to generate ideas for picture books. In the past, I'd honestly never given much thought on HOW to come up with ideas...which likely explains why I sometimes struggled to come up with them. With Storystorm, I can't believe how many tips I got on how to generate ideas! Most importantly, participating in this month-long activity got me much more in the habit of always being on the look-out for something that might spark a story.
I came up with at least 30 ideas, one of which I've already developed into a first draft. Some of the others have potential; some are simply silly.
Nonetheless, Storystorm helped make January a super productive month. I plan to stay in the habit of ongoing idea-generation with one small change: the process confirmed that my handwriting is illegible (even to me!) so I plan to record future ideas electronically.
You sit down to write, determined to make real progress on your work-in-progress. But, your ideas aren't flowing as freely as expected, you can't figure out the perfect word to replace the one that doesn't work or your character is simply not speaking to you. You get distracted. Before you know it, you're on Facebook...and then way too much time has slipped by.
I know this happens to me. That's why I've been brainstorming some strategies on how to defeat distraction:
1. Make lists. Wherever you're stuck in your book, make a list: possible character names, of ways for your character to solve her problem, a list of action verbs to replace the bland placeholder. Brainstorming is a way to get your creative juices -- and your story -- moving again.
2. Read. I constantly have various piles of picture books strewn about my office. When I'm stumped on my own writing, I'll often take a break and read several. Sometimes, this will spark an idea. If nothing else, it will spark a smile...and I've got to believe that a happy writer is a better writer!
3. Connect with other writers: You're likely part of one or more online communities of writers, e.g., the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, where you can go to ask for help on a vexing issue in your manuscript. Likewise, you can peruse posts and offer assistance to others. Just make sure that you don't spend so much time with your online friends that it becomes a distraction from your writing!
During our recent "embrace the cold" family trip to beautiful Banff, Canada, I found myself singing the song "Climb Every Mountain" from the Sound of Music. Now that I'm home, I realize this theme song also applies to the life of a children's picture book writer on the path to publication.
Today, my first "official" day of writing in 2019, I'm close to the top of the mountain. I'm exhilarated about the possibilities. I'm excited about the journey. I'm committed to scaling new heights.
But, as we did on our trek to the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, I'll undoubtedly hit a switchback - a part of the path that seems to take me away from where I want to go. I'll need to decide: do I give in or keep moving forward? On our mountain hike, at one point I asked my husband whether our 9-year-old son was going to make it.. After all, we were not yet accustomed to the altitude and 5.5 kilometers up was starting to feel insurmountable. Of course, it wasn't. After we stopped for a snack, we resumed our route with renewed energy.
I will try to remember the mountain when my energy starts to sag or when I doubt that I'll reach my goal of seeing my stories in print. I will stop for a "snack" - whether it's a literal snack of the chocolate I so love or sustenance in the form of reading picture books, exchanging manuscripts with a critique partner or participating in an online writer's forum.
I will keep climbing the mountain.