Did you ever wonder, “Am I good enough?” As much as I hate to admit it, that question has crept into my mind more times than I have toes on my tootsies. I’ve been writing my whole life. It started with stories in elementary school, shifted to emotionally charged, esoteric poetry in my teens, journal writing for self-expression, letter writing to friends almost as much as Eleanor Roosevelt was famed to do, academic writing, and then an exploration of writing articles – one of which has been published in a children’s magazine. As a teacher, and lover of books, I have always coveted and collected picture books. It wasn’t until I had a child, though, that I thought perhaps I could try my hand at writing picture books. That was a decade ago and I’m still trying my hand.
For the last several years I’ve ramped up my “professional” approach to writing. By this I mean being led by all the eye candy for kid lit writers: advice from published authors, editors and agents to the “n”th degree, taking workshops, learning how to create video for promotion, marketing tactics, starting a blog, even Tweeting (which nearly shocked me out of my shoes), and otherwise completely immersing myself in the world of all the things to do with building a platform and creating a professional stance. It’s like shopping when you have no money. You look and look and look, but in the end realize you don’t have the what you need to get what you want.
I lost my juju. For two months it all stopped. We’re talking screeching halt. “What’s wrong with me?” I wondered. Was this it? Had I lost all motivation? Had I come to the end of my line after 10 years of hard work and determination? Had I put the cart before the horse? Was I a round peg trying to fit into a square hole? Am I really a picture book author? Initially, I didn’t search all that hard for answers to these nagging questions. I just left myself alone and backed off (kind of). I felt the slumpiness some, but accepted and enjoyed living in the present moment as much as I could, even (and this is hard to admit to you all) felt a slight relief at not having to think about my characters and stories 24/7. It felt like I had been juggling another full-time job, on top of teaching and parenting.
After all, what else would I devote ten years of my life to and not reach a pinnacle? It’s like buying all of the gear to be a super pro rock climber because I know I’d need the gear, but in the meantime still having to learn how to coil a rope without getting tangled up.
What I slowly came to realize is that I was losing the joy of writing. It became more of something I had to keep up with if I wanted to “succeed” as an author. In this interim time, I came up with an idea for a newspaper column (tips and resources for parents on helping their children develop strong literacy skills) and pitched it to the editor of our local paper. She loved it. My first piece is submitted and the column begins its run next week. I was inspired by all of this cogitating to write a blog entry, too. So, okay. The writing didn’t stop completely, but my picture book writing did. I found something out, though. I’ve been part of critique groups for years, and my current one has 7 members. That’s 7 critiques a month, plus one I’m doing as a bonus prize for a group of authors. In my ten years at this, I’ve learned a heck of a lot about writing children’s picture books. And I love critiquing! I found out that I’m learning how to be a better writer by critiquing others’ writing. So here’s what else I learned. I need to be gentle with myself and remember that for everything I do (or don’t do) there is a reason (or a season!) Cue The Byrds, “Turn, turn, turn”
So what’s the take away here?
Life Lesson #11: Instead of keeping your eye on the future, keep it on the present. Take time. Work it out. To borrow a quote, “There is no glory in practice, but without it there is no glory.”
It’s like I tell my son when he wants to quit something. What will you ever learn if you quit? Exactly nothing. You have to press on through the uncomfortable moments; know that you are not the best (yet) and have the willingness and the desire to persevere, little by little, step by step. You have to learn all of the rules of the game, every little nuance and technique, and forget about the trophies in the future, or the potential recognition. Because if you do, you will experience the incredible joy and triumph of enjoying what you are doing and getting better at whatever it is you set out to do. And it feels good! You won’t need a trophy (or a book deal) to know that you have “arrived” at that place of joy; that you are doing whatever you are doing because you love it. Not because it will bring you something.
So what’s my rush? What’s my worry? I love my career as a teacher. I’m very fortunate to have a steady income. And I love writing. THAT is what I have to remember. And if I ever stop loving it, then it’s time to take a break, like I’ve just done. And guess what? It’s okay. What’s that old saying, “If you love someone, set them free. If it was meant to be they will come back to you.” If I substitute “someone” for “writing”, I know it will always come back to me.
I think I just heard a knock on my door…
“Oh, writing! It’s you! Welcome back.”
Check out Drew Daywalt’s inspiring tale of whether quitting is the way to go in the end, or not.