By Miranda Paul
If you’ve never been jealous of other writers’ successes, stop reading and go check your pulse. Fellow mortals trying to get a book published, read on.
In 2010, I became wedded—for better or worse—to the idea that I would write picture books.
That same year, life hurtled challenges at my newfound love. The New York Times ran an article titled: “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children”. Scholastic reported reduced production of hardcover children’s books. My writer friends began declaring that “the good ol’ days” of submitting unsolicited manuscripts and getting timely answers were long gone. (And some of those nostalgic conversations took place in our state’s largest children’s bookstore which would eventually close its doors after two decades.)
The “for worse” part of my vow to write picture books had arrived pretty darn quick.
I spent a few months comparing myself to others. How did so-and-so get a book deal so quickly? Why did a friend’s manuscript snag editor attention, while mine was thrown under the bus at a thoroughly dehumanizing live pitch session?
Like a suspicious lover, questions plagued me. There must be some conspiracy I wasn’t privy to, I thought. I became obsessed with investigating everyone else’s path to publication. I spent entire days scrolling people’s news feeds in an attempt to unravel the “secret” to getting published. Nearly a year passed and I hadn’t even begun submitting my work—that is, if I had anything worth submitting.
What I didn’t realize during my investigation was that each success story was igniting jealousy. Slowly, that inferno was feeding on my original passion for writing and my ability to produce new, good work. In addition to becoming consumed with the publishing part of writing, I sometimes “forgot” or got "too busy" to check in with and congratulate some of my own friends on their good news. Although I never acted or said anything rash or mean, this self-absorbedness wasn't typical of my kind-natured, supportive self.
One day, when my real-life husband came home from work and asked what I’d written that day (which, it turns out, was NOTHING) I realized I'd been cheating on myself. I was having an affair with jealousy, who turned out to be nothing more than a distraction and a control freak. I’d spent days pining over the nuts and bolts of getting published instead of nurturing my craft and shaping myself into the writer I wanted to be. I lost a lot of precious time that I could have spent actually writing or revising.
Jealousy (and self-doubt) was holding me back from achieving what I had set out to do, so I had no choice: I broke it off. I ran back to the loving jacketflaps of my favorite picture books and opened my unfinished manuscripts. They welcomed me, forgave me, and led me into a “for better” part of our relationship. In the process, I learned these things:
Remember that each time another aspiring writer lands an agent or signs a contract or wins an award, it’s solid proof that this impossible thing called breaking into today’s picture book market can be done. Being genuinely excited will lift your emotional energy and affect all aspects of your day. Let inspiration fuel your fire, not jealousy. Besides, when the tides turn (see #2), those authors won’t forget how you cheered them on, bought their books, and retweeted their news. If you're a good sport, maybe the grandstands will soon be filled with your roaring fans.
2. In the sea of publishing, the tides are always turning.
Vampires are out. Zombies are in. Suddenly everyone wants debut authors. Last year's bestseller is quietly going out of print while some unknown book published 20 years ago is trending.
You could drown just thinking about the whirlpool of industry news.
Some of the same writer friends I was silently jealous of early on in my quest are now struggling with rejections or switching agents or zooming down on this roller coaster ride we call writing. I’ve learned firsthand that getting a book contract or landing an agent is a far cry from blue skies. Your friends and contacts who are “published” are going through tough challenges too, even if they are different from your challenges. Be patient, be generous, be supportive, and be optimistic. The winds of change blow sails in every direction.
3. Anything plus an odd number equals an odd number.
Writing and publishing books can be as frustrating as solving a complex equation. The emotions you’re bearing while on the journey can and do seep into your writing (or block it completely). When you’re angry or jealous or doubtful, your Facebook comments, tweets, conversations with others, manuscripts, and relationship with yourself may inadvertently show signs of those odd or ill feelings. If you’re hanging out with “Negative Nellies” who always criticize others or complain about how unfair or hard this industry is, you’re going to begin absorbing those odd or negative thoughts too.
On the flip side, feeling good for others or "even" with yourself will render your comments positive. In short, like attracts like, and no one likes a whiner. (Remember your mother saying, “If you can’t say anything nice. . .”) Don’t be the odd one out.
4. The key toward what “could be” is to appreciate what already “is.”
Ask yourself these questions:
Gratitude helps you recognize the resources you already have. I could be jealous of empty nesters who don't have to break from writing to wipe an occasional number two, or I could appreciate the fact that I know my target audience well and my household floods me with a perpetual stream of fun, bizarre picture book ideas. Realizing your personal resources, whatever they are, will help get where you want to be. Understanding your weaknesses and appreciating your strengths lets you realize the unique aspects you bring to the table as a writer. If you're easily distracted, like me, shut your Internet off and write, write, write. When you log back online, you'll read all that stuff from the point of view of a driven, satisfied writer who filled some pages today.
My ex-lover still tries to sneak into my head sometimes, but I’m good at kicking him out. If he happens to stop by your house, tell him to get lost. Say “I do” to inspiration instead, and really commit to your love of writing picture books. Then, propose a toast to the “for better” part. I'll be there among all of your friends and fans, raising a glass and clinking it to yours. Cheers!
Miranda Paul is the author of One Plastic Bag (Millbrook, 2015) and Water is Water (Neal Porter Books, 2015). She is also the founder and administrator of RateYourStory.org, an online service dedicated to helping writers prepare their manuscripts for submission. Whenever she can find an ounce of free time, she hosts spontaneous dance parties with two kids, two cats, the best husband in the world, and an ever-changing rotation of international houseguests. Read more online at: www.MirandaPaul.com.
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