At my first SCBWI conference, Frances Gilbert (Editor at Doubleday) said, in effect “If I were going to write a picture book, I would write and write until I believed I had an award winning picture book. Only then would I seek publication.”
Sitting in the back of the auditorium, clutching my recently finished (and very first) picture book manuscript, I listened quietly. I had worked hard on my cute story, writing and re-writing. My husband and sister had critiqued it. And I had even joined SCBWI. I decided to ignore her advice. I wasn’t trying to win any awards. I just wanted to get my little book published, and I was sure I could do it. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that in order to publish at all, cute wouldn’t cut it. I needed brilliant.
But I kept working on that little story, getting critiques, and submitting it on my brave days. It wasn’t until my very supportive, and very honest husband said, “Do you think that maybe you’re submitting a bit too early? What if you take the time to, you know, take classes, learn more about writing, and refine your craft?” I was crushed. I thought he didn’t believe in me. But in reality, he believed in a better me. And in time, I learned to believe in a better me too. Which is why, for the most part, I’m not submitting a whole lot right now. I will. But right now I’ve decided to WAIT. And if you feel like you’re not quite ready yet and you want to play the waiting game with me, I have some tips on how to WAIT:
1) Write –
First up: WRITE. Write as many stories, thoughts, ideas, poems and vignettes as your schedule, creativity, and confidence allow. Write funny things, write sad things, write things you care about, write things you don’t care about (so you can feel the difference…or maybe discover new things to care about). Write often. Sometimes you’ll need to be inspired to start writing, and sometimes you’ll need to start writing to be inspired. But one thing is certain. If you want to be a writer, you need to WRITE!
2) Absorb –
Second, ABSORB. Absorb every bit of beauty, every bit of wonder, every bit of laughter from the books that grab you. Pay attention to how you feel when you read a really great book, and then figure out how the author made you feel that way. Absorb ideas from your surroundings, your family, your pets, friends, neighbors, kids at the grocery store, school etc. And one day all of that absorbing will mash up into some pretty brilliant story seeds. ABSORB.
(Meet my daily inspiration) ----------------------------------------------------------->
3) Invest -
Third, INVEST. Invest time. Invest creativity. Invest little pieces of your soul into what you’re writing. Invest effort and energy into other blossoming writers (and they will invest in you). And sometimes, invest money. Classes and conferences can be an invaluable part of growing yourself as a writer. So INVEST.
<------------------------------- (Note: you might need more than $2)
4) Trust -
Finally, you have to TRUST. Trust that as you write, absorb, and invest, words will flow, stories will form, and you’ll be headed for brilliance. That same supportive, and very honest husband of mine recently told me that every manuscript I write is better than the last. I can feel it too. I love my current stories more than my first ones, and I’m sure that I will love my yet-to-be-written stories even more. When you have done your part, and your (thorough) research, start submitting. And then trust some more. Trust that (eventually) your stories will find their way into the hands of agents and editors who love them, so that they can find their way into the hands of children who will love them even more. TRUST.
(Your hard work will pay off! Like this girl's.) -------------------------------------->
And from what I hear from those on the other side, this process doesn’t end with your first book deal. The Writing, Absorbing, Investing, and Trusting can continue in an upward spiral, bringing with it new heights and greater depth.
I want to write the kind of books that beg to be pulled off a child’s bookshelf and held in her heart. The kind that not only become part of childhood, but that define it. The brilliant kind. I’m not there yet, but I hope to be one day. And when I get there, I think it will have been worth the wait.
This post was written by Maria Oka, a mother of three very busy girls whose reading and writing spans from books for the very young to older picture books. Besides being interested in rollicking laugh-aloud books with her girls, Maria is also interested in children's books with a spiritual element. She reads, writes, and tries to juggle dinnertime, school schedules, and doing the dishes one-handed in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and munchkins.
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