Waiting for Brilliance by Maria Oka
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.
11/22/2014 01:12:07 pm
Thank you Johnell!
11/21/2014 04:17:17 am
11/22/2014 01:12:38 pm
Thank you, thank you. :)
11/21/2014 04:17:47 am
Great post. I think it's so important to work on craft before trying to get published. Would we fly with a pilot who hadn't been trained to fly? There's nothing like reading one's cringe-worthy ms, written before taking a class, to make a person glad to have made the investment. I am and continue to do so. I think I saw brilliance the other day..looking for my house, no doubt. Good luck!! :-)
11/22/2014 01:14:02 pm
Yes, Mary! I think writer goes through this realization at some point...and yay for that brilliance seeking you out! Roll with it. :)
11/21/2014 05:20:31 am
Maria, I agree that it's not enough to write a cute story. Go brilliant!
11/22/2014 01:15:15 pm
Yes! Now if only I could find that sly brilliance...I know it's hiding here somewhere.
11/21/2014 06:59:44 am
Thank you for the inspiring words and insightful tips, Maria :) I am on that journey of learning and developing my creative side in life.
11/22/2014 01:17:16 pm
I think the turning point for me was just realizing that I was having fun on the journey, and why rush it? Being excellent at anything takes tremendous time and effort. Glad to have so many awesome people on the journey with me.
11/22/2014 03:29:17 am
Wonderful post - thank you for all these great tips, Maria!
11/22/2014 01:18:42 pm
Thanks Angela! So glad that there are so many awesome, supportive writers (like yourself) out there. It makes a world of difference.
11/22/2014 12:11:23 pm
The more I learn, the more I can see my weak areas. But I can also see the growth! Great tips!
11/22/2014 01:19:12 pm
Yes! Me too! It's both painful and exhilarating.
11/22/2014 09:29:14 pm
This is a really good blog, Maria, and an important one. So many believe their precious story is ready for publication when what they really need to do is wait, as you so wisely did. I've had 11 pbs published with 6 more on the way, but sometimes I go months without writing and especially then, I must start over with writing, absorbing, investing, and trusting. You hit the nails on the head. Way to blog, Maria!
11/23/2014 12:12:16 pm
Marsha, Thank You! I look up to you as a blogger and especially as a picture book author. I so appreciate your thoughtful comment.
11/23/2014 03:47:08 am
An inspiring, honest piece of writing! Thank you - it's like an echo of my thoughts. With so much insight, I wish children get to enjoy and benefit from your writing. Best of luck!
11/23/2014 12:13:13 pm
Thank you Farida! And best wishes on your writing endeavors!
11/23/2014 07:56:27 am
Loved what you've written here - it's so honest and so true. Trust is the hardest part of this for me, but perhaps that will grow just like the other elements you've written about have improved over time as I've worked toward publication.
11/23/2014 12:15:05 pm
Thank you Sandy! It is hard being honest with yourself about where you are in your writing, but it may be even harder to trust that all of your hard work will one day pay off! But it will. :) Let's do it together, shall we?
11/24/2014 03:30:19 am
Beautifully and inspirationally put, Maria.
11/24/2014 04:31:12 am
Thank you Rhonda! You are one of the first ones who helped me to believe in myself. How are you doing? I've missed our writers group!
11/24/2014 04:46:39 am
I loved this post, Maria! I have a hard time with patience and I know I have subbed sub par stories because of it and now that I've made those stories better, I've lost the opportunity to submit my better versions to publishers/agents.
11/24/2014 05:39:23 am
Thank you Kirsti! I have such a hard time find the right balance, but for now have chosen to mostly improve my craft. Another part of that realization was when an agent actually liked a manuscript I wrote and asked if I had any more stories he could read. I didn't have anything that I felt was ready enough to show him, so I lost that opportunity too. :(
11/24/2014 10:18:24 am
Excellent advice, Maria. I, too, have given up opportunities because I acted too fast. I think it is very common. Being a perfectionist, I tend to hold onto my work a little longer than necessary. But, as much as I grill myself and my work, and ask others a thousand questions and for opinions, sometimes that submission, accompanied by request or rejection, is what teaches me the most.
11/29/2014 01:42:17 am
I definitely agree. Without rejection I wouldn't have learned so much of what I have. I've just decided to take time to really grow myself because I know I have so far to go. But I know that continued rejection is part of that process, so I won't stay out of the submission game for too long. ;)
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