Learning My Lesson

Because I am easily sucked into online research when I should be doing other things, one of the first things I did when I decided to get serious about writing picture books was search online for resources. I already own many writing books, of course. Each flurry of interest in writing added new books to the shelf, now a small library. But I wanted other kinds of resources. Mainly, classes and communities. I found several to try, but there was one in particular that handed me a big lesson.

I learned about Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge from a podcast (more on the challenge itself in a future blog entry). While waiting for it to open up, I signed up to participate in Julie’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers, a video and email series to help you assess your progress over the past year and inspire you for the coming year. Along with the emails, there was an invitation to join a private Facebook group where participants could share the results of their exercises. The initial exercises focused on looking back and celebrating our successes, even if they felt small. I dived right in but got stuck early. When it came time to list specific successes, I had very little to share. I meandered over to the Facebook group where I expected to find conversations among like-minded newbies who could count blogging for a bit or starting a story draft as big victories.

Except, that’s not what I found. The other participants, at least those active on Facebook, had accomplished quite a bit. They wrote about completing multiple book drafts, sending out submissions, getting signed by agents(!), and more. And here’s the real kicker. These writers still considered themselves as starting out! Theoretically, I had understand that the process can take a long time, even years of effort, but it hadn’t crystalized for me until that moment. In the back of my mind, I had still believed that when I finally got serious, it would all come together quickly. But here was a much-needed reminder of the glacial speed of publishing and the intense work that was required to break into the industry.

In the end, after I’d spent some time wallowing in my feelings of failure about the lost years, I rallied and got re-engaged. There’s something about an enthusiastic community that feels inspiring, even when the petty part of you feels jealous. I didn’t complete the 12 Days of Christmas for Writers, but I did join the 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. And I already have some successes to reflect on when I take stock next year.

A quick side-note on the flip-side to this big realization: I also joined a different Facebook group in which kidlit writers share tips and offer support to one another. Recently, one of the members posted a question about getting started, one that showed that she knew nothing yet about the process or the industry. The appropriateness of asking certain broad questions before actually doing the needed research yourself is a topic for another day. (And it’s a big one!) But for this topic, I guess I wanted to mention that it felt great to know I was somewhere in the middle of the process. The more focused, experienced, productive writers around me might make me feel like I’ve hardly begun, there will always be someone further back than I am. Petty? Maybe. I’ll keep working on that.

Today’s Tidbit: I’ve already mentioned Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. You can also check out additional writing resources on Julie’s site at http://www.juliehedlund.com. There’s a lot to explore!

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