Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Had I only known THEN what I know NOW!

The celebration of our TeachingAuthors Second Blogiversary continues!
You can still enter to win one of our two Critique Giveaways!
Click on the link to learn the Contest details.
As always, we’re cheering you on.

Our Second Blogiversary got the six of us thinking: what nugget, what Truth, do we wish we’d known when we began writing for children?

For me, “nugget” was the operative word, literally and figuratively.
I knew my answer instantly.
All I had to do was read (for the gazillionth time) the inscription on the one-of-a-kind gold and silver ring that’s adorned my right hand’s fourth finger for longer than I can remember: the journey is the reward.
(Note: poetically-inscribed jewelry is Jeanine Payer’s trademark.)

Of course, learning that Truth took a whole lot of years, underscoring the very nature of the word “journey.”

Back in 1977, when I first naively tried my hand at writing a picture book for my then two-year-old son, I shared the mindset of every beginning student and writer I’ve since encountered.
How hard could writing a picture book be, really?
I mean, I’d earned a Journalism degree and wrote for a newspaper!
I’d taught fifth grade in the finest of schools!
A picture book is but 32 pages.
The story, too, is for very young children.
And hadn’t I studied my favorite picture books from the inside out? Hadn’t I typed them out, cut them apart, repasted the text, read for the pictures?
And anyway, wouldn’t the illustrations fill in any details I missed?

Once the writing part was done, I’d use my Library’s publishing directories to gather names of editors at those houses I wanted to publish me.
I’d submit my story to the right person, and just like that, or rather, after a considerable (but certainly understandable) waiting period, I’d receive a letter requesting purchase of my story.
Voila. Abracadabra. My dream would be realized.
I would become a Children’s Book Author.
(Of course.)

I see now: I was only just beginning.
Beginning an education.
Beginning my writer’s story.
Beginning a journey for which I’m grateful every day.

But back then?
After each and every failed effort, I simply picked myself up, dusted myself off, filed away the form and growing personal rejection letters and began another story, my format explorations paralleling my growing son’s new interests and reading expertise.
I’d bravely sought out other children’s book writers, via SCBW (it was so new, the I hadn't been added yet!), local writing classes and lectures.
And I adjusted the carrot that swung before my nose, blocking all views.
You know the one – the one labeled “Publication.”

I honestly didn’t see the Light – or rather, the path I’d undertaken, until 1989 when I bravely left my Writing Room for (the sadly no longer in existence) Vassar College’s Summer Children’s Book Publishing Institute.
That’s where and when I learned, thanks to the Institute’s Director Barbara Lucas: that First Step I took back in 1977 brought me to a World - the Children’s Book World, a world worth traveling.

I had much in common with my characters as I made my way within that world, traveling the Universal Plot Line, past Way Stations, Depots and breath-taking scenery.
I was meeting friends, allies, mentors, crossing thresholds, undergoing tests, approaching inmost caves, experiencing supreme ordeals, rising from the ashes to return home heroic, the prize in hand.
The character is always smarter for the journey.
This writer was too.

True, finally selling my first picture book to the esteemed publisher Holiday House, a publisher I’d targeted when I first began, had me smiling. Like the Ugly Duckling who’d traveled for so long looking for his home, I’d never known such happiness.

But once I took in the view – all the roads I’d traveled, intentionally or otherwise, the people I’d encountered, the knowledge I’d gained, all I’d experienced good and bad, that view somehow paled against that non-stop swinging carrot, Publication.

I’m still out-and-about, traveling my much-loved world in all sorts of ways I hadn’t imagined when I first began writing, with more opportunities than one would think to remind myself of my ring’s truthful inscription.

Should I find myself disheartened, anxious, even doubtful, I just might treat myself to Jeanine Payer’s newest earrings, then keep on keepin' on.


Happy Traveling!

Esther Hershenhorn

Believe it or not, Jeanine Payer is sponsoring a Contest to honor National Poetry Month. The deadline for your poem submission is April 30.


Brenda said...

Such wisdom! I love it. And I believe it 100%. Lovin the journey.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I agree. The joy is in the journey.
My journey began in 1992. I had exactly your thoughts. I sold my first story to Guardian Angel Publishing in 2005. This year I've had my first deal memo from my dream publisher. Now I have an adult novel I want to pitch. I need an agent for that. But getting the right one? The journey continues.

Carmela Martino said...

You've been a beacon for my writer's journey, Esther, and always an inspiration.

Rachael Harrie said...

It definitely is the journey, and I'm honored to be it with so many wonderful bloggers!

Lovely to meet you ladies :)



Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Esther, your nugget is pure gold! I agree completely about the journey being the reward, but I also expect the journey changes in tone and emotion once you've savored your first carrot (get that first book published.) As always, I'm grateful for your sage advice!
Namaste and a Hug,