There’s something I don’t talk about much here (largely because I try to stay positive in this space): a couple of times a year, almost like clockwork, I go through a very discouraged phase in connection to the writing world and my place in it. Discouraged as in I feel forgotten, unheard, and unimportant — a small, insignificant cog in the massive, slow-moving publishing machine.
This time around I stepped aside from my writing for a couple of weeks. I exchanged emails with Valerie Geary, Kirby Larson, Linda Williams Jackson, and Glenda Armand. I had a heart to heart with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. All of them were supportive and kind with slightly different things to say, things they’ve chosen to do to keep their minds on the work and not the outcome. I’ve used these weeks to process and think, to consider one more time how I can keep at the work I love without getting wrecked in the process.
One thing I realized almost immediately was I’d never taken my annual social media break. July is usually my time away from the Internet, but when MIRACULOUS released in July 2022, I decided to stick around. Social media has a cumulative effect on me that I’m often not aware of until I’m knocked off my feet. It’s a place where authors engage in relentless horn tooting (me included). It’s where I’m inundated with publishing news. Honestly, I don’t even interact much on social media. I’m more of a “post and run away” sort, but even that approach doesn’t hold at bay all the news and promoting and flash. (I’m not knocking authors, by the way. This is my crowd; these are my people. But even good news from people I’m rooting for when my part of the writing world is silent can hurt.)
One bit of writing-friend advice really stood out. Linda encouraged me to stop reading Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf, a bi-weekly e-newsletter full of articles about books and authors and new publishing deals. I’ve read it religiously for years and years. As a writer and reader, I feel responsible for knowing about new releases and what’s to come. The only problem is PW is much like social media for me. I’m not aware of its cumulative effect until I’m knocked off my feet. It’s hard seeing only the “hot” books promoted. It’s discouraging to see authors sell books after mine but publish those books before me.
Linda told me she hasn’t read PW since she signed with her agent. This permission not to read really felt freeing. I can’t say I’ll give up PW completely, but it’s been nice not to be so tied to every last reported sale or news on bestsellers. I’ve realized I can keep current without knowing every detail (or every deal), and perhaps tuning out a lot of the noise will mean I’ll discover more books with less flash.
Something else I’ve been thinking about these weeks is the word success. If you’ve read here for any length of time, you know this has been a theme of mine — what success is and how I personally define a sustainable definition. But in the last few days I’m thinking I might stop using that word altogether. Success, no matter how you define it, is tied to its inverse, failure. Instead I’m starting to think about what I have contributed and am contributing and will contribute to children’s literature. This strips away the measurements and ranking that come with words like success and failure. I might see evidence of my contribution (like a sweet fan letter or a great book event), but mostly I won’t be aware of my work’s impact. Even so, I believe what I’m doing — and what I’ve previously done — continues to make a difference. Contribution in my mind is a more generous approach than measuring success, and I need all the generosity I can get!
I can’t control how the manuscripts my agent has sent out into the world have been received of late — mostly with deafening silence. I can’t change how long the wait has become to get a sale or rejection. I’m telling you, it’s wearying. But I can come to my desk to find satisfaction in the work (which has always and will always be the primary reason I do this writing thing).
There’s no fancy bow to tie this up with. These are largely the same things that have given me heartache in years past and will probably present challenges in the future. (As my husband says, my job comes with high highs and low lows.) But I can keep trying to keep trying. I can remind myself once again my worth isn’t tied to my work. And I can keep my focus where it needs to be: Eyes on my own paper.