I came home last week with a huge stack of picture books about spring. There are so many great ones, and it’s April, which makes it the perfect time to peruse the stacks and be inspired. I picked AND THEN IT’S SPRING by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead to blog about today, with its soothing text and gorgeous illustrations.
I started to get excited, thinking about the anticipation of the arrival of green sprouts and bright blooms, and how it perfectly parallels the writing life. Because, indeed, “First you have brown, all around you have brown.” But we plant seeds and we water, we wait, and we hope. And before I knew it, I was writing another post about waiting, persevering, and hoping.
About starting with a seed, and being patient and diligent in our pursuit of this writing life. A post where we persevere and are rewarded by the beauty of blossoms and fruit and growth.
And it was an inspiring post, but it was one I have written before. With different words and stories and illustrations. But the same. And as I turned the pages of this book, I was reminded of how the seasons work. Time passes and they inevitably appear, whether we are ready for them or not. And suddenly I wondered…what if spring decided not to show up? What if we planted the seeds, watered, and waited and nothing happened? Nothing grew? What if we were left in the brown?
It’s a depressing thought. But as a writer, I often find myself asking the question: How do we decide when to give up on a manuscript? How many times do we send it out before we put it away? If we are diligent in our work…planting, watering, waiting, hoping…putting our ear to the ground and listening for the “hum of green underneath the brown” then something HAS to grow, right?
But what if we do all the right things and still not a single sprout appears?
A few years ago, I wrote a picture book about a termite that loves flamenco music. Oh, the irony! A bug that is supposed to feast on wood, who adores guitars. The story was full of fun language and lots of musical vocabulary. It had a great title: LOLA FINDS HER VERVE. I was diligent in my work: I wrote, revised, reworked until it was a perfect 500ish words. LOLA was ready to make her entrance into the world, so I packaged her and sent her out. And for a long while, all around I had brown. Silence. Until finally, some responses started to roll in.
“This is such a clever, active piece! The writing is tight and humorous, and the vocabulary is rich—showering readers with language that will help them better identify and describe various music genres.”
“There was something really fun about this, particularly in Lola’s repetition of words like “pizzazz” and “verve”. I liked the pairing of a termite and flamenco dancing, especially since “mash-ups” seem to be doing so well right now.”
The compliments were so good, so right. My ear was to the ground and I heard it. I heard the green moving closer to the surface, ready to break through. I was sure of it. So I continued to water and watch the dirt, waiting for the inevitable moment. Waiting for spring.
It never came.
The rejections rolled in. The enthusiasm waned.
“Some of the concepts feel a bit heady for an audience of preschoolers.”
“Unfortunately, I thought the story rambled a bit and I found I didn’t have a strong vision for how I would tighten it.”
And my personal favorite:
“I don’t think this particular story will have widespread appeal. We do tend to find we have better luck with animals that are a bit cuddlier.”
This was not how things were supposed to go. Because it says “FIRST you have brown, all around you have brown.” Which means that something comes SECOND, right? There is something that comes next. There is another sentence that follows that begins with “And then…” Where was my NEXT? Where was my AND THEN?
It never came. I looked around and for a long, long, time, all around I had brown. So I put LOLA away. She was done.
So how do I wrap up this sad, depressing little post? I go back to the gardener. The gardener who looks out upon her fallow land and asks, “Where is the green?” All of this hard work, all of this dedication, all of this tilling of the soil and planting the seed, and watering the dirt. “Where is the growth?”
It is inside the gardener.
Inside the passionate, hopeful, diligent heart of the writer, there is a sprout. And with every story we write, every rejection we receive, and every decision we make to retire a story, there is growth. Growth that brings us one step closer to breaking through the surface.
One step closer to spring.