When my son, Josh, was about 9 months old, we went into the pediatrician for his well-check. We loved the well-checks, because it was fun to see how he was progressing, and to just be reassured that everything was okay. Josh was our first child, so everything he did as a baby felt amazing and worthy of a page in his baby book. At the appointment, the doctor asked a bunch of questions about what Josh could and could not do, wanting to gauge his development. I was certain of course that he was an over-achiever and would check all the right boxes. Until the doctor asked us if he could wave goodbye. Uh, wave goodbye? Wait. Is he supposed to be able to do that? I held his pudgy arm up in the air, hoping he might produce something that looked like it could be a wave. Nope. Nothing. But wait, I didn’t know! We haven’t been working on that! It’s not his fault! I left that appointment feeling like a terrible parent. What kind of parent doesn’t teach their child to wave goodbye? Rest assured, Josh is now a 15-year-old that, among other things, can wave goodbye with the best of them. But in that moment I felt awful. We had missed a milestone.
Milestones. We all know to celebrate the big ones. High school and college graduation. 10, 25, 50 years of marriage. I recently spent an evening celebrating my dad’s 40-year work anniversary with AT&T. 40 YEARS!!! I can hardly fathom it. And as writers, we all dream of the day that we can celebrate the ultimate milestone…an offer of publication, and a real book in our hands for the world to read. But think with me for a minute, about all of those moments leading up to the BIG ONE. Those tiny steps along the way that get us to our final destination. Whether we realize it or not, these moments that feel small and sometimes insignificant are the moments that fuel our journey; they help us lift our tired legs one more time and take another step toward publication. Today, I’m going to point out three writing milestones that, like a chubby baby hand waving goodbye, maybe you didn’t realize were worth celebrating.
- Your First Rejection…and every single rejection that comes after it.
Most of us know that the first rejection is something to cherish. Like that framed dollar bill on the wall of a new business, it means that we’ve taken the first step in making our dream a reality. But the excitement we feel over that first sign that we’re becoming a “real writer” gets old pretty quickly. We start wanting to toss, shred, and burn those NOs the second they hit our inbox. Don’t. Every rejection that comes your way is proof that you are in the game. A sign of life. When I do school visits, I carry around a large roll of paper, that I have glued a ton of my rejections on. At the end of my presentation, I tell them about how hard it is to be told NO over and over again, and then I begin to unroll this massively long paper. I ask some kids to get on the other end of it and keep unrolling it. The sheer length of it causes kids and adults alike to gasp. It is a wonderful visual for them of what persistence looks like. “These are all of the people who told me NO, but I kept going until I got to my YES.” So celebrate each and every rejection that comes in, because it means you are one step closer to your YES.
- Critique Partner Success
Joining my first critique group was scary. I basically walked up to someone who looked about my age at a local SCBWI event and invited myself to her critique group. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but you can be sure it was awkward. Thankfully, the woman I approached was too polite (and probably stunned) to come up with a way to rebuff my advances. I met with that group for a few years, and also joined a couple of online groups. Being in those groups made me a better writer. They helped me, but I think even more significantly, I figured out how to help them. It is definitely a milestone when you realize that you are making valuable contributions in the kidlit community. At one point, I had to leave an online group I was a part of, because the time commitment was too great. After I left the group, I had two members send me emails, asking if we could continue to periodically exchange manuscripts because they valued my feedback so much. This was a huge moment for me, recognizing that I had reached a point where I was truly helping other writers elevate their work. And seeing these same writers sell their work, and later hold the books that you read when they were just a first draft…that is an amazing feeling.
- Personal Connections with Industry Professionals
I will never forget my first personalized rejection. It was back in the days of paper submissions, laid neatly in large manila envelopes. The excitement of checking the mail was a once-a-day reality, as opposed to the 100+ times a day we now refresh our inbox. Yes, I am old. I followed the directions exactly, and sent a cover letter and manuscript to the Children’s Book Editor at Sterling Children’s. About seven months later, I received a response from Meredith Mundy. She had scrawled a hand-written note at the bottom of the form rejection letter: “Please feel free to send more of your picture books directly to me! -Meredith.” I was elated. Yes, it was another rejection. But I had made a connection with a real-life editor, who invited me to send my work directly to her! That was in 2010. The cool part is that I sold my picture book, MAURICE THE UNBEASTLY, to Sterling Children’s in 2015, because of that connection. I had been periodically submitting to Meredith over the 5 year period in between, and when I sent her MAURICE, she passed it on to Christina Pulles, who eventually acquired it. Later that year, when I visited the Sterling Children’s offices while visiting New York City, I got to meet Meredith and thank her for writing that note on my rejection letter.
What about you? What milestones have you reached and remembered to celebrate?