Whirlwinds and bogs

September has been full of busyness and whirlwinds, not just in my life, but in the world at large.  And it’s not over yet!

School started in August with a crash.  Not a bang, but a crash.  It’s been one struggle after another for me, but I’ve persevered.  News of my dad’s rapidly declining health has been a shock as well.  I’ve been so busy with work and plans made a year ago that I haven’t had a lot of time to process.  But it’s still there ebbing at the edges of the flow of life the last few months. Then there were my creative endeavors.

I made plans a year ago to go to a retreat for Illustrators at Highlights.  I feel free to say that it was GLORIOUS!  I met many amazing illustrators that made my heart sing and my spirits light.  We laughed all weekend and I already know that there are friends I made that I will not lose.  Even better, I came away with goals to work on from very concrete advice.  Even though the picture book dummy I was working on wasn’t ready and needs a LOT of work, I feel like I know what direction I’m heading in with it and I got positive support.

Then I came back (after traveling clear across the country to the East coast–hurricane Irma was just starting to hit Florida), buoyed by these winds of high spirits all the way home, to help coordinate our local fall writing and illustrating conference.  I got a friendly critique for a picture book text that ended up dealing me more of a mental blow than I thought, was depressed at the lack of local illustrator turnout, and generally fell into a bog of despair.  Maybe I’d never understand what it is I’m trying to do with my writing.

Rejection always hurts, no matter what stage of the process you’re at.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  My rule for myself has been this: “okay, be depressed. In fact wallow in it.  But you only get a DAY!  Then it’s picking yourself back up by your bootstraps my girl and back at it.  This is part of the journey and everyone knows it.  If you’re going to persevere, then you must get back up!”

The story is one I’m working on that I’m passionate about, but it leaves everyone else cold.  It’s “too slight” or “too predictable.”  And the reason I chose it for this critique is because I was curious if this quiet little character with his quiet little story could still succeed in today’s picture book market.  I knew it was a long shot, but I wanted to know.  I was told that it wasn’t marketable.  Not now.  It reminds everyone who reads it of a classic from 50 years ago and that’s been done.  Even though it still sells and has reprints, I was told that no one wants to see it any more and I need to be more aware of the current picture book market.  Wow.  I could go on, but it’s not necessary.

Although the reviewer was kind and friendly and chatty, I realized that she simply didn’t like the story.  It wasn’t a good fit for her.  And I keep coming back to this soulmate analogy: you’ve got to find the “right” one.  Maybe it won’t work for her, but … maybe someday it will for someone?  In the meantime, I’m going to shelve this story until I can figure out what to do with it.  And that’s fine.  I know that it isn’t possible for every idea I have to be a good one, or that every rough draft (in it’s 1,000th incarnation or not) will succeed.  I will keep writing & drawing until one of my stories clicks with someone.  I’m not going to give up.

But there it is, that bog of despair with its swampy parts.  I’m struggling through my own little Degoba in search of dry land.  The doubts try to suck my x-wing into the muck, but I have to remember to have faith.  Success is out there.  I know I’m no Jedi, but those are the visuals I have in my mind right now.  And it was towards the end of the local conference that one of the visiting agents said something that reminded me that I needed to take a step back.

journey turtle

Am I enjoying my journey?  That Highlights retreat was full of mind-blowing, soul-fulfilling kind of stuff and friendships to last a lifetime.  I absolutely enjoyed that.  The stuff after it, not so much.  BUT this quote?  It reminded me that I am that little sea turtle, struggling to get to the ocean and THAT is an apt analogy.

Mike Curato spoke at the Highlights retreat.  At some point on his journey, he drew a picture of an elephant looking into a closed and dark bakery window dreaming of one day getting a cupcake.  He realized that was him on this same journey, standing outside of a closed and dark window looking in, and he was going to make damn sure that elephant got his cupcake (and he did with Little Elliot!).

I have a DVD from Hawaii from a dive shop and they’ve got a segment on baby Hawksbill sea turtles trying to get to the sea.  There is one that gets stuck in the divot of a footprint in the sand.  The video then focuses on the journey of that one little sea turtle across the rest of the beach.  Would he make it to the ocean?  Will I?

That’s what I think of and what I need to remember.  It is a journey and I WILL make it.  I just need to keep my little flippers moving across the sand while enjoying the warmth of the sun.

4 thoughts on “Whirlwinds and bogs

  1. Oh, Jenna. How many of us can relate to your feelings and your journey! You are right that rejection, self-doubt and despair make an unwelcome visit, time and time again, no matter which stage of punishing you are in. But you have what it takes—passion, persistence and wisdom. I like thinking that making a sale in publishing is up to Writing Cupid, who sometimes is a lousy shot with the manuscripts on his arrow. But he can’t pierce the heart of an agent or editor without having his quiver full of your stories and illustrations to choose from. You know how trendy publishing can be. Your story hasn’t found its time yet. Hang onto the joy of creation and community and get back to doing what you love. And make sure to invite me to the celebration when Writing Cupid hits his mark!

  2. It seems that sometimes the Kid Lit conversation is all sunshine, butterflies and success stories. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable and keeping the conversation going about the most difficult (and ultimately rewarding) part of this journey. Last night my daughter and I stumbled upon this quote and it was too perfect not to share… “Above all, don’t fear the difficult moments. The best comes from them.” – Rita Levi Montalcini (Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls).

    • Absolutely awesome quote! And I try to be as transparent as possible about the process. It IS a journey many of us are on, after all. And while it might be just me that thrives on listening to success stories, I try to share my struggles (and the occasional success) too. The struggle is real! =)

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