I'm not talking about money or about actual possessions, here. I'm talking about personal accomplishments. And maybe you have better self-esteem than me, and this won't make any sense to anyone else, but why is it so hard to register and take pride in one's own accomplishments and successes?
I've been thinking about this in the abstract for more than two weeks, and been mulling this blog post for more than two days, and I'm still not certain I can articulate this well, but I hope you'll let me try. What follows is not intended as anything like a brag, but more like a reality check, as I hope you'll see:
I've been writing seriously for about 12 years now, or since the autumn of 2002. I spent those first few years hoping for a sale, sure that would mean I had "arrived." My first publishing credit was a poem that appeared in an anthology called Summer Shorts
in 2006. My response was underwhelming, in part because I'd had to edit the poem in a way that I objected to, but still ... I'd been published. I should have been celebrating and happy, right? And I was, but it was short-lived, and then I found myself not bothering to mention it much as years went by.
My next publication was a poem that appeared in Highlights for Children
magazine in 2007. I don't know about you, but I'd always wanted to sell a poem to Highlights
. That, I thought, would mean that I had "made it" as a children's writer. This poem was actually my first-ever sale, before the one in Summer Shorts
, but it took a couple years to get published, in part because it was a seasonal poem about Hanukkah and had to go into a December issue. I was so happy to sell the poem, and pleased to see it in print, but again, it was a short-lived happiness.
I had poems win awards from Writer's Digest Magazine, including one that won third place (and earned me money and mention inside the magazine). I had poems published in online and print poetry journals. I had poems appear in anthologies for adults and for children. All of these things felt big when they first happened, and quickly lost their shine somehow. While the rejection letters far outnumber acceptances (still and always), there came a time when I realized that the rejection letters no longer had any sting to them - I mostly shrug and move on. There also came a time when I realized that my celebrations of any publishing successes in the arena of journals and such were extremely short-lived. Mostly, they consist of me squealing when I get the acceptance email, then telling my sweetheart about it, then, essentially, shrugging and moving on.
In 2012, my first-ever picture book came out from tiger tales books, a small, independent press in Connecticut. I was thrilled to have a book out. Pleased as punch with my editor, who is the delightful Jamie Michalak, now a full-time author. In love with the illustrations by Mònica Armiño. Finally, my own book!
Now, though, it is 2014, and I haven't sold another picture book (yet). And I find myself forgetting what a triumph it is to have a realio, trulio book out in the world. It's so easy to say "but it's just the one book", or "it's not from a major publisher". I forget that it not only came out, but it was also picked up by Barnes & Noble. (Lots of books aren't.) Not only was it picked up by B&N, but it was also featured in their "summer" collection on their picture book walls, all across the United States. (Lots of books aren't.) It is hard to place poetry anywhere, and I'm lucky to have poems in award-winning anthologies for children. And to have poems in anthologies for adults. And in journals and magazines.
Yet most days, I still feel a bit like a failure. All of these years writing, and I feel as if I have nothing to show for it, despite a shelf full of books and journals and magazines that say otherwise.
My friends, that ain't right.
On Saturday, I had lunch in Philadelphia with Jenn Hubbard, a good friend and a most excellent author. We got to talking about these sorts of things, and Jenn reminded me exactly how hard it is to sell poetry anywhere. There are great
poets all over the country and world, and publishing venues aren't as abundant as they could be, and the competition is terribly stiff, and it's difficult to get an acceptance.
Oftentimes, a "sale" to a journal means you get paid in copies of the journal itself, and there's no money. Jenn reminded me that it does not mean, however, that the sale is unimportant or that it is not a huge success. The same reasoning applies to sales to anthologies, where payment per poem tends to be on the low side (because how else could they afford to put out an anthology with a lot of poems inside?). Given how difficult it is to sell one's work, actually selling anything is a huge deal, and deserves to be celebrated.
Interestingly, I had already decided to take a sort of step back and to start celebrating things like actually getting drafts of picture book manuscripts completed, as I mentioned in this post
, which concludes as follows:
An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.
I plan on sticking by that from now on, and on trying to remember that even if I'm feeling a bit like a failure on a given day, there's no basis in fact for that. Not just because I have that shelf full of stuff that says otherwise, but also because I keep writing
. Edited to say:
I haven't been sad or upset about this, just wondering why it is so hard for me (and possibly others) to feel good about the things they have
done, or to wish for something "more" even when you've achieved a measure of success (however small).