Never ever give up
I went to a children’s book conference last week, CYA in Brisbane. FYI I completely recommend attending conferences like CYA, KidLitVic or SCBWI if you are an aspiring writer, or an emerging writer. You spend a day hanging out with people in your field. Making friends. You learn first hand from the professionals, and you get the opportunity to put your work in front of editors and literary agents.
There was lots to take home from the CYA. One of the things that stood out, is that becoming a professional author is the long haul. It won’t happen over night. And if you really want to write professionally, you have to be incredibly persistent.
Ben Long successfully self published two books for children, attended conferences every year, submitted his work to prizes and met with editors. After a few years, he was taken on by Ford Street Publishing. His picture book Ready, Steady, Hatch! was released sometime later.
Ben had heard it took eight years to become an author. And that is how long it took. But Ben kept persisting because he loved what he did, and it was something he wanted badly.
One of Australia’s most successful children’s authors, Jacqueline Harvey, spoke at length about breaking into the industry, and about how long it took for her. It probably all started way before this, but Jacqueline’s first picture book Sound of the Sea, was her big break. She had a series shortly after with Lothian.
But then she spent about five years in the wilderness, as she calls it, not sure of what to write, or where her career was heading. When she discovered Alice-Miranda, she knew she found a character she could stick with for the long haul.
Alice-Miranda wasn’t published straight away. It took several attempts. But now of course there are sixteen books in that series. Over a million books from Alice-Miranda and the sister series, Clementine Rose, have sold in Australia alone, and Jacqueline’s books are sold in 88 countries.
But even then, Jacqueline didn’t become a professional author over night. She had to write Alice-Miranda on the weekend and into the night, while she worked as Head of Development in a school during the week. It was only when her books became seriously successful, and she could tour in schools and festivals that Jacqueline was able to quit the day job.
I have been writing in earnest since my daughter was born, about seven and a half years ago. I have been writing children’s stories since 2012. I guess my journey was quite quick, in some ways. But a career as an author takes many many years of persistence, and love, to build up.
I love what I do, and I spend every free waking moment thinking of book ideas, planning stories, writing or reading. I am dedicated, if not a bit obsessed. And my dedication has paid off. This is the first year that I can call myself a career writer. It’s a small income, but it’s an income, and I hope it will continue to grow. And I just keep on working on my craft. Keep submitting stories. Keep developing those I have.
Meeting all those aspiring authors last weekend, I realised that persistence of this kind must be quite unique. There can’t be a lot of fields where so many people work for so many years, and write for so many hours before it starts to ‘pay off’, so to speak. And why is that?
I think maybe because writing is such an enjoyable thing to do. If you could do it as a hobby for the rest of your life, most of us probably would. And if you have the possibility of making a career out of writing… well, isn’t that the dream.
I think it’s because there’s so much support and encouragement for new writers. There are countless courses you can do, groups you can join, and conferences you can go to. You really can sink yourself into your obsession, and dedicate every free waking moment, because there’s so much opportunity.
I think it’s also because writing for children is positive, and makes you feel good. Of course, like training for a marathon, there is pain as you read your manuscript for the thousandth time. But also like a marathon, the feeling of elation you get when you have finished is amazing. And because you are writing for children, you are usually using a light tone, writing with humour, and most likely writing about characters you love, which feels great.
The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by Diana Nyad, who spent forty years trying to swim from Cuba to Florida. At the age of 60, she did it. It took her 53 hours, and she had a professional team of experts along side her the whole way. She swam with armour to protect her from box jellyfish, and had to swim in the dark so the lights didn’t attract the jellyfish or the sharks. She had ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon going around her head a hundred times, and she saw the Taj Mahal as she swam.
If you are doubting yourself, and your path, and you want to give up, watch that TED Talk, and I bet you’ll remember why you do what you love, and why you keep persisting…