Are You Done Yet?

RobinWorkingWow, it’s been thirty years since my first children’s book contract. So… what have I learned in thirty years?

I’ve learned that people often don’t respect or understand just how long it can take to accomplish a task that might appear, to the one not doing it, to be easy. I think everyone has experienced the boss, friend, or family member who has no clue what it takes to do a job, but feels justified to ask, “Are you done yet?” and scoff if you are still at it after what they conceive to be a reasonable amount of time to be done already. I hear you.

As a children’s book writer and illustrator, the belief that this is easy, fast work has always been an unjustified assumption about our business. I used to tell a friend what I was working on, but I stopped telling her because she would ask, “Are you done yet?” usually the day after I told her about a project. I often felt like a failure because I couldn’t write or illustrate what my friend thought should be easy to accomplish in a day or two, maybe a week. It doesn’t take that long to read what I create, so what’s the big deal?

There was even more guilt when I was working on a spec project that may or may not sell to a publisher. People don’t realize that we might spend weeks, months, even years on an idea that never sells, for whatever reason. It can make us feel ashamed when we are asked, “So, did you ever sell that book you spent all that time on?” and the answer is, “Not yet.” (We never say “No,” because “Not yet” still shows promise). Selling, after all, is how our work is ultimately validated and hopefully helps pay the bills.

What I finally learned after a few decades of guilt is this: take all the time you need and ignore the outsiders who cause you to have any self-doubt. Surround yourself with like-minded people who understand your journey, and just hum a happy tune when you are questioned by anyone else and change the subject. Do your thing. Enjoy the ride. If you get somewhere, cool. If not, whatever, as long as you enjoyed the ride.

That’s one thing I’ve learned in thirty years in this bunny-eat-bunny business. I’ll try to think of something else and share that later. But now, I better get back to work. This project is going to take a while. Hey, don’t ask me if I’m done yet. I’ll let you know. Thanks.





17 Comments Add yours

  1. Wonderful post thank you and congrats Robin for all the years of creating books!

  2. Hear! Hear! Cheers to you, Robin – and to your journey.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Thanks Emma, and cheers to you as well!

  3. Carolyn says:

    I’m glad I didn’t know how long things took when I started. Too daunting!

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Best not to think about the finish line!

  4. Spot on post Robin. I don’t pay any attention to those dismissive comments either knowing I ultimately have the last laugh doing what I enjoy all day while they labor often at a dead end job. A fair trade off for any extra money they might be getting.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Thanks Steve, and what a great point you make! More fun to be poor and happy. 😉

  5. Or there’s the people who ask “Are you writing another picture book?” (If they only knew how many unpublished picture books are in my file . . . in various states of repair, rejection, reconsideration . . .)

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Ha, true that! Another picture book? What happened to the last one? 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  6. Sybilla Cook says:

    Theoretically, when I turned in the manuscript last fall, it was done. Hah! one thing after another and the book will be LAUNCHED on July 4th. Iwas reminded of my pregnaincies when well-meaning friends would ask, “hasn’t the baby come already?” I feel this book represents the longest pregnancy on record! But, of course, it does not.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Exactly! Some things just have to cook longer, at a slow simmer. Always tastes better that way. Thanks for the comment! And congratulations on your new baby!

  7. mfearing says:

    Great post. I remember first being interested in kids books. I went to a book signing at a local store (In Madison WI) and talked to the writer and illustrator after. They were kind enough to look at my portfolio at the time (I shudder to think what that looked like) and they gave me positive reinforcement and said I certainly seemed like I could work in the filed. Then they explained how it took 5 years for them to get their first sale and refine what they were doing. And College Mark went – ‘5 years! Are you kidding?! I’d be 24! That’s too long. If I can’t do it in a year I’ gotta find another job…” And the moral of the story is – I didn’t have my first ‘real’ picture book published until I was about 38. So, yeah. There’s that…

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      You are so lucky that you get to sit and draw all day long! 🙂 Thanks for the comment, you always inspire me.

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