Wow, 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.