The picture above shows your humble blogger two Saturdays ago, as I received my black belt in Shaolin Kempo. It took four years of training and a grueling eight hour test, and it was worth every drop of sweat.
Now, I doubt anyone will ever confuse me with Bruce Lee, and I don’t see a career as an action movie hero ahead of me. I will never make the cover of Black Belt magazine, nor will I likely ever have the title of Grandmaster before my name. Some of the much younger folks with whom I tested may accomplish these things, but that’s not my journey. For me, finishing the test and getting the belt was my victory.
I bring this up to get you thinking about your own journey as a writer of children’s literature. We may all daydream about becoming the next J.K. Rowling, about having throngs of kids line up at midnight to gobble up our new book, of gaining all the fame, fortune, love and respect that seemingly come with mega-stardom.
And, for all I know, at least one of you out there will achieve that. But, realistically, each of our writing victories will be far more modest. An article here, a contract with a small press there, perhaps enough income to pay for a nice vacation.
But, I would ask you, are these things any less of an accomplishment than heading the best-seller list? Is charming a classroom of 30 kids with your story really less satisfying than charming 30,000 children?
Let’s try a little quiz. For each of the possible outcomes of becoming a children’s writer, pick a number from 1-10 on how much satisfaction you would derive. If something would be not at all satisfying, mark it a 1, if it would be ultimately satisfying, that’s a 10.
____ Seeing a book you’ve written on a bookstore shelf
____ Getting a letter from a child raving about your book
____ Getting a six-figure advance
____ Reading a glowing review of your book in a major newspaper
____ Getting a standing ovation from a classroom full of 3rd graders
____ Being complimented on your book by a writer that you’ve always respected
____ Being featured in People magazine
____ Hearing “your book changed my child’s life” from a grateful parent
____ Having an article you’ve written appear in a magazine you’ve always loved, such as Highlights
Of the nine possible outcomes I just listed, at least seven of them are eminently available to every one of you. How did you rate these? Were they every bit as satisfying — or perhaps even more satisfying — than the “hit the jackpot and become a famous writer” outcomes?
Has the idea of what it means to “make it” as a children’s writer just changed a little bit?
So, I ask you, aspiring children’s writer:
How Do You Now Define Success?