Want to Be a Children’s Author? You Need This One Thing First

As I sat and read, the knot in my stomach kept growing.

I was reading a children’s book about a band of cute rabbit-like animals called pikas that were on a grand adventure. So far, they had traveled for miles, encountering danger in the form of predators, rushing water, and getting lost. They kept their spirits up by singing pika songs and giving one another pika pep talks.

Pika leaning on rock. Looking for a children's book story
On the lookout for a great story. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

It was one of the worst stories I had ever read.

The plot line was unfocused, the characters weren’t particularly likeable, and the story sounded a little too much like another book I had read and loved.

This author has no talent, I thought. No one is ever going to want to read this book.

Unfortunately, that author was me.

Becoming a Children’s Author Was Way Harder Than I Expected

In my defense, I was about 13 or 14 years old. The story in question was my first attempt at writing a book. I had just finished reading my favorite book of all time, Watership Down, for about the millionth time, and I was inspired.

I want to write something like that. My teenage mind was filled with visions of a 500-page novel that was exciting, inspiring, and made readers long for more. It was like I had something creative inside of me that I just needed to release upon the world.

But when I tried to express the feelings in my heart on paper, the result was nothing like I had imagined.

It was just as Issac Bashevis Singer described:

“Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.”

I felt the chasm in my case was wider than the Grand Canyon.

 

Now that’s a big chasm. (Photo by Alan Carrillo on Unsplash)

Wait, You Have to Share What You Write?

I’m sorry to say that after reading the draft of my book, I was so disgusted, I threw it in the trash.

All 50-plus pages.

Keep in mind that this was way back in the Dark Ages before everyone had a computer.

Okay, before personal computers even existed.

I had typed those 50 pages on a study manual typewriter, banging on those keys like a pianist playing fortissimo.

In other words, it was like hitting the “delete all” button. Once it was gone, it was gone forever.

And just like that, my dream of becoming an author was trashed as well.

Of course, if my story ended there, I would hardly be offering you any source of inspiration or hope.

That is not my intention.

But I need to be honest here. The story gets worse.

I still had dreams of writing. I entered college, and declared myself an English major. It made perfect sense for someone who wanted to write.

Everything was going fine as English classes meant reading lots of books (yay!) and writing papers about the books.

But then it came time for me to take a writing class.

Here’s the problem with taking a writing class. You have to share your work. As in let your fellow classmates read what you write.

The idea of having my peers judge my creative writing sent me into a full-blown panic. There was NO WAY I could do that.

So, I quit my second attempt at becoming a writer.

How to Guarantee…Failure

The thing with heartfelt dreams is that they don’t ever go away. No matter how deep you try to bury them, they have this pesky way of popping up and taunting you.

When I became a parent, I was reintroduced to the world of children’s books. I read A LOT of books to my kids.

And all that yearning inside to be able to create something that touched the hearts of others came bubbling up to the surface in full force.

The reason I wasn’t realizing my dream was because I was missing one key element.

When I first started writing, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I started out by focusing on copywriting.

But writing for children? To share my dream was outright embarrassing.

I’d never done it before. I had no training, no experience, and, I thought, no talent.

But there was also one more thing I lacked.

I was running out of time.

I was nearing 50, and all I had done was try to write a couple of stories. I had sent them to a few magazines, and they were quickly rejected.

Was I going to walk away for a third time?

Was I going to let failure become inevitable?

What You Need to Succeed

Writer Nikos Kazantzakis once famously said, “In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.”

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I had finally come to understand that I had to stop waiting for success before allowing myself to believe I could be an author.

The belief had to come first.

I had to start calling myself a writer. I had to start telling other people that I was a writer.

My whole life, I was so afraid of failing. I believed that by avoiding failure, I could protect myself from disappointment.

But of course, that’s not how it works at all.

Or if you just try halfway, you are left in a state that is much, much worse.

My friend and author, Cerece Rennie Murphy, calls it being stuck in “almost.”

The thing is, you don’t even have to believe 100 percent that you can achieve your dreams. I heard one motivational speaker say you only need to believe you have a 3 percent chance of succeeding.

I don’t know about you, but surely if you want something enough, you can believe you have a chance of at least 3 percent.

Embrace Your Dream: Say it Out Loud

You may laugh, but this was seriously hard for me.

I’m the kind of person who never tells anyone when I’m about explore something new. So when I began taking tiny steps toward becoming a children’s author, I was too embarrassed, too filled with self-doubt, to tell anyone.

Not even my family. Especially my family.

It was such a vulnerable step to tell them: “I am trying to become a children’s writer.”

But when I finally did, it was a complete non-event for them. “That’s cool, Mom,” one of my kids replied. “Good for you,” the other said.

No gasps of disbelief. No peals of hysterical laughter.

They just accepted my statement as something ordinary.

And completely possible.

I told more people. I mentioned it to my friends. I told my dad.

I went to conferences and meet-ups for children’s book writers, and everyone accepted me without question.

All of these steps helped strengthen my belief that I could succeed.

I landed a project co-authoring a self-published book for children. I got an article published in FACES Magazine, part of the Cricket Media group.

I began exploring work-for-hire for the educational market. (Side note: this involves having a publisher assign you a book where they come up with the concept and retain all rights to the book).

I got hired to write a nonfiction book about snakes. Then another nonfiction book for high schoolers.

These were books published by legitimate publishers, with MY NAME as the author!

I had finally become a children’s book author.

None of this would have happened if I had continued to sit alone at my desk, pining away for my dream, hoping I could finally tell people when I succeeded at publishing a book.

You have to start with the belief. You have to start with being vulnerable, risking judgment and failure, and step out into the world to make your dream come true.

If you keep trying, and learning, and working, and not giving up, you will reach your goal.

And when you do, you can give your imaginary pika friend a high-five.


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