Monday, December 23, 2013

For Those Who are Not Cinderella

If you’re an unpublished or aspiring author or illustrator, this post is written for you. If you have attended a few conferences or follow publishing blogs and the like, you may have come across at one point or another a story that goes about like this:

“Meet Jane Doe. Jane Doe was a totally unknown talent. Then one day, on a whim, she sent her manuscript/portfolio to [insert name of extremely famous and talented agent or editor.] Suddenly she became a whirlwind success! She was perfect! Her work was perfect! Everyone loved her! Her manuscript was immediately sold to the highest bidder and she subsequently won the Caldecott medal. And all that under the age of 30! Amazing!”

This story usually follows with something along these lines:

“Aspiring writers and illustrators will find her story very uplifting and inspirational."

Now, this is kind of the opposite of how I would expect that story to make people feel. If you ask me, I think aspiring writers and illustrators want to hear about how hard work and perseverance pays off, not about some insanely talented person's fairytale story. Usually the fairytale story makes you feel like you ought to just give up and go jump off a bridge.

However, people who want to devote their lives to making books for children (or at least the ones I know, with the conspicuous exception of myself) seem to be delightful human beings. If they feel envious they don’t show it. Before long they pick themselves up, look their friend in the eye and say, “I’m so happy for you! That’s really wonderful that you are an overnight sensation and have twelve book deals.” They smile and clap for their friends and go home and feel grateful that at least they can use their rejection letters to heat the house over the winter and save on utilities.

Feeling envious is normal. I’m convinced that most everyone does it, and if they claim that they don’t, it’s either because they’ve been very lucky and had a Cinderella-success-story of their own, or because they are lying. Those who can be extremely gracious and happy for the success of others are just more adept at letting go of the negative feelings. The important thing is is not to feel guilty for being jealous. Just accept that it’s a feeling that happens, and move on.

After all, these universal human feelings we struggle with are just the stuff of which great stories are made. Nobody wants to read about a perfect character who is gracious and charming and ideal in every way. It would be utterly bland. If you think about it, Cinderella is rather one-dimensional. What mistake did she ever make? How can a real person, full of faults, relate to her? Characters need imperfections, heroes need demons to conquer. Don’t hate yourself for your darker moments, just learn from them, and let them go so they don’t hold you back.

And just remember that if you ever end up on a stage giving a keynote address about your success, tell the audience what they need to hear: that you got to where you are by working hard, by not giving up, and by truly loving what you do.

They will love you for it.

Jessica Lanan is a children's book illustrator living in Boulder, Colorado. See more of her work at, on facebook or twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment