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Why is it so hard to own the good stuff?

I'm not talking about money or about actual possessions, here. I'm talking about personal accomplishments. And maybe you have better self-esteem than me, and this won't make any sense to anyone else, but

why is it so hard to register and take pride in one's own accomplishments and successes?

I've been thinking about this in the abstract for more than two weeks, and been mulling this blog post for more than two days, and I'm still not certain I can articulate this well, but I hope you'll let me try. What follows is not intended as anything like a brag, but more like a reality check, as I hope you'll see:

I've been writing seriously for about 12 years now, or since the autumn of 2002. I spent those first few years hoping for a sale, sure that would mean I had "arrived." My first publishing credit was a poem that appeared in an anthology called Summer Shorts in 2006. My response was underwhelming, in part because I'd had to edit the poem in a way that I objected to, but still ... I'd been published. I should have been celebrating and happy, right? And I was, but it was short-lived, and then I found myself not bothering to mention it much as years went by.

My next publication was a poem that appeared in Highlights for Children magazine in 2007. I don't know about you, but I'd always wanted to sell a poem to Highlights. That, I thought, would mean that I had "made it" as a children's writer. This poem was actually my first-ever sale, before the one in Summer Shorts, but it took a couple years to get published, in part because it was a seasonal poem about Hanukkah and had to go into a December issue. I was so happy to sell the poem, and pleased to see it in print, but again, it was a short-lived happiness.

I had poems win awards from Writer's Digest Magazine, including one that won third place (and earned me money and mention inside the magazine). I had poems published in online and print poetry journals. I had poems appear in anthologies for adults and for children. All of these things felt big when they first happened, and quickly lost their shine somehow. While the rejection letters far outnumber acceptances (still and always), there came a time when I realized that the rejection letters no longer had any sting to them - I mostly shrug and move on. There also came a time when I realized that my celebrations of any publishing successes in the arena of journals and such were extremely short-lived. Mostly, they consist of me squealing when I get the acceptance email, then telling my sweetheart about it, then, essentially, shrugging and moving on.

In 2012, my first-ever picture book came out from tiger tales books, a small, independent press in Connecticut. I was thrilled to have a book out. Pleased as punch with my editor, who is the delightful Jamie Michalak, now a full-time author. In love with the illustrations by Mònica Armiño. Finally, my own book!

Now, though, it is 2014, and I haven't sold another picture book (yet). And I find myself forgetting what a triumph it is to have a realio, trulio book out in the world. It's so easy to say "but it's just the one book", or "it's not from a major publisher". I forget that it not only came out, but it was also picked up by Barnes & Noble. (Lots of books aren't.) Not only was it picked up by B&N, but it was also featured in their "summer" collection on their picture book walls, all across the United States. (Lots of books aren't.) It is hard to place poetry anywhere, and I'm lucky to have poems in award-winning anthologies for children. And to have poems in anthologies for adults. And in journals and magazines.

Yet most days, I still feel a bit like a failure. All of these years writing, and I feel as if I have nothing to show for it, despite a shelf full of books and journals and magazines that say otherwise.

My friends, that ain't right.

On Saturday, I had lunch in Philadelphia with Jenn Hubbard, a good friend and a most excellent author. We got to talking about these sorts of things, and Jenn reminded me exactly how hard it is to sell poetry anywhere. There are great poets all over the country and world, and publishing venues aren't as abundant as they could be, and the competition is terribly stiff, and it's difficult to get an acceptance.

Oftentimes, a "sale" to a journal means you get paid in copies of the journal itself, and there's no money. Jenn reminded me that it does not mean, however, that the sale is unimportant or that it is not a huge success. The same reasoning applies to sales to anthologies, where payment per poem tends to be on the low side (because how else could they afford to put out an anthology with a lot of poems inside?). Given how difficult it is to sell one's work, actually selling anything is a huge deal, and deserves to be celebrated.

Interestingly, I had already decided to take a sort of step back and to start celebrating things like actually getting drafts of picture book manuscripts completed, as I mentioned in this post, which concludes as follows:

An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.

I plan on sticking by that from now on, and on trying to remember that even if I'm feeling a bit like a failure on a given day, there's no basis in fact for that. Not just because I have that shelf full of stuff that says otherwise, but also because I keep writing.

Edited to say: I haven't been sad or upset about this, just wondering why it is so hard for me (and possibly others) to feel good about the things they have done, or to wish for something "more" even when you've achieved a measure of success (however small).

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
Agreed, it's hard to own the good stuff
For me, I find it difficult to own the good stuff because I feel like, in a way, it's bragging. It's not being humble. I don't want to be obnoxious. And plus, with social media, there is *someone else* celebrating something every day. It's tough to accept your own successes when the successes of others seem so plentiful. It's not necessarily jealousy, it's just the sheer number making it seem like what you have accomplished is so much less, even though logic dictates that the other successes are spread amongst many people!

Anyway, your thoughts are spot on. We should be proud of our successes, no matter how small. There are not enough opportunities for celebration.
Jul. 21st, 2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Agreed, it's hard to own the good stuff
You understood me 100%, and thank you for that. One of the things Jenn and I talked about was also how no matter what you get, there's always something "more" that you didn't. I got a positive review in Kirkus (A review! In Kirkus! That was good!), but no star. I would have loved a star. So I was happy for the good part, but still partially disappointed that it wasn't more.

And there's ALWAYS more. Stars and lists and awards and movie rights and heaven knows what. And no matter which of those things writers get, most of the ones I know are disappointed (in private, but still) that they didn't get the rest. And I suspect that even if they did, they'd still feel a bit like a fraud somehow. Must be part of the creative makeup.

Anyway, from now on, I'm going to try to remember to celebrate all the successes, no matter how small!
Jul. 21st, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
How very disappointing it must be for you. Please do not let it get you down. A personal achievement is an achievement even if not recognized by others. Some day the "magnum opus" will appear.
Jul. 21st, 2014 07:57 pm (UTC)
I'm not worried about the magnum opus, just about keeping things in proper perspective and remembering to celebrate all the good things as they come along, whether they are large or small. But thank you!
Jul. 21st, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
I think most writers struggle with the feeling of feeling like a failure, at least, all the ones I know. We just need to remember to tell ourselves that we are not failures, whether we are published or not.

We need to celebrate ourselves and our art! (((hugs)))
Jul. 21st, 2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
More celebrations! That is indeed what's called for!
Jul. 21st, 2014 08:01 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I get it.

Do you you still feel bad? Or after talking to Jenn, now you don't feel bad?

Or you sometimes feel bad, but not so bad because you still do it?

And if so, that's good.

Sometimes I just don't know. It would/could have been cool to be famous. I think. Some of the near-famous writers and illustrators, I know, have parts of their lives that I don't or didn't envy. Not with a family. If you're going about this all by yourself, I guess, it could be OK. OK to live poorer or more Bohemian.

I don't know.

And if fame meant all poems like the one that got "terribly edited" well, that would kinda suck, too.

Maybe more.

I'm glad I had music all through these years. Like Joni Mitchell once said about how you don't get to see someone enjoy your painting but you know right away folk's reaction to your performance.

And I guess, now, when I'm at that stage in my life where I see the world without me, I think about what I leave behind and I try to imagine the reaction. I wish I could be there for that.

And yeah, I don't know, I question what I do now and again—yet, I still do it.

I guess, that's the point.

P.S. Glad to do what I have done—questionable or otherwise—with you. Thanks for being THAT fiend!

Edited at 2014-07-21 08:03 pm (UTC)
Jul. 21st, 2014 08:32 pm (UTC)
Not sad, or feeling badly, exactly . . . just overlooking the good things that I've already accomplished, or minimizing/diminishing them and their significance. Sort of like, "I published a book, but it's 'just' a picture book, but it was with a small press, and it didn't win any prizes or become a best-seller" sort of thing. But publishing a picture book is a BIG success, and my publisher was awesome and consulted me far more than most "big" ones would have, so that is also an awesome thing.

Not actively wishing for more, really, just remembering to note and celebrate the good things as they come along, and not to minimize or diminish them.
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Jul. 22nd, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
Excellent way of putting it. Far better than my rambling.
Jul. 22nd, 2014 02:06 am (UTC)

It's so clearly not bragging! *hug* I do know what you mean. Life is just all ups and downs, and we spend so much more time worrying about, or even just MARKING, the downs, and we let the ups (not the brown trucks!) go by with, yes, sometimes a party and sometimes some social media cheering, but then...the next thing that isn't quite working seems to take over.

As a child and teen and young adult, I didn't get pride from the things I did, putting them down to a brain I'd inherited genetically and parental/familial expectations that I just went with, because...well, expectations. It wasn't until I took some jobs--work-type jobs and found out I was actually COMPETENT at STUFF that I started to feel accomplished. And even that was based on GETTING THINGS DONE and out there.

It's just so much harder with fiction and poetry to get to the done-and-out-there stage, especially the out-there part. I think you're right. We do need to celebrate more of the little steps, because, actually, they're pretty big!

So for today, THREE CHEERS TO YOU! Keep it going! :)
Jul. 22nd, 2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Becky. You totally "got" my point. Thanks. And yes, let's keep celebrating!
Jul. 23rd, 2014 01:12 am (UTC)
Yes! Thank you so much for reminding me of this in such an eloquent way. :)
Jul. 27th, 2014 04:46 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thank YOU so much for calling me "eloquent", when I was pretty sure "rambling" or "babbling" was closer to accurate! Smooch!
Aug. 2nd, 2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
As an FYI, I hope you don't mind that I am going to link to this post on my Author2Author blog. I've been thinking about this topic a lot for the past month -- celebrating the "small things" -- and think you just put so much out there that is important for readers to hear. Tell me if you want me to nix the link. :)
Aug. 2nd, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
Not nixing it. And thanks!!
Aug. 3rd, 2014 12:08 am (UTC)
Cool! Thanks again for the original post and blessing to share your words. :)
Aug. 4th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
No, thank YOU for sharing/linking!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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