A Princeton University professor named Johannes Haushofer recently made news by publishing a "c.v. of failures," a public list of his rejections for graduate programs, jobs, fellowships, and publications. It's gone viral, as we all need to hear stories of others' failures to counteract social media's incessant celebration of others' success.
This year I've had my own share of professional failures. Here are a few:
1) rejection of a proposal for a new chapter book series from my publisher, after early encouragement
2) rejection of a proposal to speak at our Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, after I had been personally invited by one of the Co-Regional Advisers to apply
3) a SECOND "revise and resubmit" verdict on the same children's literature article from a prominent journal
4) disappointing spring royalties (reflecting disappointing sales) on several recent recent books
5) small audiences at the Children's Literature Festival that I attend every year in Warrensburg, Missouri.
I could add more, but I think I've made my point depressingly clear, or at least depressingly clear to myself.
So my question is, what do I do now?
One answer, of course, is try, try again. But "try, try again" isn't going to work if I just try the very same thing over and over again while expecting different results. We've all heard that as the definition of insanity. In other equally familiar words: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."
Actually, for most of my career I've liked what I've gotten. I've never been wildly ambitious for fame and fortune. I just wanted to be able to do work I love, maybe even make a modest living doing it, and get to spend time with other fun, creative people who are also doing work they love. And I've been lucky enough to achieve those things.
But the world of children's book writing and children's literature scholarship has gotten increasingly competitive, with brilliant new, young authors and scholars joining their ranks. If I want to stay in the game, I'm going to have to step up my game. If I do what I've always done, I'm not going to be getting (even) what I've always got.
So now I have to decide: how bad do I want it? Do I want it enough to work harder than I've ever worked before? Do I want it enough to bite the bullet and accept that I need to (1) become a better writer; and (2) become a better self-promoter (rather than spending time complaining that kids thirty years ago liked my books just fine and that authors thirty years ago didn't have to have websites, Twitter accounts, or glitzy giveaways)? Do I want it enough to sit down, once this final semester of teaching ends, and seriously try to reinvent myself for the 21st century, now that we are already 16 years into it?
I don't know. Part of me wants to. Part of me doesn't.
Part of me thinks that writing is what gives my life its deepest satisfaction so that I should do whatever I need to do to hold onto it as long as I can - clinging not just to writing, at home, alone, for myself, but to being part of the world of writers, to belonging in that world. Another part of me thinks that the idea of putting myself out to pasture, after 35 years in harness, is not a completely terrible thing, especially with two little granddaughters to cuddle, one already here and one set to arrive in another three weeks.
I think the bigger part of me wants to try better, try harder, try fresher, try smarter. The pasture isn't going anywhere; it can wait for me a little longer.
Either way, whether I continue to flourish and thrive in this business is going to depend on how badly I want it, and whether I'm willing to back up my wanting with working.