It started with a book. A gift from a friend, not long after my daughter was born. The book wasAll In A Day, by Cynthia Rylant andNikki McClure. My whole family loved it— we loved the art, we loved the words. And I was struck by how well they worked together. And then I began to wonder how Nikki (whose calendars had hung in our home for years) came to work with such an extraordinary writer on her first picture book.
A little research led to this interview with literary agent Steven Malk. A little more research and I realized he represented not two, not five— but more than twenty of my favorite writers and illustrators. He represented the people who made the books that I LOVED. Books like The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Mrs. Crump's Cat, All the World, and Extra Yarn. Books that became part of the language of my family, books that changed my life. And so, impressed by the interview, I rushed to query him a few days later, with an alphabet story I'd written and illustrated. And he declined to represent me. But, he was encouraging. And I had a sense of something bigger now, a vision of the kinds of books I'd like to make. Not books that I could make yet, but the books that I wanted to make. So I kept drawing, I kept writing. Since then I've heard Steve speak at three SCBWIconferences. And each time he's said the same thing— be intentional, take the long view, slow down.
Steve has a philosophy that, with patience, passion and effort— people can make beautiful things.
That book, that first query—was four years ago. And it's been fifteen years, since I knew this was the work I wanted to do. And now— seven SCBWI conferences (regional and national) and eight book dummies later, I am thrilled to be working with Steve.
can be hard to maintain. Practicing patience, for me, is even harder. But it helps when I think of it as a dance— in slow motion. For even the slowest of dances has rhythm and flow. All of which brings to mind these words byIra Glass,words that have been such good company on this journey—
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.
of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have
good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years that
you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s trying to be
good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the
game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
And the thing that I would say to you, with all of my heart, is this—
most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase— they went through years of this. We
know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.
We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or if you are
still in this phase, you've got toknow it's normal. And the most important
thing you can do— is do a lot of work. It is only by going through a
volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap. And the work you're making will be as
good as your ambitions.
I took longer to figure out how to do this
than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take
awhile. And you've just got to fight your way through that—okay?”
"Ugly-messy-beautiful.That brings to mind the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi. Which I feel is in a
kindred spirit with the artwork I do... I like to SEE the process in the
finished work. The best thing I ever saw (well, one of) was Michelangelo’s
There one could see,
frozen in time, the raw act of chipping these figures from the rock.
more interesting that is than a polished image with no “way in” for the viewer!"
"Left to their own devices, most people don't want to fail. But Andrew Stanton [is] ...known around Pixar for... the phrase 'be wrong as fast as you can.' He thinks of failure like learning to ride a bike; it isn't conceivable that you would learn to do this without making mistakes— without toppling over a few times. 'Get a bike that's as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you're not afraid of falling, and go,' he says.
Even though people in our offices have heard Andrew say this repeatedly many still miss the point. They think it means accept failure with dignity and move on.
The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a
manifestation of learning
and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing
failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: