In a perfect world, the pace at which we write would match up with the pace of publishing. Our passions/skills/styles would be beautifully in sync with the market. And each time we finished a book to our relative satisfaction, it would head off to the printers and then to our adoring fans (kids, reviewers, award committees), who would read it and love it and clamor for more.
But the world is not perfect, and the creative process is messy, and publishing is agonizingly slow. (Except when it is ridiculously fast, which usually doesn’t sync up with the realities of writing either). The market, unfortunately, is fickle. And so, a huge amount of what we (by which I mean “I” but also quite possibly “you”) write is destined for the literal or figurative drawer.
I’ve had one novel published and two picture books, and there are two more picture books on the way in various plodding stages of the publishing process. Behind those 5 precious “real” books, or maybe underneath them, I’ve stowed two drawer novels. Yes: two novels written in their entirety, revised for years, submitted for years, and eventually tucked away in favor of newer projects. And how many picture books? When I last tried to count my unpublished picture books, the total was somewhere around 62. Yep. Six-ty-two.
It’s sad, thinking about all that unpublished work, a lot of which isn’t (I don’t think) any less deserving of being bound between covers and read at bedtime than the chosen few manuscripts for which the stars aligned. I’m not going to pretend I’m not disappointed by it, or angry. I am. Absolutely. But even at my most exasperated, I cannot think of all those hours as lost time, or of all those words as wasted. I will not be ashamed of my drawer novels or my piles of unpublished picture books, or of myself for investing as much time and energy and love in them as I did. No, those are not failed books, and their drawer-inhabiting existence doesn’t make me a failed writer. Quite the opposite. Those books are as important to my career, and to my creative life, as the stories that “made it.”
Because I have to believe that I learn something every time I sit down and lose myself in the rearranging of words on paper. The act of writing makes me a better writer, and a better person. And so I will keep doing it. I will keep believing in this messy and joyful and aggravating process. I will keep believing in myself. I will keep writing toward that next book, even though I don’t know how many books it will take to get there. And I will do it with as much patience as I can muster. And as much forgiveness. And as much love.
Molly Beth Griffin is the author of the YA novel Silhouette of a Sparrow and the picture books Loon Baby and Rhoda’s Rock Hunt. She has also published two chapbooks of poetry, Under Our Feet and All the Hollow Places, and a series of beginning readers called School Sidekicks. Molly holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline, and has been teaching picture book writing at the Loft Literary Center and critiquing manuscripts for 10 years. She hosts a monthly Picture Book Salon in Minneapolis, where she lives with her partner and their two kids. www.mollybethgriffin.com