I always feel so inadequate when it comes to literature. Sure, I’m an avid reader, particularly of the canonical or classic texts, but I’ve never been drawn to a particular genre besides Young Adult. And I feel like the net that YA literature casts can bleed over into other genres.
Which is why I’ve struggled for so long with how to identify Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up. Is it Young Adult because the protagonist is a teenager struggling with social changes and growing up and coming of age? Or is it adult fiction because the subject matter is too explicit for young adults – drug abuse, sexual abuse, rape, suicide.
As I look at a checklist each day that says “Query agents” and “Agent search,” I become more discontent, for I know I’m prioritizing even the most trivial of tasks over two that are so crucially important to my future and, really, my sanity.
And I know why. Because I’m afraid of someone else saying no. So many have already said it for all the rookie mistakes most make once, ones that I have made twice:
- Misspelling agent’s name
- Using form query letters
- Writing a stiff query letter
- Failing to capture my narrative voice
- Not tailoring each query to the agent’s individual interests
- Being unaware of the market and the competition
- Submitting an inferior manuscript
- Assuming my work speaks for itself
- Rushing to get something out just to get it out
As Paul B. Brown wrote in an old piece for Forbes, “You want to start moving slowly toward your goals,” which is exactly what I did not do the first couple times around. Everything was rush, rush, rush. I had to contact as many agents as possible in the shortest amount of time, even if the product wasn’t ready or the pitch wasn’t good.
Recently, I’ve found myself thinking of Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents” blog and one post in particular that I’ll never be able to find now. But it has stuck with me that in this particular entry, an author discussed how he/she found an agent willing to work with him/her. Each day, he/she would craft and send out one query.
And frankly, right now, as I work to design an immersive Macbeth unit and grade papers and meet students on my free periods for extra help and tutor after school, I simply do not have the time. Unless I have the time to devote to the process, I will not proceed. With that, my discontent grows.
At the same time, I know there is something more that is holding me back – my own fears:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of change
- Fear of being deemed inadequate
- Fear of having my dreams crushed
- Fear of failure
This reminds me of a personal narrative one of my seventh graders recently wrote. He feared the high dive, just as I did in my youth. His brother teased him about how big of a baby he was for his reluctance. My student, meanwhile, examined all the different negative outcomes of taking the plunge.
I think you can figure out how the rest of this story plays out, if you haven’t already. And that is that with some encouragement from his mother, he climbed that long ladder and blocked out the jeers of his brother and the detractors in his own head and jumped (really, he flipped).
I only did a pencil, probably the worst jump/dive/whatever anyone can do. And heights still terrify me.
As the Great One Wayne Gretzky once said, “You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Yes, it’s a corny motivational quote that every classroom in the early 90s probably had hanging up. Either that or the Vince Lombardi one about the dictionary and success and work.
But Gretzky’s quote, in its simplicity, is poignant, for you will never know the outcome unless you first try.
In order to achieve what we want, sometimes we have to leave ourselves vulnerable and open ourselves to failure. And we will fail. That’s the unavoidable reality. But this also enables us to learn.
Now, I have to do it.