• Jennifer Laffin

Teaching Students to Build Endurance as Writers by Melissa Stewart




As part of the June #TeachWrite Slow Chat on Facebook, the following question was asked:

The truth is if writers don’t feel risk and discomfort every time they start a new piece, they’re doing something wrong. These emotions are a natural part of the process.

That’s why perseverance is the number one character trait a writer needs.

For me, the kind of writing that requires the most fortitude is revising a manuscript that’s been rejected by several publishers.

It’s so, so hard to stay committed to a piece when someone has just told you all the things that are wrong with it.

Here’s some real editorial feedback I received on a manuscript that I’m just starting to revise. So far, it’s been rejected 23 times:

  • I liked the concept, not the execution.

  • I liked the concept, but didn’t fall in love with the voice.

  • The delivery is off-putting.

  • It’s too abstract for the target audience. I found myself wishing for a more human story.

  • I’m not getting as much of the science as I would have liked to convince me this would work as a book.

  • It’s an original concept, but I don't think it's the right fit for my list.

  • I love the idea, but it’s not as accessible for a picture book audience as I had hoped.

  • I'm not taken enough with the premise or the approach. I find the second-person address distracting.

  • The concept is intriguing, but I got lost when the text meandered from one thing to another and felt confused as to how everything fit together. Sometimes the voice seemed forced.


Ouch!


Looking at these comments all together in one place makes me cringe anew.

I’m filled with self-doubt, especially as I remember the 30 or so folders collecting dust in my “manuscript graveyard”—the middle drawer of a large filing cabinet in my office.


Each of those folders represents a book that will probably never be published.



As I start to revise, my mind is brimming with fear and dread—even though I’ve successfully published 190 books.



Just imagine how young writers must feel when it’s time for them to revise. After all, they don’t have a history of successful writing to fall back on, to give them hope and confidence that they can transform their marked-up draft from okay to outstanding.



During school visits, students often ask me why I keep on revising, why I don’t just give up. What they’re really asking is: Why should they revise? Why shouldn’t they give up?



And here’s the best answer I know: Because as I face a rewrite, fear and dread aren’t the only emotions I feel. I also feel excitement.



I’m excited to share ideas and information I’m passionate about with other people, and the only way to do that is by summoning my courage and diving in.



That’s what fuels my perseverance. It’s what keeps me going despite the inevitable challenges and setbacks.





Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. Her most recent title is Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.








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