Guest blog by Nancy Tupper Ling
Here’s the thing. If we knew all the twists and turns of this writing journey at the start, many of us might opt out early on. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Sometimes in the midst of this journey, a leap of faith is required. We might decide to pivot, try a new genre, or join a different critique group.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a leap of faith is “an act of believing something that is not easily believed.” On this road to publication, we are all taking a hop, a leap, or a gigantic jump in an effort to see our words in a reader’s hands someday. In the case of picture books, we might be praying for beautiful illustrations as well.
Recently I took a literal leap of faith . . . toward my faith. It was risky. I’ve always included some aspect of my faith in my books, even if it’s simply the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria in my dedication, as composers Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel did long ago. Simply put, the “glory goes to God alone.”
In the last few years, however, I had a desire to submit anthologies and picture books that were more faith-centric. This meant taking a new road to publication, including joining with agent, Anne Marie O’Farrell, who believed there was a market for these books. Thankfully, she soon met Bunmi, Ishola, an awesome editor from Penguin/WaterBrook, who was in search of manuscripts with God at their heart. Turns out ONE PERFECT PLAN: THE BIBLE'S BIG STORY IN TINY POEMS was a good fit.
Of course, none of this happened instantaneously. A lot of side streets were taken on this journey, and soul-searching as well. Certainly, I learned a great deal about myself and my priorities along the way. In case these tips might help you make a leap or two in your own writing career, I offer a few to consider:
Heart and Soul
If you do nothing else, take time to think about what makes your heart beat, and what stirs your soul. When you think about it, we’re all writing for someone. Who are you picturing reading your future book? What topic or idea won’t let you rest if you don’t write it? The idea for ONE PERFECT PLAN sat in a drawer for a long time. Really, a LONG time (since 2007). Still, the idea kept coming back, giving me a tap on the shoulder. It began with the premise that one event, one promise, or one person can make a huge difference in this world. Plus, I wanted to tell epic Bible stories in short poems so children might memorize them, and also read the entire Bible (its essence) in one sitting. That idea stirred my soul. What stirs yours?
We hear a lot about reading mentor texts, or finding comparative stories, but who are the authors out in the world whom we admire most? Who’s already taken that leap of faith and is writing those stories that reflect their passion and purpose. For me, it was authors who weave their faith into their stories and their lives, mentors like Nikki Grimes and Mitali Perkins. I’ve also learned that traveling this road with a book buddy or two is key, like Janet Costa Bates and Lynda Mullaly Hunt, to name a few. As long as you’re open to learning more about this field of writing, you’ll surely find a mentor to guide you along the way. Who do you admire?
Post-Its & More
We all need a word of encouragement, or two or three, in this publishing business. The question is: Who are you listening to? Many times after a number of rejections or revisions, it’s hard to keep on writing. It’s hard not to hear those negative voices. So I’ve taken to posting a lot of sticky notes on my bathroom mirror, in my car, and on my laptop. They are hope-filled. I even leave some for my husband and daughters now and then. Sometimes it’s a Bible verse, like this one: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1) Or, it could be as simple as “You’ve Got This!” And you can never go wrong with a Mary Oliver quote like:
“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
And when you run out of encouraging words, there are times when a friend gifts you a Kindness Rock with just the right words on it to inspire you. Think about the gifts you’ve received.
Storing Up Treasures
Even beyond the inspiring words, I like to collect tangible objects that remind me of my stories. When I look at these treasures, it helps me to feel a sense of reassurance that someday the manuscripts they represent might become books. Long before DOUBLE HAPPINESS was accepted by Chronicle Books, I discovered a sweet pencil box in an antique shop that had the phoenix and the dragon painted on the cover. In Chinese tradition, this represents double happiness (usually at weddings). That box sat on my writing desk for years, reminding me of my dream for that book.
Even now, I have one story that has yet to be accepted with a hedgehog character named Phoebe. Trust me, this little fluffy hedgehog gives me hope that Phoebe may grow into something more someday. Sometimes it’s the littlest things that keep us inspired and maintain our faith.
This has been my mantra: “It’s a long journey to publication. Yes, it can take a leap or two of faith, but all along the way practice the art of generosity.” Even now I need to be remind myself of this goal. I’ve become a stronger writer in spite of or because of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and I want to encourage others that getting a book published is possible. One of my favorite poetry teachers was a quiet, soul-filled man named Donald Sheehan who ran the Frost Festival in Franconia, NH, for many summers. Daily, he reminded the participants that while we might be desiring to break into the world of publishing more than anything in the world, if we’re unable to have a kind and generous spirit along the way, we’re missing the essence of the journey. I couldn’t agree more.
So, take heart, and practice some soul-searching. You may discover a sharp pivot is in your future, and it might be the very best move you will make for your writing career. Certainly, I thought this publishing journey would go a lot smoother and faster, but it gave me time to become brave enough to pursue a book that showcased a faith that’s important to me. Cultivate the art, but keep your eyes wide open for the gifts you’ve received already: In Mary Oliver’s words, “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
Nancy Tupper Ling is a children’s author, poet, book seller, and librarian. ONE PERFECT PLAN: THE BIBLE'S BIG STORY IN TINY POEMS (WaterBrook, 2023) is her 6th picture book, with two more on the way in 2024 including BLESS THE EARTH: A COLLECTION OF POETRY FOR CHILDREN TO CELEBRATE AND CARE FOR OUR WORLD (The Crown Publishing Group, 2024) which includes 24 Carrot Writing founder Amanda Smith’s poem, “Wonder,” and HEARTS IN MY POCKET.
Nancy is also the author of THE STORY I'LL TELL (Lee & Low, 2015), DOUBLE HAPPINESS (Chronicle, 2015), THE YIN-YANG SISTERS AND THE DRAGON FRIGHTFUL (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018), MY SISTER, ALICIA MAY (Pleasant Street Press, 2009) and FOR EVERY LITTLE THING (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2021) with co-author, June Cotner. To learn more, visit www.nancytupperling.com.
Read our review of ONE PERFECT PLAN here.
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