• Jean Burman

The other day I was listening to a podcast interview with a well known and much loved Australian children’s author.

Throughout the interview, as she detailed her stellar career over many decades, it struck me how fortunate she had been to have been fated the early opportunities she had. I caught myself right there, reminding myself that this was her journey not mine or anyone else’s. I am glad she did what she did. My children loved her stories! Without her ... there would have been a huge void. I’m so glad she found early and relatively easy success.

She was then asked what advice she might have for new aspiring children’s writers. To my complete surprise, she launched into a spiel about how hard it is. How, if she is ever asked to read a manuscript she promises to be unapologetically brutal. How, if a writer believes they have the perfect manuscript, they can think again!

I was gobsmacked. Wow. I know publishing can be a hard nosed industry but can anyone really afford to be that negative? Should we, with so little conscience, take someone’s efforts and smash them up before they’ve even submitted a word?

I have to admit I’d heard it all before. When I first started painting there was so much discouragement in the air you could slice it! When I was studying creative writing the margins of my manuscripts were etched in green ink with edits that didn't make grammatical sense!  

It seems to me it's a human thing. Something akin to a subconscious taking down of the competition. A leveling of the playing field. A nobbling of the newbie! I suspect we don’t even know we’re doing it.

I guess it could be argued that it's better not to know the failure rate before attempting something new. If we were to know how many people had tried and failed before us ... why ... nobody would do anything.

Then all the miraculous achievements, the (very real) overnight successes, the breakthroughs, the things that go viral in the night for no apparent reason why ... except that their idea has captured the collective imagination of the masses ... would never happen ... because hey ... they didn’t do the hard yards!

There’s a great scene in the movie Sabrina, where the young Sabrina, working in Paris as a photographer’s assistant for French Vogue, is pulled aside and told [by way of explanation for her harsh treatment] “I tortured her. Now she tortures you. Succeed, and one day you’ll get someone of your own to torture” The beautiful French accent softens the blow somewhat but the message is clear. You have to earn your stripes! 

There seems to be some sort of preconception amongst the accomplished that you have to do the 10,000 hours. You have to rewrite the manuscript 30 times. You have to feel the rejection ... know the pain. You can’t just write it, illustrate it, and bam ... it’s a runaway success. You can’t just paint it and expect it to sell. 

But why ever not?

Heck. If all the discouragement in the world was heaped up and put out there in one big pile, no one would attempt anything!

It’s not our job to kill the passion!

Yes. It may take quite a while to develop the skills, to achieve the excellence, to earn any kind of respect and success, but should we rob the early starters of the joy of the journey ... the hope and trust in that success ... the starry eyed moments that really are the sweetest moments of all?

It’s not our job to throw a wet blanket over someone else’s hopes and dreams. Because our struggles may not, in fact, be their experience at all! So why inflict them on the unsuspecting newbie, who may indeed surpass all expectations, and go on to achieve relatively easy success?

It happens!


So if you’re sitting on a dream someone once told you was going to take you 10,000 hours to achieve ... for heavens sake ... just go and do it. You don’t need that kind of advice. You don’t need anyone's permission either. You probably won’t get the encouragement you need, but don’t let that stop you. Don’t let anything stop you. Just go ahead and do it.

It’s not meant to be (that) hard!

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  • Jean Burman

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