Pat Zietlow Miller
A picture book story of perseverance
Pat Zietlow Miller : A picture book story of perseverance
Leather Works Minnesota: A family business revives American...
Amelia Coffaro: Illness refocuses a photographer's dream
Café Racer: Filling the soul by feeding the community
By Pat Zietlow Miller
Fear is good because it means a dream is important to you. When you set out to pursue a dream, you’re always a little scared because there’s that question: “What if I can’t?” I’ve certainly had that fear. But I think a worse fear is “What if, when I’m 90 years old, I look back and regret never having tried?”
It took me a while to commit to my dream of being a children’s author. I’ve loved to write since fourth grade, and in college I seriously considered making a career of it. I wanted to sell a book. I wanted to see it in a tangible form, with illustrations, on a library shelf.
So I wrote my first picture book. And after one publisher rejected it, I set it aside. It took me 20 years to try again. Now when I sit down to write, I recapture the feeling I had when I was 19. In writing picture books, I’ve found what I was meant to do in life.
Once I made the decision to treat my writing like a second full-time job, everything fell into place. I was so much happier because I was putting time toward the thing that I had always wanted to do. I would go to bed thinking about picture books. I’d wake up thinking about picture books. They were always there, and they made my whole life that much happier.
Still, it took many, many tries to get a book published. I was sending about 10 different manuscripts out to publishers, and I received a total of 126 rejections before someone decided they wanted to buy my first book, Sophie’s Squash.
Some nos were worse than others. There were times when I’d gotten positive interest from an editor: “Hey, we kinda like this. Would you work on it a little more and send it back to us?” I did—and then it was a no. But I didn’t let the nos devastate me. It doesn’t mean you’re an awful writer or that you’ll never get published. It means, for that editor at that point, they didn’t think your story was ready. If you wanted to be a concert pianist, you’d have to practice. I just took the nos as a sign that I needed more practice.
I don’t have a lot of time for writing. Being a 46-year-old full-time-employed mother of two with a hobby, my brain is like a plate of spaghetti, and somehow I’ve got to organize it. At any given time, I’m thinking about my grocery list, a school project that’s due tomorrow, revisions from my editor and an issue at work. It’s all intertwined, and I’ve just got to pick a strand and follow it through to the end.
You don’t need unlimited free time to be successful. Look at your day and ask, “What are my musts?” In my case, I have a corporate job and a family. But there’s time left over. I could spend that time sitting on the sofa watching TV, but I use it to do something I’m passionate about.
My best advice for someone with a dream is to just start. Even if you’re scared, you can take that first step. Maybe you can’t do the whole thing, but you can take a step in that direction. And then the next day you can take another step.
“You don’t need unlimited free time to be successful. Look at your day and ask, “What are my musts?”
My definition of success keeps changing, depending on which step of my journey I’m on. Initially, success was selling a book and having it published. Now that that’s happened, my definition has expanded. I want to have a career. I want to be able to do this full time and write books that impact children’s lives. In a year, who knows what success will look like to me.
But in general, I think success is knowing what you want to do, having a plan in place to do it and then moving forward. Achieving the goal is awesome and icing on the cake, but if you’re actively pursuing it, that’s success right there. You’re doing something. You’re not just sitting around talking—you’re actually doing.