Back in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle gifted children everywhere with her sci-fi fantasy classic A Wrinkle in Time. The book became a classic and continues to be enjoyed by young readers with over 10 million copies sold. In 2018, the year L'Engle would have turned 100 years old, Disney made a movie based on the book, starring big names like Oprah, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon.
Like so many writers, L’Engle had a hard time finding a publisher. The book didn’t fit neatly into a genre category, and the concepts in the story were way ahead of their time. There were elements of quantum physics, the problem of evil, and it has a young female protagonist in a science fiction book, which was pretty much unheard of at that time. Aside from the content, she believed her troubles were also because people underestimate children. "They think you have to write differently," she said. "You don’t. You just have to tell a story."
In all, 26 different publishers rejected A Wrinkle in Time. L'Engle had almost given up when she was introduced to John C. Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Although his publishing company did not publish children’s books at the time, he liked her book and published it with the caveat that the author should not expect much public reaction. She, in turn, had it added to her contract that the company could have the rights to the book forever, anywhere in the universe, except the Andromeda galaxy.
During her lifetime, L'Engle published over 60 books for children and adults. Read on to learn four powerful lessons from her experiences and expertise.
"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
It is easy to underestimate the ability of children to understand complex concepts and want to protect them. By doing this, we rob them of the opportunity to receive new information, process it and better understand the world around them—and their own imaginations. L’Engle said that it was adults who thought children would be afraid of the Dark Thing in A Wrinkle in Time, not children. If we are writing for younger audiences, our responsibility is to write honestly and not shy away from more advanced ideas if those are part of the story we want to tell. Children will appreciate it.
"When we believe in the impossible, it becomes possible, and we can do all kinds of extraordinary things."
Doubt is powerful deterrent for writers. It causes us to question our abilities, makes us second guess our intentions and steers us toward thinking that any dream of publishing is impossible. But many successful ideas and inventions were once considered impossible. The light bulb would have never been invented if Telsa and Edison hadn't believed it possible. Before Elizabeth Blackwell there were no women doctors, but she didn’t let that stop her. People accomplish extraordinary things all the time because they believe they can. If you want to be a successful writer, then you must believe it is possible, then do the work to make it happen.
"Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it."
Waiting for inspiration to come is like waiting for lightning to strike. The chances are pretty slim it's going to happen out of the blue. Those writers who have figured out how to be successful, understand that you can’t wait around for that bolt of brilliance before you sit down to write. It is the other way around. Commit time to your writing, and, as L’Engle says, that is when you'll find your inspiration.
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"If we are not willing to fail we will never accomplish anything. All creative acts involve the risk of failure."
There is no magic formula when it comes to being a successful author. There is nothing that says if you write a certain type of book, include this storyline and create this kind of character, you will find success. However, there is one trait common among many who achieved their dreams and that is perseverance. They were willing to risk failure, risk rejection and keep going anyway. Finding success in writing is not easy, but it is by no means impossible. Just look at Madeleine L’Engle, who was undeterred after rejection No. 25, and her books continue to inspire readers and writers alike today.