Wednesday, July 4, 2012

10 WOW Wednesday: Donna Cooner on The Terrible Truth

Please welcome author, blogger, speaker, and teacher Donna Cooner for today's WOW Wednesday inspiration. Donna is currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her debut novel, SKINNY (Scholastic/EgmontUK), will be released in October, 2012. Find her online at, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

The Terrible Truth

by Donna Cooner

In my former life as a kindergarten teacher, I loved picture books with repetitive refrains. One of my all-time favorites was ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (by Judith Viorst). My students and I loved the repetition of the text and could recite it from memory (I probably still can). Most of all I loved the message. It spoke to kids and adults alike, and it was wonderful to realize others understood how it felt when everything just seemed to go wrong.

So in the spirit of ALEXANDER, I wanted to share my personal publication story.

After years of authoring scholarly articles for tenure at a research institution, I decided to return to writing children's books. I quickly discovered, however, the content wasn't going to be picture book material. My mother had just been diagnosed with stage four cancer (there was no stage five). Writing about the experience was one of the few things that made any sense, so I wrote my first young adult novel. It was about cancer and a mother who was dying. It was so close to my heart, so painful, I often found myself crying over the words while writing in my local coffee shop. Amazed I actually finished the manuscript, I was even more amazed when it attracted the attention of an agent. She sent it out on submission and I was on my way to becoming a young adult author! Voila.

And then I waited

and waited

and waited.

It was a black hole. It didn’t sell. How could everyone reject a story so close to my heart? I was crushed. I decided to quit. I gave up. It was too hard.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day.

But then…eventually…I took what I learned from writing the first book and started writing something new. It wasn’t as raw emotionally, but it had heart and a plot (an important thing). And I finished it! My second young adult novel! This was it. My agent sent it out on submission.

And I waited

and waited

and waited.

Another black hole. It didn’t sell.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day.

And then my agent and I parted ways.

It was another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Now, after all this hard work, I was back to square one. No book deal, no agent, and no fresh ideas for a new manuscript.

I was evidently a no good, very bad writer. I should quit. Give up. Stop trying.

But I didn't.

I didn't know it at the time, but if I had stopped there I would have missed something really amazing. And that's the thing with terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days in writing and in life.

You have to acknowledge them.

You have to feel them.

Then you have to use them to lead you to something wonderful waiting on a new day.
And some of my days after terrible, horrible, no good and very bad have been incredible. Days that make all the bad times and rejections completely worth it. Like when I finished my third novel. It was called SKINNY and it attracted the passionate support of top literary agent, Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary. Or days like when SKINNY sold to Scholastic (my dream publisher) in a hotly contested auction. Or even days like when my fantastic editor, Aimee Friedman, told a standing room only crowd about SKINNY as part of the YA Editor Buzz Panel at BEA (You can see the YA Editor Buzz Panel here).

Best of all there are days when I write something unexpected and am flooded with creativity endorphins because, after all, that's where it all begins and ends--the writing. And those days are very good day indeed.

I'm not unrealistic. I know there will be still be bad days. This dream doesn't come easy, and that's what makes the good days even sweeter.

But in the classic words of ALEXANDER,

"Some days are like that. Even in Australia."


  1. Thank you. Great poignant post. J

  2. I cannot tell you how much I needed to read this today. And I remember reading 'Alexander' to both my boys when they were kids. I think we all identified with having those kinds of terrible days.

    I'm slogging through what you describe--books written, have agent, no sales and feeling discouraged.

    But I also know that magic of the right words coming together on the page and the fierce joy of creating something that didn't exist before.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  3. I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. As much as I love to cheer the one-two-three step stories of authors who seemed to make it to the big time overnight, I adore reading about the terrible truth even more. Because the terrible truth happens more often than not. Thank you for sharing this post.

  5. You have hit upon one of my all time favorite children's books. We still have it and occasionally read it again for fun, though my kids are a bit past it. But what a great message in this post that really means so much since the terrible truth is much more likely than the bam kazow stories we sometimes hear. I'm not happy that you struggled, but I'm glad you shared so we can see reality yet not be daunted by it. I'm going to keep pushing on because of great advice and honesty like yours.

  6. Thank you so much! Needed this today more than I can tell you. I'm a Pre-K teacher, so very familiar with young Alexander. I'm at about number 7 in the novel writing. I hear it's a lucky number:) I heard Ms. Davies in NY this past year. A perfect agent! Can't wait to read SKINNY!

  7. Thanks for the inspirational story!! I really needed this!!

  8. What an inspiring post! I just finished reading my ARC of SKINNY from BEA, and really enjoyed it. I'm glad you were able to push past the bad days to write it. :)

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Congrats on SKINNY!

  10. You have to laugh when you can, because the terrible truth is, the writing life is primarily made up of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. : )


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