What I DIDN'T Learn ... by Jane Kelley

This month's topic sent me digging through the actual folders in my actual filing cabinet. My first completed children's book manuscript was typed and mailed to an editor in the year 1984.

I wrote BERT TO THE RESCUE at a time when I was also writing plays, short stories, adult novels, essays -- basically anything I could think of in hopes of success. I had no idea what I was doing. No plan. No mentor. Just a naive belief that somehow or other success was around the corner.

"Bert" was based on a family legend. My great great aunt Elizabeth Moffett, who wrote for the Milwaukee Journal, used to talk for an imaginary cat named Bert. I combined Bert with my own miserable year at 4th grade. I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone at Knopf. And somehow got my manuscript read by an editor.

I remember being thrilled by this response -- even though, despite the praise, the envelope also contained my manuscript.

I incorporated the advice as best I could and resubmitted "Bert." A few months later, "Bert" came back, rejected once again, with more feedback from more editors.

So, dear readers, I'm sure you think that I immediately wrote another middle-grade novel, which was much much better because of the advice given to me by those three editors, and sent it to the first editor who had asked to see more of my work.

Nope. Instead I wrote more mediocre adult novels and esoteric plays, and half of a cancer memoir. None of which ever received half the praise that "Bert" had.

TWENTY YEARS later, I finally started another middle-grade novel.

My husband used to encourage me to take another stab at fixing "Bert." But I always told him that no one had any interest in a novel about an imaginary cat.

Looking back, what do I wish I had learned then--instead of twenty years later?

Pay attention.

Find the positive.

Learn how to absorb criticism.

Trust your instincts.

Be patient.

But above all else, keep writing.


  1. Those early letters were truly something! I love that you still have them.

  2. What a fascinating look into your past and BERT. It takes years sometime to learn what we had been offered.

  3. Thanks. I was surprised I still had the letters too! I was grateful to be able to reread them.

  4. What a fascinating journey into your book, BERT. And what a connection to the present, in terms of the learning process and Crenshaw. Thank you!

  5. You wrap up with a perfect (and perfectly concise) collection of advice(s)! Love it.

  6. I love this, too! But sometimes it just takes us time to do what we need to do, and we can't berate ourselves for this afterward. Yay for BERT!


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