51tI7J2bq4L._SX300_My son wanted a toy train.

For days, we heard pleas for “a choo choo! A choo choo, please!” So in anticipation of one of those drop-his-father-off-at-the-airport-and-venture-through-the-mall-two-weeks-before-Christmas kind of Saturdays, I promised my son that if he listened and was patient during all of the running around, he’d get his prize.

It was seriously tough work for a three-year-old.

5454771899_58ef7a44c8Somehow he kept it together, and Thomas the Train was soon squeezed between his sticky, little fists as we ventured into the “playground” area of the mall. (Playground is in parenthesis here because it’s not your traditional slides and climbing area—it’s oversized breakfast food. Literally.)

Ordinarily, my son is in heaven on the breakfast food playground, but on the train day, he was The King of the Waffle. The Lord of the Cereal Bowl. The Master of the Sunnyside Up Eggs. Swarms of children from eight to eighteen months came over to see his train swoop down the bacon recliner.

IMG_0372It seemed like such a perfect day.

Then the boy with a toy car showed up.

At first, my son followed the boy, not so sneakily waiting to see if the boy might put the car down. When that didn’t work, he came crying to me. And when I didn’t steal the car from the five-year-old, my son dropped his new train in my lap and walked away sobbing, Charlie Brown style.

IMG_0367And this reminds me of writing! We all want our trains. Be it word count, draft, agent, editor, book deal, cover, advance, sales, what-have-you. We work hard, make terrible sacrifices, and then sometimes—SOMETIMES—we get our choo choos!

And yet, it seems like every time I’m sitting here patting my back about my 3,000 word writing day, someone emails/texts/posts that they wrote 4,000 words. Every. Time. Or maybe you finished the first draft of your story in six months, but someone on the YA Binders just posted that she wrote hers in six days. (Uggghhhhhhhh…)

IMG_0365Or maybe you finally sold a manuscript and you’re going to be published—on the same day that that guy from your graduating class announces that his book is being optioned to become a movie by J.J. Abrams, Martin Scorsese, and Wes Anderson (they’re coming together to make the film because the story is THAT good).

Now you’re probably waiting for the punch line. The moment when I say, “But here’s the real story.” Nope. Sorry. I don’t have one. It’s the holidays, and I’m simply offering a hug. After all, my son is always going to cry if someone appears with a different toy than his.

Wait, there it is! You know what? That five-year-old boy had a ninety-nine cent, old Matchbox Car, while my son had a fancy new Thomas the Train set. He wasn’t crying because the boy had a better toy, he was crying because the boy had a different toy. After all, there was never anything wrong with his choo choo—and he worked damn hard for it!

Dearest lovely writer friends, my wish for this holiday season is that we can all be proud of what we’ve written no matter how fancy everyone else’s writing might seem. Remember that no one else could have written your story, and don’t get too down on yourself for turning a little green now and then. We all do it.

AND we are all awesome.

IMG_0371Plus regardless of internal contests, we ALL get to spend our working days on the breakfast food playground of children’s literature. And how freakin’ cool is that?

Come on. Let’s go jump on the waffle!



*Reasons My Son is Crying is a hilarious blog that displays all the sincere reasons that children sob their hearts out. Be it, “Mommy took a French fry” or “I didn’t want to wear a seatbelt”.

CM Headshot2Cori McCarthy is the author of Breaking Sky (forthcoming from Sourcebooks March ’15) and The Color of Rain (Running Press ’13). Come say hi @CoriMcCarthy or find out more at www.CoriMcCarthy.com


  1. One of the awesome aspects of this post is that you’ve got to know that you are that person to a lot of writers — the one with the crazy word count, the one with book deals. So it’s cool to hear that you participate in those internal contests too. And the thing about those internal contests is that no one really wins them. I well remember the days of tiny fists clutching Thomas and his friends, not to mention the tracks that criss-crossed our living room floor. Time to get back to my manuscript. But now I want some bacon…

    1. Thanks, Laura! I’ve definitely gotten enough near-playful “ugh. you know I hate you” emails from writer friends to realize that we all feel this way–no matter what level of “success.” If I’ve learned anything from publishing, it’s that success is not real. Before I published my first book, I thought, “I only have to publish it. Then I’ll know that I’ve proved my worth to myself and the world. I’ll be all set” That’s not the case. Every book is a struggle. Every story that wants to be told also wants to beat the hell out of you. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a write-aholic and do little else. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes I’m proud. Other times? I’m at the mercy of harsh reviews and bad book sales and no money for Christmas. Of course, I don’t put that on Facebook. In the end, the only thing that matters is trying to tell the story. That’s the only thing that’s continually felt great. God, I love just writing. Happy writing and hopefully baconing, Laura!

  2. I love this. So true of the little ones and of us writers as well. And what’s with the playground made out of breakfast food? (I imagine some corporate sponsorship deal here.) And I need to check out “Reasons My Son Is Crying” because when he was three years old, my son cried because Elijah didn’t come to our door during Passover. It must have made a lasting impression too; when he was eleven, he got expelled from Hebrew school.

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