It’s February now which means the two most celebrated events of the year have passed. What did I think about the commercials? Meh! But, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation, rooting for my favorite players. Yes, indeed! (Oh, and I hear Super Bowl was pretty good, too.)
The ALA media and book awards featured some impressive titles this year. If you’ve been around the writing scene for any length of time, you know how much stock goes into earning a gold sticker. The bragging rights, the added publicity, the bonuses. Bully for winning authors and illustrators! Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever fantasized about being on the receiving end of one of these fancy-schmancy awards. Go ahead, don’t be shy. It’s human nature for “what ifs” and “if onlys” to dart through our minds when peers reach a pinnacle. Envy is empathy’s first-cousin, twice-removed. They will both show up to public gatherings.
There’s a big ole risk to paying too much attention to awards, though. It would be easy to fall into thinking that we are not enough without one. But, at the end of the day, the most important judges are young readers and they’re not looking for award lists. They just know what they like. Sometimes, the books they love and need reside in a different county from the awards table. Those books will inspire and give hope to young people. Some will be life-preservers. So, while award winners and honorees are announced, let’s give a mighty salute to the books, authors, and illustrators who are not mentioned. Gold stickers would be awesome, but our best heart-felt works are enough. We are enough.
I’m always reminded of a line from the 1993 Disney flick, Cool Runnings, loosely based on the first Jamaican bobsled team to pursue the Olympics. The coach, Irv, is asked by a team member about his own early mis-steps in pursuit of Gold.
“Derice,” Irv says, “a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”
“Hey, Coach,” Derice asks. “How will I know if I’m enough?”
“When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you’ll know.”
In my mind, the finish line is in a child’s hands.
Just for the heck of it, I asked auntie Google the greatest question ever asked in the history of the world. Why do writers write? Turns out, there are lots of opinions. One website, Authors Promoter, apparently polled 100 published authors. They posted their statistics: 15% of authors write to express themselves, 13% write to help others, 8% write because of their imagination, 6% write because they were influenced by authors they read, etc. You can check out the full pie-chart here, but may I just say that I like that last category.
Auntie Google was such a hoot, I pulled a few craft books off my shelves and thumbed through to find more answers to that question, why do you write?
Journalist/novelist, Joan Didion states, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Smart lady, that Joan.
In her book, What’s Your Story? Marion Dane Bauer writes, “Stories help us to make sense of our world. They teach us what is possible. They let us know that others before us have struggled as we do.”
“The first and best reason for writing stories is to please yourself”
F. Scott Fitzgerald saw writing as a leap of faith when he professed, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”
Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “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.”
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King reveals, “I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side- I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”
And, as if coaching writers from afar, King adds a lesson about passion:
“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair-the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”
I think John Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series best sums up the importance of motivation in his book, Story Craft:
“It often happens that when we try to write something “important” such as a novel, story, or poem, we become self-conscious. We try to be profound and authorial. We concentrate on the elegance of individual sentences and forget that all writing is a communication between one person to another.”
So, there you go. It’s just us and the readers we are communicating with. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s quite enough.
So, what drives your writing? Why do you write and why have you chosen young readers as your audience?