We Are Enough-With or Without Awards

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, out ultimate finish line is our books in a child’s hands.

Just for the heck of it, I asked auntie Google the
greatest related 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? Thankfully, I read with a highlighter in hand, so these stand out quotes were easy to find.
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.”
 Amen, sister!
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

This post originally appeared on the Emus Debuts blog, February 17, 2014.