The Deepest Gift

praiseMy working life is represented by 96 books sitting on my shelf, each one bearing my name. An accomplishment I do not hold lightly. These books have been written and published over the course of 40 years, and that bears mentioning, too. I have worked long and steadily.

I have made a living for 25 years doing work that I love. Note the discrepancy between publishing for 40 and making a living by that publishing for 25. It took me 15 years before I ever once, combining income from writing, teaching, lecturing, and speaking in schools, earned enough money to survive on my own. And keeping that living going after it finally reached that level has required a lot of cobbling, a lot of taking on varied writing projects (thus the 96 books), a lot of teaching, a lot of climbing onto airplanes, a lot of repeating myself in front of a sea of wiggly kids. But I did it. And I’m so grateful I could that there is hardly room left over for pride in the accomplishment of it.

Looking back I see intense hard work. Good work. Always good. And every bit as clearly I see serendipity. Winning a Newbery Honor Award in 1987 for On My Honor was a major example of serendipity. Winning any award requires serendipity. While it can be presumed that a book that garners an important award is pretty good, there will always be a dozen more books—perhaps 100—of equal value that year, books that didn’t happen to catch the award-givers’ eyes. So serendipity lay in the calling out of my book from the pack and it certainly lay in the timing of the call. The award announcement came just as I cast aside the safety net of a 28-year marriage.

With the award, I woke to find myself the flavor of the month. Doors were opened where I hadn’t even known there were doors. And I walked through them . . . walked and walked.

I never forgot serendipity, though, or assumed any special deserving. A fellow author traveling the speaking circuit once said to me, “If you begin to think these invitations/awards are important, just ask your hosts who they invited/awarded last year and watch them struggle to remember!”

All this is real and true, and all of it is history. The advantage of being, by anyone’s measure, an old woman is that so much falls away. So much of the need for attention. So much of the desire for my work to be seen as better than. . . . So much of the feeling that 96 books—or one book—matters very much.

Early in my career I came to understand something important: the number of books published, the number of awards garnered matters very little. What matters is the day-by-day process of sitting down to write, of honing my skill, of mining my truth.

If I didn’t always recognize that reality in those first moments of being on display, it came home emphatically in the years that followed. No correlation exists between the amount of time, the amount of love, I invest in a book and its success out there in the world. Books I have created in a couple of hours on a playful afternoon support me, year after year. Books I have labored over with passion and deep feeling, books that represent my highest effort and best work, can turn into smoke.

I have come to know that rewarding myself in the moment of doing by simply paying attention, enjoying, letting the words flow through me is the key to a good writing life, to a good life.

How grateful I am to be an old woman who rises every day to work, to good work.

That, I can promise you, my friends, matters.

 

 

45 thoughts on “The Deepest Gift

  1. Carleen M. Tjader

    A beautiful post. Your recognition of both good, hard work, as well as some serendipity thrown in, and your joy of simply doing what you love is such an inspiration for me…and looking at all the comments, for lots of writers.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Gretchen de la O

    Marion, Thank you for your wise words. I’d have to say the statement that held the most power for me was, “Early in my career I came to understand something important: the number of books published, the number of awards garnered matters very little. What matters is the day-by-day process of sitting down to write, of honing my skill, of mining my truth.” Boy does that hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the wake up call! I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

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  3. Kirby Larson

    This was gutsy to put out there. Good on you! Thanks for this reminder that it’s the work that matters most. It is easy to lose sight of that sometimes. Each book teaches me something new and mostly that “new” revolves around the fact that I have a lot to learn about writing. Which is why I gladly sit down at my computer nearly every single day.

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  4. Pam Turner

    I recall a lecture at Vermont College titled “Serendipity Happens” I believe. It left an impression. As did your reading a small portion of “On My Honor” at a SCBWI event around 25 years ago. It was the serendipity of my being at that event that projected my life forwards in ways I could never imagine. Few are fortunate to love what they do enough to continue forward when the money is not enough. Your fight to follow your heart was worth it. The world is a better place because of those 96 books and you.

    Reply
  5. lisaschroederbooks

    I love this. Thank you so much for writing it. With 15 or so books published, and making a living from my writing for the past 5 years, just when I think I’ve learned how to keep the business side of publishing separate from my creative life, I become sad and worried because of low sales or what have you. I don’t want it to matter. I just want to write. And this reminded that I DO get to decide what matters and what doesn’t. So a book is a flop. Oh well. On to the next one. Do the good work and be grateful for that work. Yes, yes, yes.

    Reply
    1. Marion Bauer Post author

      It’s not easy, Lisa, as you know, moving on from the flop you love and keeping hope in the next project. It has helped for me to keep so many projects in the air. But keeping faith in the writing itself is all we have, and ultimately it does sustain.

      Reply
  6. Jenny Lundquist

    Thank you so much for this post. As a newer children’s author (four out, with more to come), I think this may be the best post I’ve ever read. I’m going to book mark it so I can read it often, and, as the years pass, remind myself what’s really important. Have you ever thought about writing a book about writing? Just saying!

    Reply
    1. Marion Bauer Post author

      Thanks, Jenny. Most of my writing about writing lands happily in this blog, but I am writing a memoir now, my intended audience adult, and writing keeps circling back through as a topic.

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  7. Frieda Wishinsky

    The older I get, the more I know it’s about the process. The joy of a new idea. The joy of sharing ideas with a kindred spirit. A moment of unexpected beauty and wonder . Thanks for this lovely piece and reminder.

    Reply
  8. Lyn Miller-Lachmann

    This piece has given me a lot to think about. Some years ago, I read a study that said students work harder and learn more when their legitimate efforts and achievements are recognized. If they receive praise for halfhearted work, or if their high level of work and effort is ignored or demeaned, they stop working as hard. I’ve found, as you have above, that the relationship between effort/achievement and objective reward in this business is so bafflingly inconsistent that the only way it pays to do this work is to do it for ourselves.

    Reply
    1. Marion Bauer Post author

      Well said, Lyn. If I’m not writing for myself on the deepest possible level I can’t expect to reach anyone else. And frankly, I wouldn’t have lasted this long if I had been writing for external rewards.

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  9. Paul Greci

    Thank you for this beautiful piece, Marion.

    I love these words: “I have come to know that rewarding myself in the moment of doing by simply paying attention, enjoying, letting the words flow through me is the key to a good writing life, to a good life.”

    Reply
    1. Marion Bauer Post author

      Thank you, Sarah. I always love hearing from you. And the way you’ve phrased it, “ready to work hard for our readers,” intrigues me. Curiously, I seldom think directly of my readers, though, of course, I know they are my final destination. It is my story–which is my own psyche–that gives me energy, that I work out of and for, but it comes out the same in the end.

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        1. Marion Bauer Post author

          Agreed! I wish we had a chance to be in the same room again. I remember so well that first day you, as a new student, were in my workshop. You and your work impressed me immediately!

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  10. acornvlp

    Your words, as they so often do, help me look at my own life, my own satisfaction in my work … not looking to be rewarded, just doing. Thank you, Marion, for this gift of your thoughts.

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      1. larryhyattlcntv

        I found you through Caroline and wanted to say that was beautiful. I to am blessed by long doing what I love to do. It is to where each day I even love preparing for my radio show. I’m still in the game, making a living at what comes natural, understanding I’m blessed, and very lucky I can live off what’s in my heart.

        Reply

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