Cheri graduated with her M.A. in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University in 1995 and has taught writing and literature courses for the BYU Honors Program and Creative Writing Program for the past 16 years; she was awarded BYU Honors Professor of the Year in 2005 (which she brags about whenever she can). She recently published a non-fiction children’s book for American Girl co-authored with Rick Walton, but in real life she writes young adult novels; she won the Utah Original Writing Competition in 1994 for the YA novel, Flat Like Me, and took Honorable Mention in 1997 for the YA novel, The Swan. Cheri has been a co-organizer of the annual BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop with Carol since 2004.
Before I launch into my seven short personal writing resolutions for 2010 and my reasons for setting these goals, I have to say something about some significant awards given out for children’s books in 2009, something that will seem cynical and off topic at first, but stay with me: I have a big splash ending all ready for you.
I’ll start with the NY Times eight Notable Children’s Books of 2009, and here’s what I have to say about this list: Really? Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith? GENIUS OF COMMON SENSE: Jane Jacobs and the Story of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”? Both are for middle-grade readers, and I’m sure they’re fine books but only eight books out of all the books published in 2009 made this NY Times list, and I’m wondering why these eight. FYI: The ALA Notables Committee defines “notable” as “worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding.” In other words, notable is subjective depending on the entity making the list, and it may have more to do with who’s choosing the books than with any other criteria.
Next, the National Book Award, Young People’s category. The winner for 2009 was Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and the finalists were Deborah Heiligman for—you guessed it—Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (serves me right for singling this book out of the NY Times list); David Small for Stitches; Laini Taylor for Lips Touch: Three Times; and Rita Williams-Garcia for Jumped. The judges for the NBA categories are all children’s authors and/or illustrators and they come up with their own criteria for selecting the winner and finalists; however, the judges are “chosen for their literary sensibilities and their expertise in a particular genre.” Translation: We don’t need to establish criteria because everybody knows good writers make good literary critics. Don’t they?
And finally, the Newbery Medal winner for 2009. Part of the criteria for the Newbery Medal includes a book that makes a “distinguished contribution to American literature”? And this year’s winner is . . . The Graveyard Book? I mean, it’s an okay book, but the Newbery Medal? Come on. Somebody please explain to me the contribution this book makes to American literature. I guess I’m scratching my head because of the company this book now keeps: Sarah Plain and Tall, The Giver, A Year Down Under, Maniac Magee, Number the Stars, Missing May, Holes, The Midwife’s Apprentice, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Bridge to Terabithia and so on. I’m disillusioned about the Newbery Medal now, like I just found my baby teeth in my mom’s apron pocket—the ones I left under my pillow for Some One Else to pick up for a quarter each. Trauma.
Before I move on to writing goals and whatnot, I have to say something about an author who writes a sort of fusion romance-gothic series but not really, someone who was awarded the 2009 Author of the Year award by the Children’s Choice committee for one of her books, someone who makes oodles of money as a writer and who said when she appeared on Oprah in November (also of this year) something like “I’d never thought about being a writer because you can’t make money at that so why would I waste my time.” Hmmm. That’s what writing is all about, making money. I never knew.
To sum up . . .
- awards are fickle, subjective, and random to a great extent and don’t need to appear on my 2010 Goals to Achieve list (though they seem to crawl up there anyway)
- most authors won’t make a lot of money or even stay in print long, especially if they don’t win one of The Big Awards
- to win awards and make a lot of money are okay reasons but not great reasons to keep on writing
What’s my point, you’re wondering. Why all this angst over successful writers and their awards and money and stuff? Well because the writing life can be brutal when you pin all your hopes on making it, especially when making it is defined in terms of money and awards and even getting published. So I’ve decided to make resolutions for next year that will lead me away from the rewards I can’t control and towards those I can.
And now at last, here are my writing resolutions for 2010:
- I will write because I have a story to tell, because writing keeps me calm and alive, because writing is what I do.
- The promise of billions or winning a random chance award or even the lure of publication will never influence what I choose to write or why I choose to write.
- When I write I will strive for beauty and authenticity and truth; I won’t settle for less than honesty.
- I will write, maybe not everyday, but I will write.
- I will read and emulate great writers in the way they use language and in how they tell stories.
- I will finish what I start IF I like it and IF it makes me happy to do so.
- I will live my life because (and I stole this next part) a writer never wastes time by living.
Happy New Year everyone!