Thoughts on the Newbery

Here’s the thing, just about everyone who knows me or might have even sat in a class with me knows that I have one very lofty goal. To win the Newbery medal. It’s a dream I have had for many years, maybe forever, maybe since I first learned that the Newbery Medal existed. But why? What is so important about winning the Newbery? Perhaps I should ask, why is it so important to me? I mean should I really be putting so many eggs in that one, really, sketchy basket? I mean there is a lot of competition out there, and a lot of talent—like Katherine Applegate, the newly minted winner of this year’s Newbery for her magnificent story, The One and Only Ivan. Really, it’s an awesome book and something I can only aspire to. And that, my friends is what got me to thinking about this literary quest of mine, this tilting at windmills kind of thing I got going on. Could I ever write anything that is Newbery worthy? Maybe. I don’t know. But I want to keep trying. You see, I have too.

But what is it I am really trying to accomplish? Should the medal be in my sights at all or should I just let it dangle out there on the horizon like some hot, plum of a sun? To not stare at it for very long, but to know that it is there and that it is beautiful. Maybe. Maybe the true goal, and what I am truly thinking is that I want to write Newberry worthy. I want to write that well. Medal or no medal.My publisher tells me that the Starred Review in Kirkus is a great start and a pretty big deal itself. And yes, I'm thrilled with it. And yes, I did cry a little when I saw it.

In reading Katherine Applegate’s conversation on winning the Newbery I learned two things, the first is that it was not really on her list of things to do. Oh, I’m sure she thought about it. ALL middle grade authors think and dream about it, but you can’t make it your goal. It must come as a surprise. Truthfully, I really do believe IF I were to ever actually win the medal I would be so surprised I’d probably drop the phone and cry like a baby. So there you go, you cannot actually plan to receive an honor of this magnitude. And I repent.
Lesson One: Surprise. And writing itself is like that. There are so many surprises lurking around every new paragraph and word. Writers know this. They understand when you write something so totally wonderful it stuns the soul for an instant. That’s what winning the Newbery should do. Stun the soul.
Lesson Two: I can write TOWARD the Newbery and nothing more. Applegate wrote and wrote and wrote. She studied and learned her craft and just kept getting better and also, I believe better ready to write Ivan’s story. She needed to be ready. The story hung with her for a long time, she almost gave up on it. Writing toward the Newbery is a process and the process should be the quest in and of itself. Writing is like that.

So you see, I guess it’s okay to have this lofty goal because even though it might never happen, I can know that I at least, wrote toward it. 

What are you writing toward?


Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

What a great post. I do think, though, that it is all right to set your sights high. Nobody won anything but not trying their best.

Nancy said...

As a former children's librarian and friend to several still in that field, I've followed articles about the waning appeal of Newbery winners to the librarians who have limited budget dollars to spend, and who know that recent winners have little kid-appeal. I'd love, love, love to see you raise the bar on that - Newbery worthy writing for the sake of the committee and an engaging story for the sake of the kids and . . . dare we go for three? . . . a biblical worldview in place of the post-modern thinking that has colored too many recent winners. You can do it, Joyce. I'm cheering over here.

becky d. said...

You can do it! Especially if you keep in the direction of writing the way you told us stories as kids...