As a young girl, I connected most with books. On Friday afternoons, my parents picked me up from school and dropped me at Nicholson Memorial Library. When I close my eyes, I still envision the beige building, the gray steps and the electronic doors with a red carpet welcoming my entry. I spent hours perusing the shelves, trying to find “the book” in the card catalog and eventually landed on a comfy couch to seek refuge with a paperback. As I write this post, several terms rush back in quick succession: “Dewey Decimal,” “library card,” “microfilm” and “stacks.” I remember checking out the magazine racks and having just enough money to grab a snack from the vending machine.
When it was time to go home, I’d stack multiple books, cradle them in my arms and find a way to balance them like I was walking on a tight rope. In those stacks, I recall Beverly Cleary and her books. Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins and the adventures Cleary penned were entertaining, relatable and key in keeping reading an enduring lifeline in my childhood.
Cleary celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday and I felt lucky to hear an interview about her on NPR. She worked part-time in a bookstore and decided at age 30 to write a children’s book. She focused on the everyday lives of children – something she desperately wanted to depict in her books. It worked. I found the characters relatable and I Iove that my daughter embraced a few books from her series, particularly gravitating toward Ramona and Beezus. It brought a special kind of moment into fruition – meeting my adolescent self in my daughter. I sensed my surprise when she asked whether I read her books. My answer automatic – “Yes, of course, honey, I’ve read several of her books.”
And there were so many. Cleary has written 41 books and sold 81 million copies. She wrote “Ramona’s World” at age 83. Looking at her prolific career pushed me to contemplate her process. How does a writer create such an enduring legacy and body of work? The answer, I discovered in the interview. Her daughter Marianne Cleary explains:
“My ancestors crossed the plains in covered wagons …And so my mother is from Pioneer stock. … She’s very disciplined. When she would write every morning, she would sit down after breakfast, my brother and I would go to school, and she’d write, till noon or so. She never waited for inspiration, she just got to it.”
I’ve heard “not waiting for inspiration” from so many writers. Writing is practice. It means writing when you don’t feel the muse or aren’t compelled to sit still enough to piece together a few sentences. More and more, the words persistence and discipline land at my feet when I consider my writing practice. In my office, I hear a woodpecker chipping away at a tree, the staccato beats consistent. The metaphor isn’t lost on me.
Here’s to Beverly Cleary. Her 100th birthday helped me revisit some of my favorite memories about reading. And hearing about her process offered a relevant reminder – writing is about showing up. Every single day.