Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Beverly Cleary on Procrastination

This is not advice from Beverly Cleary about how or how not to procrastinate, but reading this bit from My Own Two Feet gives me courage. The creative process is rife with interruption and insecurity, and, in Cleary's case, rich in the everydayness of what it means to be a child. Reading her books helps adults remember what it was like to be in the third grade, to be a fifteen-year-old girl (even if they had never been a girl of any age), or to be part of a family.

This passage comes from the end of her memoir. Beverly and her husband Clarence had just bought their first house. She had been through college and library school, and had worked in a few libraries. She always had the desire to write children's books, but had never written anything longer than a 24-page paper for a college English class.
We had discovered in the linen closet a ream of typing paper left by the former owner. I remarked to Clarence, "I guess I'll have to write a book." My ambition, refusing to die, was beginning to bloom again.

"Why don't you?" asked Clarence.

"We never have any sharp pencils" was my flippant answer.

The next day he brought home a pencil sharpener.

The trouble was, I couldn't think of anything to write about. Besides, I was busy turning our house into a home. We bought dining room furniture to go over the braided rug. I braided another for the living room from my army uniforms, Clarence's wedding suit, and other memories.

* * *

On January 2, 1949, I gathered up my typewriter, freshly sharpened pencils, and the pile of paper and sat down at the kitchen table we had stored in the back bedroom. Write and no backing out, I told myself. In all my years of dreaming about writing, I had never thought about what it was I wanted to say. I stared out the window at the fine-leafed eucalyptus tree leaning into the canyon and filled with tiny twittering birds. I looked out the other window at a glimpse of the bay when the wind parted the trees. There must be something I could write about. The cat, always interested in what I was doing, jumped up on the table and sat on my typing paper. Could I write about Kitty? He had a charming way of walking along the top of the picket fence to sniff the Shasta daisies, but children demanded stories. A daisy-sniffing cat would not interest them. I thought about the usual first book about a maturing of a young girl. This did not inspire me. I chewed the pencil, watched the birds, thought about how stupid I had been all those years when I aspired to write without giving a thought to what I wanted to say, petted the cat, who decided he wanted to go out. I let him out and sat down at the typewriter once more. The cat wanted in. I let him in, held him on my lap, petted him, and found myself thinking of the procession of nonreading boys who had come to the library once a week when I was a children's librarian, boys who wanted books about "kids like us."
After that Cleary started thinking about the kids in her neighborhood when she was growing up, and then she started thinking about plausible story lines and characters, and then, after several interruptions, she came to the realization that writing for children was the same as storytelling, which she had done a lot as a children's librarian, and she was on her path.

An extra treat: In 1985 Beverly Cleary wrote this article for the New York Times.

3 comments: said...

Loved this---Michael sent me the link---thanks for posting!
I want to read more now.

Anonymous said...

Two people with languages unknown to each other met, and tried to communicate.

One said, "I want to do but cannot for some reason" and then did not, while the second said "do" and did for any reason and many reasons.

There was little to say between them. After all was said and done. Or not done.

The two people went their ways.

In museums, libraries, concert halls and theaters, markets and all across the land there was that which those who did had done. Those who could not fathom how all this had been done shook their heads, thinking they would like to have done what these had done. And then they went their ways, as before not doing as they had not done.

Time passed, as it does. As it will do. People pass as they do, and none don't.

Best wishes.

Elaine Fine said...

I had to think about this comment all day in order to understand this very nuanced statement about everything, really.