Last spring, I remember feeling pangs of guilt during Linda Sue Park’s speech at the NE SCBWI conference. Her speech was lovely, challenging authors to “raise the bar” and to publish and strive for works only of exception and excellence. However, instead of feeling inspired, I began to feel a bit like a worm. I began to worry that my work was too self-indulgent and not of the quality she suggested. That instead of achieving excellence, perhaps I was excellent at achieving mediocrity.
This caused a freezing reaction. Suddenly, every book idea, every sentence written was weighed and measured and coming up short. Was it deep enough? Was it important enough? Was it crafted enough?
And suddenly, my writing became terribly boring.
But the rediscovery of one of the books I read as a child, The Ordinary Princess thawed me out. In the book, Princess Amethyst is cursed/blessed by her fairy godmother to be “ordinary.” Her golden hair turns mousy brown, her nose upturns and she bawls and burps in a manner most unbecoming to a royal highness. But in the end, she finds her happy ending and everyone—including the reader—is grateful and delighted at her ordinariness.
Even though this book was well-written, it never won any awards or was considered a work of great literature. And it didn’t bring me to tears or change my life. In fact, there were even other books out there that had similar themes and storylines.
But as a child, that didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was that I enjoyed this book and it satisfied me. Enough so that over 20 years later, I still remember it.
As book creators, I think there are many times that we are too hard on ourselves. How often have I reread my writing and been disgusted? How often do we decide not to write or draw something because we don’t think it will be “good enough?”
Because the truth is there is room in a child’s reading world for all kinds of books, with varying degrees of quality. In fact, their world would be quite bare without them. And that is what relaxes me when I feel the pressure of my ambitions. So while I will continue to strive to create extraordinary literature, I can be content with making an ordinary good book, too.