I learned about Jean Craighead George’s death via twitter yesterday. I honestly didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that she wrote children’s books, and that my youngest daughter is reading one of them now. I chatted the news to my wife, and she jumped on Wikipedia. I was impressed by some of the facts she was sharing with me, and I remember saying, “That’s what you call a writer.”
Why did I say that? Well look at her life and career as a writer. She was born in 1919, and she graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1940 with degrees in both English and science. (Do the math on her age there.) She was a member of the White House Press Corps as a reporter for The Washington Post in the 40s, and was a writer and editor at Reader’s Digest from 1969 to 1982.
George wrote over one hundred books. My Side of the Mountain was a Newberry Honor Book in 1960, as was the 1990 sequel On the Far Side of the Mountain. She also won the Newberry Medal for Julie of the Wolves.
Her first book was published in 1948, her last in 2010. She was still writing, speaking, and involved in other projects until her death. (As an aside, go and read her charming writing advice here.)
There’s no doubt Jean Craighead George would be considered a great success by any standard. She was published over one hundred times where most writers struggle to get published once. Sure, it sounds like she had an above average mind and talent, but I don’t think that’s the most important factor in the equation of her success.
It was perseverance.
Look at a her prolificacy. You can be sure she was writing long before she published that first book. You can be sure she was writing long before she started work for the newspaper. You can be sure she was writing long before she went to college and earned an English degree.
Look at how she never stopped. From 1948 to 2010 she published a book every year or so, sometimes several in one year. This was in addition to writing for the newspaper or the magazine. This was in addition to her duties as an editor, a naturalist, a mother, a grandmother, and myriad other responsibilities.
She kept writing.
My daughter has a friend she met on an online writer’s forum. He’s about 20 years old, and he’s self-published several books and stories through Amazon. If I told you his name I doubt you’d know who he is. He’s making money every month from his books, mainly because of the sheer volume he puts out. He’s developed a catalog of works, and is constantly adding to that catalog. Will he ever breakout and become a best-selling author the likes of Stephen King, or Joe Konrath, or Amanda Hocking? Who knows, but at least he has a chance because he’s doing the work and putting himself out there.
This is a lesson for me. Too many times I’ve gotten discouraged or frustrated and given up on my writing for a while. I invariably pick it back up again with excitement, but I need to learn to stick with it and persevere no matter the circumstances.
Writers, take heart, and never give up.