Go For It!

You Take the Prize, Sherry West, SherryWestArt, Copyright 2019

I’m applying for any and every children’s book award I can my mitts on. I’m even applying for the Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and more.

I know that might sound ridiculous, but that’s not going to stop me from trying, and I’ll tell you why….

Many years ago, when I was in college, as an English major, I took a poetry class. I was completely clueless about poetry, but I was curious about this form of literature. I love to learn anything and everything, and since this was a mysterious area of English and American Lit. for me (I was more versed in literature, and the older forms of poetry in the English and American lit. anthologies we had to read in class like John Donne, Shakespeare, etc.), I decided I’d like to see what it was all about.

As part of our required work, in addition to reading a wide variety of poetry, guess what we had to do?

Yep. Write poetry. A lot of it.

When I signed up, I didn’t realize we would be WRITING it. I just figured we’d be reading it.

I didn’t know how to write poetry. I didn’t write poetry. I wrote papers, essays, non-fiction stuff.

But poetry? A couple of pieces in my life. Trite sappy rhyme-y teeny-bopper stuff.

How in the heck was I supposed to write POETRY? And write it on DEMAND?

In order to write the first required amount of poetry (THREE in the first week and every single week thereafter for the duration of the entire semester) you had to have subjects.

I didn’t have any subjects.

What the heck was I supposed to write a POEM about?

I’m not exactly your chest-heaving, pearl-clutching, breath-catching, gasping and fainting on the chaise-lounge type.

As I walked the campus every day to and from class, and the deadline for the assignment got nearer, I was getting very anxious, because no matter what I tried to use as a subject to cobble something together, it just wouldn’t stick. I had no clue what the heck I was doing.

I finally saw three tall skinny overgrown bushes standing next to each other on the grounds and wrote a free verse poem about that – basically just a physical description but broken up with a few words on each line to look like a poem, lol. And that was my very first official piece of poetry.

I wrote more pieces of poetry each week for class because my grade depended on it. It’s amazing what you can and will do to get a good grade for class. And that includes writing poetry.

Anything I thought I could possibly put into words and describe as a “poem” was fair game: squirrels digging up acorns, crazy squawking and squabbling crows, mushrooms in a flower pot (got published in a big city lit. publication and I still don’t know why they picked it), spiders, somebody eating lunch, my friends, flowers, birds, runny bunnies.

They say “practice makes perfect.” To make a long story short, my poetry didn’t improve too terribly much the more I wrote it. However, there was a scholarship contest with a pretty sizable prize attached to it for poetry and prose. Being a poor college student, that was quite enticing.

I honestly didn’t think anything I wrote could possibly win anything from anyone, and the only things I had ever won were a third place ribbon in the third grade for some awful artwork, and some beginner sewing stuff in 4-H, but I was sure going to try.

I turned in a Manila envelope with quite a bit of those required class poetry pieces (since I didn’t have anything else) and pieces of memoir and non-fiction to the English department and went my merry way.

And forgot all about it.

A year later I was walking across campus and ran into one of my former professors, the chair of the English department.

“Did you ever pick up your prize money?’ he asked.

“Prize money? What prize money?” What on earth was he talking about? I never won anything. My chances of ever winning anything were about equal to a snowball’s chance in you-know-where.

“Your prize,” he insisted. “For the poetry and prose scholarship.”

“What poetry and prose scholarship?” I asked stupidly. I’m sure my eyeballs were as big as saucers, and my jaw was probably hanging wide open, as well.

“You won the scholarship for your writing portfolio with another student. You both won and split the prize! No one ever told you?” He asked incredulously.

Obviously not.

I just stood there looking at him for a couple of minutes while it sank in.

When it did sink in, I was ecstatic and over the moon! I actually won something. And more than that, I won a large amount of money with my WRITING – prose AND poetry – out of all of the other students who submitted their work, and I knew some of their work was amazingly good. I knew because I was in class with them, and we had to read our stuff out loud to each other.

And, the best prize of all was finding out that the other student who won the prize with me was in my class and the one person whose poetry I thought was exceptionally beautiful. I felt so honored and humbled to share this prize with her.

And I still couldn’t believe I could win a prize for my poetry, lol.

The other thing that hit home with me was that that same teacher had told me one time that I was a very good writer.

When I just stood there staring at him like a wall-eyed goldfish (I have a tendency to so that when I’m in shock), and he realized that I honestly didn’t know, he looked at me incredulously and asked me, “No one has ever told you that???”

Maybe once, I think. But I didn’t take it to mean much of anything. Everyone tells everyone else their art, writing, or whatever is “good.” That doesn’t really mean it is. And maybe they were just being nice to me.

He looked at me again right in the eye, very seriously, and very insistently said, “Your writing is GOOD, very, very GOOD.”

Oh, ok, I thought. Well, that’s awfully nice for him to say that.

I have never forgotten that. It’s things like that that stay with you and help you through and cheer you up when you feel pretty low about everything you are working so hard to succeed at and aren’t getting anywhere and feel like you’ll never make any progress in the direction you’re working so valiantly to go forward in.

So, that was then, and this is now.

And, if I have just one thing to tell you, it is this:

If there is something you would like to achieve or accomplish in your life, and you are willing to put the time, work and effort into achieving it, then – GO FOR IT!

There’s no harm in trying. There’s no shame in trying and failing. The failure is not in TRYING to follow your hopes and dreams, but in NOT TRYING to follow them.

There’s much to be said for this. At least you tried, you experienced the journey, met wonderful people along the way, had lots of great learning experiences, and learned new skills!

How can this be counted as “failure”?

And you never know….

They can always say “no,” but they can always say “YES!”

So, what are you waiting for? 😃

Published by Sherry West

Wife - 1 guy, 20 years, Mom - 4, 13 cats, 2 chinchillas, 1 large hairy white dog, Stamp Designer for Stamp Addicts, Teacher, Illustrator -Adult Coloring, Cartoonist, Designer - Digital Stamps, Greeting Cards, Photographer, published Writer, award-winning Poet. Children's Book Author Illustrator - It's Raining Cats! It's Raining Dogs! It's Raining Bats! And Pollywogs! Official release dates: Ebook - July 2, 2019, Hard copy - Oct. 2, 2019. Member - SCBWI, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

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