Tomorrow night our book group will be discussing A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary. It’s the first of her two memoirs and has added appeal for us Oregonians because the book takes place in and around Portland (two hours north of us here in Eugene). When I was growing up, I didn’t read Beverly Cleary’s extremely popular books. Mostly my nose was in Hardy boy books and Mad Magazine at that age. Even so, I’m really enjoying the book and will likely turn next to a couple of her better known children’s books, probably Ramona the Pest and Ribsy (unless you have a better recommendation).

I’m not quite finished with A Girl From Yamhill. But I just came to the place where her teacher had the class line up in alphabetical order as if they were books on a shelf. Beverly laments: After that, I found a place on the shelf where my book would be if I ever wrote a book, which I doubted.

Then four pages later she turns in a composition (she’s twelve) and her teacher reads it aloud to the class and says, “When Beverly grows up, she should write children’s books.” Beverly is, of course, “dumbfounded.” The rest is, as they say, history.

Mrs. Cleary turned 94 recently and I have to wonder if she still writes. This book was written when she was in her late seventies, and the second book some time after that. I’d love to see a third memoir by her.

One reason for blogging about her today is to mention a previous memory of her girlhood writing efforts that’s noteworthy. A writing contest was held wherein the children were to write an essay about any animal. Beverly, Oregonian that she was, chose the Beaver. She entered because her mother had drilled into her that she should always try, even when she doesn’t feel capable of completing the task. She won the contest (only to find out hers was the only entry), and she concludes the memory with this observation:

This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying.

Wow, is that ever true! Some of my most memorable writing efforts were when I tried something that seemed hard, but which I really wanted to do in spite of the obstacles. My present project is that way. It’s a genre I’ve never written before and is about a ten on the risk-o-meter, but if it succeeds, I’ll be a very happy man. Early on I faced some seemingly overwhelming obstacles as I began the project. More than once I really wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing….but I just couldn’t. Sometimes I still feel like pulling the plug….but I just can’t. I’m trying something new and I’m going to see it through until God Himself pulls the plug. In the meantime, I’m learning, having a great deal of fun, and best of all, I really feel like this project IS God’s will and will ultimately be a blessing to many.

The point is, what in your writing career have you been afraid to try? Or did you try something once and got some discouraging reviews? Don’t let that stop you if it’s something you really want to do.

Keep trying! Or, if you’re bored with your present writing, try something new. Fear not!

9 replies
  1. brendalou says:

    I read The Girl from Yamhill, didn’t know about a 2nd book. Name? I did enjoy the book as well as all of her children’s books. I think I’ve read them all.

  2. Judy Gann says:

    My Own Two Feet continues from where The Girl from Yamhill leaves off. Beverly Cleary was once a children’s librarian. In fact, she was bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s childhood librarian in Yakima, WA.

    To my knowledge, Beverly Cleary hasn’t written any new books in a few years. But, new editions of her books are releasing all the time, in all formats. She’s still popular with children. I think much of it is parents passing on her books to their children.

  3. Keli Gwyn says:

    I devoured Beverly Cleary’s books when I was a child. Her characters are so well crafted I remember them to this day.

    I write inspirational romance. My first five stories were historicals. After I finished those, I had an idea for a contemporary. I didn’t know if I could tell a story set in the present, but I decided to face my fears and forge ahead. Although the attempt is languishing on my hard drive, I learned a valuable lesson. My voice isn’t conducive to contemporary romance, at least at this point. I returned to my historicals, and I realized what a great fit that sub-genre is for me. I wouldn’t have been as certain of that if I hadn’t taken a risk and tried something different though.

  4. Gigi Murfitt says:

    This January I started to write a blog post every day using the book edited by A.J. Russell titled “God Calling” as my theme guide. It was written in 1932 and each day’s devotional entry speaks to me today in 2010. It gave me focus for my blog and keeps me writing. I have it feed through networkblogs to my facebook page and it has opened conversations with people I’ve not seen or talked to in many years. I don’t have a whole bunch of followers on the blog but I’ve had emails from readers that have touched my heart. I’m glad I decided to stretch myself to do this project. It’s scary but God is blessing it. is where I post the entries.

  5. Tami Meier says:

    Thank you… for putting into words how I feel at times. I Know I’m not the greatest writer, but I keep trying and trust God has a plan and lives will be touched.

  6. Paula Moldenhauer says:


    I taught third grade for several years and Beverly Cleary was one of our main authors. I loved teaching reading through her wonderful stories. Ramona the Pest is still a favorite with me, but boys seem to like Ribsy.

    I couldn’t help but tear up when I read about Beverly’s teacher affirming her dream. What a defining moment! I suppose those defining moments are part of the reason I don’t give up, but keep trying and learning and growing. I love that you are doing something new and challenging to you!

    God is surprising me with unexpected projects and directions. I am trying not to be afraid of the novel I told you about last year at CCWC that I’d just started, but it is stretching me. Meanwhile, the LORD seems to have asked me to let it germinate while I try my hand at something I thought I’d never do–short romance. I’m having a blast and finding that the genre fits well with the intense season I’ve had at home with many unexpected challenges. It’s fun to write light and sweet when life is–well–not so light. (But still sweet. :O))

  7. Marilyn Hilton says:

    Nick, I read this post when you first wrote it, and was so inspired by it. (A few months later a story I wrote won a writing contest just because I tried.) Last night I remembered this post when talking to a friend about creativity and courage, and encouraged her to “try.” Today I came back here to reread the post and am once again inspired. Thank you for writing it.

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