What Kate DiCamillo can teach us about creating legacy

‘We choose to go…not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to measure and organize the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.’  John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I recently became acquainted with the work of children’s author Kate DiCamillo. This happened quite by accident. I was in a bookstore, searching for another book – and the title ‘The Magician’s Elephant’ caught my eye. I read the first page, and the second, and the third – and before I knew it, I was totally engrossed in the story. This was not just the kind of ‘oh I wonder how this story ends’ type of engrossed. I loved the writing, the story – everything. It had a kind of poignancy to it that I haven’t encountered in a long time. I had to read this book. And everything else by this author (among others, she wrote ‘Because of Winnie-Dixie’, which was turned into a motion picture; and ‘The Tale of Despereaux’, which became an animated film with an impressive cast). As I was ordering her books through Amazon, I realised her writing had made such a big impression on me that I wanted to find out everything I could about Kate DiCamillo – her story, how she came to writing the kinds of books she is writing. 

How Kate DiCamillo became a writer

Kate DiCamillo’s story has important lessons to teach to those of us who are working towards creating legacy. It turns out that even after so many years as a writer, she still finds writing excruciatingly difficult. Every morning, she begins the day by thinking ‘I cannot do this. I simply cannot write.’ And then she goes and does it anyway. But she only writes two pages a day. Even when things are going well. And even now, after years of writing, winning several awards, having her books turned into films. This is all she can take: two pages. But every single day. Despite the fact that she absoutely dreads it. Writing those two pages takes her about an hour, and then she can enjoy the rest of her day. By writing those two pages, she has fulfilled her promise towards herself.

While in college, a tutor told Kate DiCamillo she had a way with words. So she said to herself ‘Great. I’ve got a way with words. I’m going to be a writer. I’m going to be rich and famous.’  And then she started thinking about writing without actually writing anything. For 10 long years. She eventually realised that if she continued along this path, she would one day think ‘I could have done this’, and realise it is too late. And that nothing would change unless she made it change. So she came up with her two-pages-a-day promise to herself.

But things didn’t go smoothly. She got over 400 rejection letters, but kept on sending her stuff out. She says that after 10 years of waiting, she felt such a strong sense of self-disgust about herself that nothing could stop her. Eventually, she got through the Dip and success followed. But her journey shows just how skilled we are at deceiving ourselves, and provides several important lessons for how to counter our own self-deceptions:

Just because you find doing something difficult does not mean you shouldn’t do it. It may still be the thing you were put on this earth to do. Do you feel it in your bones? Then you have to do it, no matter how hard it may be.

Work on your legacy project every day. It doesn’t matter if you work on it for an hour, or 20 mins, or even five minutes. But you need to do it. Every day.

Don’t make it about your talent, make it about your persistence. Talent you can’t control. Persistence is under your spell. And in the long run, persistence wins every time.

I hope you have found Kate DiCamillo’s story as helpful and inspirational as I have. Let us all do our best to conquer our personal Mount Everest every single day, and fulfil our promise to ourselves. Life is short, and as Kate DiCamillo says – none of us wants to get to the age when we think ‘I could have done that’ and realise that it is too late. 

The time is now.

What about you?

Is there anyone who has inspired you recently? Do you have any insights into how to conquer your Mount Everest? Please write your comments below, so we can all learn from your experience.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at www.alexaispas.com