Laura Ingalls Wilder sat at her kitchen table, in January 1930. She was scratching out on paper a record of her life in a collection of notebooks. This was a project she had wanted to do for some years, but with all the work to be done on the farm, she hadn’t found the time for it. Winter was the best time for projects like this on the farm, so Laura dutifully wrote each day for more than a month. She had seen her own daughter write stories for the public and Laura had written for the Missouri Ruralist over the years. She hoped that her personal experiences with moving, struggling and surviving would help others that were currently struggling with the economic problems later known as the Great Depression.
When she was finished she took it up the path to her only living child, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose lived in the old, two-story house that Laura and Almanzo had once lived in. After Rose came back from Europe and stayed with them for a time, she built her parents a stone house. It had plumbing, electricity and a few other modern conveniences – something Laura wasn’t sure they needed and was a little uncomfortable with at first.
Rose helped pay her parent’s bills, and her own, through writing short stories and working for newspapers. She worked hard on writing. She would write every day to improve and create new stories. Her first real success came when she wrote a biography of Herbert Hoover in 1919. Rose would continue to write serial stories for Harper’s Weekly and other magazines to help pay the bills. She maintained a daily habit of writing and kept a journal.
The farm they lived on was more than Laura and her husband could take care of – at least well enough to make money. In 1888, after a scary battle with diphtheria, Almanzo had become nearly crippled and would need a cane for most of his life after that. Like many other mid-western farmers in the 1930s, the depression and droughts would leave their crops and finances severely depleted. Rather than sell their land and move to the city, the Wilders loved and held onto the land.
When Laura brought a draft of her history to Rose, it was not what we know today. It was actually rejected in its first draft as a memoir. It wasn’t until Rose took parts of it and revised a section for young readers, that a publisher was interested. They sent a letter back to Laura and said she should describe more of what life was like as a child. Her gift for description brought the frontier to life for young readers.
Her gift may be due more to practice than a talent she was born with. Her older sister had become blind when they were growing up and Laura would describe things to her sister – acting as her sister’s eyes at times. When the publisher asked for more descriptions, Laura set out adding more to her story and detailing memories from her past.
Rose meanwhile was worried about money. She wasn’t having a lot of luck with her latest set of short stories and couldn’t get any new ideas. When Laura brought her revised draft to Rose, she threw herself into the work, like she had many times before. They submitted Little House in the Big Woods and it was purchased by Harper and Brothers in December 1931. Harper would release the book for 8-to-12-year-old readers the following April.
Rose never stopped writing though. She didn’t wait for the final results of her last book before she started her next project. Not only did this improve her cash flow, she was also constantly working on her craft. The best performers continue to improve rather than revel in the past.
The work ethic of both women would turn out a series of eight books in 11 years that were almost instantly successful. At a time when the United States was reeling from the depression, it fell in love with the pioneer story of the Ingalls family. The Little House on the Prairie series is viewed by some experts to have helped improve literacy among children across America.
Laura and Rose didn’t always have a great relationship and not every book was met with immediate success. The second book, “Farmer Boy” was originally rejected and the publisher asked Laura to rewrite it. Rose helped to craft it so the theme was stronger and more impactful. She wouldn’t have known how to improve it without years of practice behind her.
Practice is the mundane, behind-the-scenes part of success that can’t be overlooked. Because practice doesn’t usually get a lot of attention from the outside, we may forget its importance. Laura was probably more upset by the rejection than Rose because she hadn’t experienced it as much as Rose. Practice gives us confidence, even when we miss our mark, to achieve greater goals.
Reflect on the goals you set. Have you practiced on them this week? When, and for how long, will you practice the necessary skills so you can accomplish her dream?