Thursday, May 26, 2016

What a Delight

Now Playing: I CAN FLY ANYTHING by John Williams
Just Read: THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King--Not as good as I hoped. Many stories didn't seem to have much a point, like they were only parts of stories. A few were good though.

I had a pretty cool experience last weekend. Last Friday I got to visit my future mother-in-law at her work. She's a middle school Earth Science and English teacher, and she hosts a writing club after school for interested students. She did me the great honor of asking if I would be a guest speaker.

There were about 10 sixth and seventh graders there, and surprisingly they were excited to see me and hear what I had to say about writing. They had lots of astute and familiar questions for me: How do you figure out the best ending? What do you do when the words won't come? How do you know if your writing is good or not? These were all questions I asked when I was eleven years old or so, too.

I answered them as honestly as I could. I wish I had more wisdom to impart, but the message I tried to hammer home was how nothing could substitute for practice. If these kids want to be great writers one day, they had better start writing, and writing a lot. The bad part about that is it means there's no short cuts--no magic formula--no way around the grind of hours at your keyboard (or paper) spilling out words and praying they adhere to each other meaningfully. But the good part is that becoming great is (largely) in their own hands. I felt pretty confident talking to them all that they each had a measure of natural talent, and the passion was obvious--these kids loved stories! All that remained was time and practice (or deliberate practice, if you ask Anders Ericsson).

One of the questions they asked me was: "Are you a writer?" Well I was there as a guest-speaker, wasn't I!?! But honestly it's a question I ask myself sometimes, too. Especially when I'm going through one of my periods of drought. These periods happen for me when my work and life schedules don't allow for much writing time, like when I work several nights in a row and then have to drive out of town on consecutive weekends for wedding errands or social gatherings. The ideas don't stop during those times, but fresh words-to-page production grinds to a halt.

But I told them I was a writer. It may not be what pays the bills, and it isn't even my next goal (that would be the purgatorial mountain that is grad school), yet (to put it poetically) the writer in me is the deep, hot part that's always burning, keeping my soul young and my  vivacious gears turning. It's what I love.

It was truly a delight to speak to those kids and meet them all. I hope I did some good there, and I hope they all go on to write the stories sprouting inside their own imaginations.