Share Your Enthusiasm
I know in my last post I promised we would be talking about characters this week, but I recently had an awesome opportunity to speak at a local middle school, so I’m bumping that post to next week.
There are a lot of things I find appealing about a career as an author (obviously), but one of the things that has always excited me most, aside from the actual writing piece of it, is the possibility for speaking opportunities. Unpopular opinion: I freaking love public speaking. Assuming I’m prepared and/or talking about a subject I’m passionate and knowledgeable about, at least. When it comes to writing and publishing I’ve got the “passionate” side down for sure. I wouldn’t call myself an expert at this point, but I’ve definitely seen way more of the process than your average person, so when a local teacher reached out to ask if I’d like to come talk to her students about writing I basically fell over myself accepting the invitation.
To make it even more perfect, the teacher is a friend of mine from middle school… who now teaches English at that very same middle school. This was also the same place where I wrote my first ever semi-coherent story for an eighth grade project; a fantasy tale that was about twenty-some pages long. It felt a little like I was getting an opportunity to revisit my Writer Origin Story… so, yeah, I was excited as hell to talk to these kiddos. I was also incredibly nervous.
First of all, I don’t spend a lot of time around children. Like, uh, any time. I was nervous about relating to a room full of teens and pre-teens... not to mention nervous about getting through the whole day without letting an accidental F-bomb slip (I made it, for the record - I’ll take your pats on the back now, thank you very much). The second reason I was a little nervous was… well, until super recently I didn’t talk about writing outside of my Twitter feed. I had friends and family members who had NO IDEA I was even writing books. For YEARS. And now I was going to stand up in front of groups of 30-60 kids and talk about writing for a full hour? Five times in a row? Talk about a 180 degree shift. But it turns out I had absolutely no reason to be nervous.
Shout out to Ms. Hubbard’s English classes, these kids were cool. I talked to about 200 kids over the course of the day, teaching them the basics of how a book gets from your head to the shelf at Barnes and Noble, and sharing some of my favorite creative writing tips with them. We did a character interview exercise together at the end, and let me tell you, some of the characters these kids were thinking of were creative af. Some of the most creative character interview answers I heard came from kids who were being jokesters and clearly just trying to get a laugh from their friends. We had some students who decided to draw their characters, students reading their interviews out with British accents, a few read dramatically enough that they wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a stage.
I also saw a lot of kids that were definitely the “me” of their classes - the ones who wrote like, a full paragraph or more under each prompt but didn’t volunteer to read it out loud. Quiet, studious kids of the world UNITE!
And the questions these guys were asking. Amazing. In every class there were literally dozens of questions about everything from how writers get paid to asking for my advice on creating character arcs. All in all, the kids were super engaged and seemed to have fun with the activities. I figure, worst case scenario... they got to shake up their daily routine with a guest speaker. Best case scenario? Maybe someday I’ll see one of their names on my bookshelf! How cool would that be?
I’m not arrogant enough to think that I “INSPIRED SOULS AND CHANGED LIVES” or anything, but maybe I at least sparked an interest! Maybe one of the creative tips I gave will be a much-needed part of someone’s writing toolkit! Or maybe I just made a fool of myself in front of 200 thirteen-year-olds. Either way, I had a blast.
On the whole, we writers tend toward introversion, but I think that is a part of the reason why the publishing industry feels so opaque and mysterious. Don’t be a knowledge hoarder! If any of you writers out there get the opportunity to chat with young writers about the craft or the industry I say swallow those nerves and GO FOR IT! I went in feeling a little apprehensive and I left feeling energized, inspired, and more confident about my career path than ever. Plus I got to fulfill my childhood dream of writing on one of those fancy Smart Boards. An absolute win.
Next time I’ll share my process for building memorable characters (for real this time, I promise).