Back to School

By Liz, impatiently counting down the minutes until Crime Bake this weekend

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of high school kids who were interested in writing. I have to admit, when I first got the request I was hesitant. I remembered high school well, and I know how tough that audience can be. But in the spirit of “Do something every day that you’re afraid of,” (who said that, again?) I decided to go for it.

I spent a lot of time prepping for this one. The organizer told me to talk about my background, how I got started writing, the writing process – all the basics. I could handle that. I chose some of my favorite books about writing to show them some of the best resources available.

Books

But I wasn’t convinced that would be enough. I wanted to give them something meaningful, something they could truly take away and use.

So I noodled it. And then it hit me one night during my ride home from work – I needed to tell these kids the things they shouldn’t believe. The things people tell kids who express an interest in writing. The things writers tell people interested in writing. All the myths that will derail an aspiring creative.

I spent a lot of time letting other people’s beliefs in writing, and making a living as a writer, fill me with uncertainty. My parents were proud of my writing abilities, yet it was hard for them to imagine just anyone achieving the appropriate level of “productive member of society” by writing books. I mean, Danielle Steel and Stephen King were the exceptions, right? So they nudged me towards teaching.

I never bit that hook, but spent plenty of time convincing myself that I needed “sensible” jobs. I let a lot of opportunities pass me by. Despite the fact that I’d sold the first short story I ever wrote as well as a few essays, I still didn’t have the confidence that I could make the writing thing work. When I finally decided to get on with my purpose, I became a reporter. That job inspired me, raised my confidence level and ultimately gave me a sense of what I could do with a pen.

From that moment on, I still worked “sensible” jobs, but they always related to writing. I had to remind myself of it daily, but it was true – I was making a living as a writer. True, not through books – yet – but I believed it would come. And it has.

A lot of that was due to the work I did with Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. Cameron has helped people all over the world discover – and more importantly, recover – their creativity. The exercises in this book, and the ongoing exercises, like morning pages, have truly saved my creative life. I hope these kids don’t yet need it, but if and when they do, now they might remember where to find the inspiration they need to move forward and fulfill their dreams.

Artist's Way

So that was my message to the kids. Listen to your heart. Write what you want. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that writing won’t put food on your table. You probably won’t be a famous, well-paid author right out of the gate, but there are other ways to make money writing while you hone your craft. Tune everyone else out, and tune into yourself. Find and take opportunities. Open your mind.

And guess what? The session was a hit. The kids who came were mostly very serious about their writing, soaking up information and asking a lot of questions. I left feeling good about what I’d offered them. If I reached one kid who was having doubts about their career choice and inspired him or her to keep going, then I was successful.

Next time I’m asked to do an event for high schoolers, I’ll be quick to say yes.

21 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. Sounds great, Liz. Those kids were lucky. I would have loved to hear those things from an adult when I was in high school. Congratulations on doing that “something you’re afraid of” for the day and for doing it well.

  2. You’ve given those kids a great gift, just by being there. At my high school (in a bedroom community to New York City, a highly ranked school with plenty of AP courses) no one ever considered bringing in a writer, and surely there were plenty around. And no teacher ever said, you can write whatever you like, and show it–or not show it–to anyone you choose. It’s your voice.

    Good for you and for the school!

  3. Great post! Particularly relevant to me, too–I keep avoiding “risks” and walking away from opportunities to keep the practical in mind. And yet, the first short story I submitted was published! Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Lovely!

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