Last week I had the privilege of doing my first classroom visit as an author. Since I write YA fiction, it might seem odd that I kicked it off in a kindergarten classroom, but what can I say? My daughter explained that her class was writing “How To” stories—’How To Make Your Bed.’ ‘How To Ride A Bike,’ ‘How To Eat An Oreo.’ She looked at me with her big, beautiful eyes and asked, “Mommy, will you come to my class and tell us ‘How To Write A Book’?” Yeah. No question.
Here’s the basic “How To” story structure:
- Describe three things you need.
- Draw a diagram.
- Present to the class.
First, I held up my manuscript and watched as twenty jaws dropped with a thunk on the colorful alphabet rug. “You wrote all that?!” one of them asked. “Yup,” I said with a smile. “I did. And you can too. Who here wants to write a book someday?” Twenty hands shot in the air.
Then I told the kids about the three things I needed to write my book: (1) Lots of ideas. I told them what my story was about. (2) A computer. I pulled out my MacBook and told them how I take it everywhere. (3) A notebook and a pen. I explained that I always have a notebook too, so I can quickly jot down my thoughts. The teacher went to the whiteboard and started drawing a diagram to illustrate my points.
When I finished outlining my three things, she stopped drawing and looked at me. “You know,” she said, “I think you needed something else. Even if you have a lot of good ideas, a computer, a notebook and a pen, there’s something else you MUST have to write a book.” She smiled at me. I probably stared at her with a blank look. What? Coffee? Mad multitasking skills? A husband who doesn’t mind doing the family laundry when I’m on a roll? The ability to function on six hours of sleep?
The kids were staring at me, waiting for my answer. I smiled at her, raised my eyebrows, and gave a little shrug.
She laughed and went back to the whiteboard and illustrated her point.
“Even though you had all the right tools, I know you had to have this.” She drew arms. Hands. “Sometimes it’s scary to write a story. You have to use big words from the dictionary, and take lots of chances.” Then she smiled at me as she added muscles. “In order to write a story, you have to be brave and strong. Right?”
I smiled at her and nodded. And I looked around the room at twenty pairs of wide eyes, nodding their heads and looking at me like I was brave and strong. Like I’d done something really special. And then I looked at my daughter. I’ll never forget the look on her face. She was so proud of me.
“Yes.” My voice caught just a bit. “You have to be brave and strong. Who here is brave and strong?” I asked. Again, every hand shot up in the air. I looked at my daughter’s teacher, grateful and glowing because she just taught me something so important.
Someday I’ll tell my daughter that I didn’t always feel brave and strong. That most of the time I was terrified. That I spent a lot of hours trying not to listen to that voice in my head—the one that constantly reminded me that this “writing thing” might be a colossal waste of time. Wondering if anyone would ever care about my story but me. But when I do tell her I was afraid, I’ll also tell her this: never listen to that voice. Do things that scare you, just to know you can. Take on big challenges and finish them with pride. Because in the end, the people who love you will define your success however you define it. And they’re the only ones that matter.
When she looked at me with those proud eyes, I realized something. For a long time, I thought I needed to sell my book to be a “real writer” who could visit a classroom and talk about the craft. But according to this teacher—this class—I was a writer long ago. After all, I’ve had lots of ideas. I’ve had a computer. I’ve had a notebook and a pen. And yes, I’ve been brave and strong. I might not have been an author to the rest of the world, but I was to them. Most importantly, I was in the eyes of my little girl.
How do the people in your life make you feel brave and strong?