What You Need to Be a Writer

What You Need to Be a Writer


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:

  1. Describe three things you need.
  2. Draw a diagram.
  3. 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?


By |2017-05-23T12:22:30+00:00April 6th, 2011|Categories: Writing|Tags: , , , , , |18 Comments


  1. Heather Anastasiu April 14, 2011 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Awww, this is sweet and awesome!! I have a kindergartner too, a little boy, but I don’t think I’d ever quite be brave enough to face a class of twenty kiddos! I’ve tried to explain to my son that mommy has written a book! Like in your library! I said this very enthusiastically. In response, he asked: what’s for dinner, or, more importantly, whats for desert 😉 I’m hoping that when I hold the actual copy in my hand he’ll be slighly more impressed. Time will tell!

  2. Cara Lewis April 13, 2011 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Tamara – I love it. What a wonderful story. I currently volunteer in my son Theo’s kindergarten class so this really hits home.

    Bravo! You continue to be a class act.


  3. Cynthia Cheng April 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    I dig your new web site, Tamara! Some very thought-provoking questions you got there. I think success can be defined in so many ways- one of the most important things is that you have to love what you do and feel fulfilled by what you write. On days when I’m feeling like I need a push, I remind myself that anyone who has ever gotten somewhere big had to start off somewhere else. So I tell myself to get moving (and then I’d reward myself with an ice-cream bar later).

  4. Kirsti April 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    You got me off to a bit of a tearful beginning today. But love this story…really can’t wait for your novel!

  5. Kirsti April 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    You got me off to a bit of a tearful beginning today. But love this story…really can’t wait for your novel!

  6. Tee (TG) Ayer April 12, 2011 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Oh my, Tamara, what an insightful post. This has made me realise I am strong and brave too. Guess we can so easily forget ourselves on this writing journey we take. It’s amazing how it takes someone outside looking in to recognise your value.
    You go girl!
    🙂 Tee

  7. Margaret Sawyer April 12, 2011 at 5:59 am - Reply

    I am humbled Tamara and moved by your kind words. Thank you.
    I was there, I know how this presentation played out and yours is a poignant and thoughtful telling. I love the litany of possibilities running through your mind behind your typically smiling face–and no, you did not look blankly.
    I heartily agree, brave and strong you are. Every day you inspire me to be all that. Our girl is very lucky.
    Is now the time to press for a first edition, inscribed copy? =)

    • tamara April 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm - Reply

      MS, you get one hot off the press! Thank you for the important lesson. As you can see by the comments, I’m not the only one who needed to hear it.

  8. Sarvenaz Tash April 12, 2011 at 4:22 am - Reply

    What a great story and so well told. I love this post and I can’t wait to read your brave and strong book.

  9. Kristen April 12, 2011 at 12:43 am - Reply

    What a moment — and how wise your daughter’s teacher is! I have a feeling a few more future writers might have been born that visit…

  10. tamara April 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Dee. I’m so glad you liked it.

  11. Dee White April 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks Tamara, for a beautiful blog post.

  12. JulieT April 11, 2011 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful post, Tamara. This will stay with me for a long time. Thanks for sharing it. I agree with Judith–it sounds like you and your daughter have a wonderful teacher. (You should share this post with her, it would probably mean a lot to her…to know the impact she’s had on you and all of us) Congratulations on your well deserved success!

    • tamara April 11, 2011 at 11:12 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Julie. In fact, our teacher should be reading this post and these comments any moment now. I sent her the link this morning, along with my thanks for being such an incredible teacher to so many. I’m just grateful that her wisdom gets to be shared beyond me. Every writer can benefit from this important reminder.

  13. Judith van Praag April 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    Tamara, Brava! Greatest Show and Tell ever! Got to give it to the teacher though, she really knows her stuff. How lucky your little girl is with a mom like you and a teach like the one she has. Your story makes me feel better about my (seemingly endless) writing path. Thanks!

    • tamara April 11, 2011 at 10:58 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Judith. And yes, I’m incredibly lucky to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, but this one is really quite special–both to my daughter and to me.

  14. Elle Cosimano April 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Okay, yeah… bawling like a baby.

    *reaching for kleenex*

    You’ve got the biggest muscles and the bravest heart of any writer I know.

    Love this.

    • tamara April 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Elle… as always! But I think you’ve got me beat on brave and strong. You, my friend, have true guns 🙂

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