Imagine a teacher taking the time to meet with a group of middle school students on a regular basis to encourage them in their writing goals. I was thrilled to help participate in one of these club meetings recently.
Stacey, a friend who teaches Eighth Grade English at Kingsway Middle School in New Jersey, invited me to participate in a recent meeting of her Writing Club. It is an after-school club that meets once or twice a month, focusing on creating some type of small writing piece. She tells me that last year the students composed poems that were submitted to a contest and four students were published! Stacey says “We play hard, and we work hard!”
On this particular day, I joined about seventeen students for their meeting. We tried connecting via a Zoom meeting but our voices were all garbled using that technology. Like all great teachers, Stacey quickly pivoted and solved the problem by going to our trusty cell phones for the session.
After a brief introduction of who I was, I spent a few minutes talking about WHY I began writing. My number one reason was that somewhere along the way I was encouraged by others. First it was my mother. Rather than just sitting in the house watching Gilligan’s Island reruns, she often had me in the veterinary office with her and she would encourage me to write poetry or even retelling a Biblical story. I shared with the students that I was first published when I was in the Fourth Grade. With my mother’s encouragement, I submitted a brief story to the San Antonio Express-News newspaper for a feature they printed about people’s pets. I wrote about some of the chickens I was raising and the story was chosen! I think I earned something like $5.00 for them printing it. I told the students I was also encouraged by several high school teachers and a college professor. Other reasons I write are to entertain readers and to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren.
I then shared the circumstances that led to me writing the Living With Wanda book series and talked about the process of self-publishing and what it does, and does not, do for the writer. (Self-publishing is a fast and relatively easy way to get a book into print but the responsibility for editing and then marketing the publication is all on the writer.) I shared that I did not enter into this thinking I would make a million dollars but that I would create a written, humorous record of a tremendous adventure Jenni and I shared in our retirement. (According to some statistics I found online, 33% of self-published authors make less than $500 per year and sell less than 250 copies. I’m excited to be slightly above-average!)
Then I opened it up for Q&A and it was obvious they had done their homework and were interested in the topic. There were several great questions queued up such as how do I stay motivated, who do I show my work to for feedback, and have I ever had writer’s block and how did I handle it.
One student asked what tips or advice I had for them. I said they should find an author they liked and read everything that person has written. I shared that several years ago I was drawn to the writing style of Matt and Karen Smith in their book series Dear Bob and Sue which was about a couple quitting their jobs and traveling to all the National Parks. I shared that I even reached out to the Smiths for advice about publishing and they were full of encouragement and ideas—which I think many authors would be if approached respectfully.
My favorite question, and the one that later got quite a chuckle out of Jenni when I shared with her, was ‘When do you write and where do you write?’. For me, I know that I am much more creative in the mid-morning, somewhat in the afternoon, and not at all by evening. As for where I write, I explained that my wife created an office space for me. (Jenni corrected me later and said she actually created TWO office spaces for me—one upstairs and one downstairs.) But I confessed to the students that I hardly ever write in my office. I’m much more comfortable taking the laptop into the living room and sitting in my recliner or maybe at the dining room table. They seemed more amused by this revelation than Jenni is.
This was a fun experience. I told them I really wish I could have had an opportunity like it when I was their age. They seemed to be a special group of young adults and they definitely have a teacher who cares about them!
Whether it’s writing or some other activity, be an encourager to others!