Yesterday, I was asked to come into a fifth grade classroom to talk about my experience of being a young author and poet. I got dressed up more than I do than when I’m going out to a fancy dinner, I was so nervous. I’ve talked to groups of people from elders to teens, but this was my first time talking to that age group that’s just so full of imagination and wonder that they’re almost irreversibly fragile. I wondered if I would say enough to them. If I would say something wrong and crush someone’s dreams, or give false hope. If I would make writing sound more like a back-breaking job (which is is) than a life-giving work (which it also is). I didn’t even really know what to say for the first couple of minutes. I just introduced myself, introduced the works that I have been writing (vaguely… these were children, after all), and then opened the floor for questions just to catch my breath. The questions streamed- and I had prepared for none of them. ‘What’s in your contract?’, ‘What would violate copyright law?’, ‘I like to write non-fiction narratives, how hard is it to get that published?’, ‘Why are there different guidelines for getting stuff published?’, ‘How many rejections do you get a month?’, ‘How do you deal with rejection?’, ‘If your book were to be made into a movie, would you be happy or would you be afraid that they would ruin it?’.
They asked questions up until the bell rang, when we all took a group picture and then I gave my autograph to a few very shy girls. It surprised me when, at this point, a couple of them specifically wanted me to give them a list of resources, aka journals and presses that accept the work of children/pre-teens/teens (which I have found a couple in my searches). I had been expecting to come into this experience being this authority, this person who was going to introduce them to this wonderful world of writing and what can be done with it. These kids were already past that point however. Those who didn’t like writing were critical, and wanted to be proven that there was some value in it. The ones who did wanted to write were itching to get started building their own portfolios and skills, and while English classes had given them a great outlet to practice their writing, no one would talk to them about publishing (which they were most interested in). That was amazing, to me. When I was in fifth grade, I assumed writing was something that happened to other people. Here, these kids were already pawing at the gates. What I wouldn’t give to make sure that someone was there to keep stoking that fire up until their big breaks! It makes me wonder why we don’t have more resources for young writers to be taught how to make it in the writing world. Why parents will spend hundreds of dollars each year to send their children to soccer camp, but not to an after school writing class that would focus on those who really wish to make writing their career. It’s not like there’s any better chance in being a professional soccer player as there is being a professional writer- and with the advances in publishing technology the industry is changing in the author’s favor.
In general, the world’s view of what a writer is, does, and can do for the world at large needs to change. Children like this who are hungry for chances don’t need to be taught to form themselves to standardized testing- they need to be taught how to critically analyze the work of others so that they can write their own works, and then learn how to write simple things like cover letters, proposals, and queries- which are much more helpful. Not that I have any authority to be saying these things- I’m no instructor or educator. Just my reflection on going into a fifth-grade classroom.