Recently, I visited the 5th and 6th grade classes at the school where my mother-in-law teaches. The purpose? For me to talk to the kids about writing – specifically, the importance of revision. The result? A lesson for me about the importance of persistence.
It started innocuously enough. The 5th grade class dutifully raised their hands (ah, Catholic school – plaid uniforms and knee socks – it all came rushing back!) and asked me questions about Meeting Murder. Why had I chosen to write a mystery? Where did I get my ideas? How did I think up names for the characters?
As I answered, I was afraid a silence would fall – how could I engage a roomful of tweens on the subject of writing, of all things? As it turns out, very easily. All I needed to do was ask who had read the Harry Potter series (all of them) and who had read the Twilight series (all of the girls).
After a brief detour to discuss the relative hotness of Robert Pattinson and Daniel Radcliffe, I told the kids why I think JK Rowling is the far superior writer – excellent dialogue, fully realized characters, intricate plots, and terrific pacing.
Eventually, the conversation turned back to Meeting Murder. I passed around one of my notebooks containing part of a handwritten early draft, which I hoped would make an impression on the students. (Shout-out to my husband Jack for the idea – thanks Jack!)
Well, I know it made an impression on at least one boy. He flipped through the many pages of crossed-out, arrow-filled, insert-laden handwriting, and announced in a horrified voice that there were “too many words!”
(That was one of my favorite comments of the day. My absolute favorite, though, came from another boy who asked me “Are you famous?” To which I optimistically replied “Not yet.”)
Then the kids started asking me questions about my current book. Do I work on it all the time? Well, most nights, I answered – not being famous yet, I still have to go to my regular job every day. How long will it take? It should be done before Christmas, I said. I’m shooting for a completed first draft by the third week of July, then allowing another few months for rewrites, then several more weeks for a final polish.
Which is where my lesson comes in. Why am I doing this? My first book isn’t exactly a bestseller (yet!) In fact, my latest royalty report shows that I sold exactly 6 copies in February.
And yet, I keep going. Stubbornness and refusal to face reality? Perhaps… but I prefer the reasoning I offered to one of the 6th graders: once you know what you love to do, you’ve got to keep doing it.