Monday, August 27, 2007

Why You Might Want to Be a Writer (what I might say to kids tomorrow)

We're out in Colorado all week, visiting family, friends, and getting in a little hiking. (My dad lives in Estes Park and we saw elk right outside the window tonight.)

Tomorrow, I'm supposed to go talk about what it's like to be a writer to one of my sister's classes of 6-8 graders (she's an art teacher who's branching out). Here's some of what I hope to say (hoping not to bore them to tears):

Cool Things About Being A Writer:

1. Writing the first draft of something is like being an explorer. A secret explorer, really, because you're in a world that no one else has ever seen, with people no one has ever met, in a story no one has ever experienced, but you.

I love writing first drafts, because I love living in that world in my head (and on the page). The first draft is just for me--I get to experience the journey, the adventure, and in some ways it's like being able to live in a waking dream world. When my writing day is over, it's not always easy to come out, and sometimes the shadows of it stay with me, the way an intense dream will haunt your morning long after you've woken up.

After the first draft it's like the explorer coming back home and telling everyone what he saw, and drawing the maps, and trying to get everyone to understand what he's seen. That's the tricky part, to communicate it all clearly enough.

2. What Ifs. Being a writer lets you play games with your adventure, with reality, asking "What if?" What if my character met someone who had some weird connection to tornadoes? What if two people fell in love because they both loved to move? What if one of them didn't want to move any more? What if scientists said they'd found two people exactly alike? What if everyone believed them except one person, a reporter? Those are all what ifs that I've used in my work.

Lots of authors ask what if questions, and it's fun. We all do it. My kids ask them all the time. What if our car crashed? What if I died? What if I turned blue?

Being a writer lets you play this game and call if work (on paper, for an audience), and you get to make up the answers you want.

3. You have an excuse to learn about anything, talk to anyone, or ask any question. This is especially good for those of us who can be shy around strangers. Maybe you want to learn about race cars, or rocket ships, or strange diseases. If you write a story or book or play or movie about this stuff, you have an excuse to go to the library. Or to a conference. Or call up a scientist or historian or famous person and ask questions. I went to a conference in California about the history of the Bible for one project, and I went to a conference about tornadoes for another. I traveled to cities to learn about racially integrated neighborhoods. Soon a need to get a look inside a tractor trailer cab and I need to talk to a wood worker. I already researched what it takes to reattach severed fingers and the medical uses for leeches.

I'm someone who wishes he could do just about everything and could live just about anywhere. Being a writer lets me explore all of this, in just one lifetime.

4. Being a writer gives you a good excuse to buy books, to read books which is not the same thing), to watch movies and plays, to go to museums, and it all counts as work.

5. If you're a writer, you also get to use cool pens and notebooks. It sounds trivial, but it's a good perk. I have different kinds of notebooks for different projects, and sometimes I'll buy a new pen when I start a new book. Cheap thrills.

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