Q. In your opinion, what is the most difficult skill (or most valuable) for a young writer to grasp?
A. I think the most difficult thing for any writer, young or old, is to be brave.
Because our writing has the ability to make us look absolutely stupid, it’s scary to get the words on the page or the screen or the slate or whatever. For most of us our primary experience of writing is when it’s being judged. A missed comma, a malaprop, a dropped vowel, can make us look awful, like we don’t know anything. So it’s scary. Why write, when a small mistake can make us look so bad?
So first, we have to be brave enough to look stupid.
As if that wasn’t enough, we have to be brave enough to write something that has
significance, even if it’s silly or bawdy or a little crazy. We have to put our silly, bawdy, crazy hearts down in black and white.
And then, we have to be brave enough to let others see it and to realize that not everyone is going to think your beloved story is their cup of tea. Some people will say mean things. Some people will use your story for compost. Some people will roll their eyes.
And yet . . . and yet . . . we humans are built for story. We’re meant to tell them, have been telling them for centuries, will continue to tell them in one form or another. For me, it’s a matter of existence. I have to tell my stories in the truest way I know. I write because I have to, because telling stories is the way I know how to live. But I also have to gin up some courage every time I sit down at my desk.
How? I write about things I love and things that scare me. Love and fear, the twin sisters, the great opposites. I am called to be brave in the face of the things that matter, the things I love and the things I’m afraid of. They’re all that really count.
So, I think the hardest part then for teachers is to be able to inspire our students to be brave, honestly brave, knowing the risks involved, but to be brave anyways. Wow, what a big responsibility that is, yes? But what a worthy endeavor, too.