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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kid in a Candy Store, or Careerist?

Last week, I was a guest speaker at my alma mater's Career Day. And as I suspected, I learned more from the kids at my former high school than I could ever teach.

I met with an eclectic group, including a screenwriter who also considers himself a novelist, a personal essayist, and a newspaper editor. Across from me was a published author of several fantasy novels. She shared how great it feels to hear from kids who read her books and parents excited to try her work because their children love it. One girl said she collects hardback editions and loves to see them lined up. None of them own e-readers.

One young man said he was curious but not "aspirational" when it came to writing. He asked some great questions and stayed engaged the whole time. The personal essayist said she didn't feel led to see her work published; she wrote for herself, for pleasure.

A listening audience of 16 and 17 year-olds will hold a mirror up, that's for sure. As they politely let me chat away at super speed, I could see a gal full of self-publishing tips: a woman eager to share what she's learned lately about royalties; someone fascinated by cover design, platforms, self-pub gurus, and launch planning. In other words, I was all business.

I can't get these kids out of my mind, because they represent to me something I lose every day when I'm too much business. Whatever I do in this writing career, I must never lose the joy of writing. That "kid in a candy store" feel I had at age nine, writing pages and pages, just because the spirit moved me--that little girl must stay strong inside.

Kids in a candy store have two missions: get massive quantities, and go for the sugar high. Writing has always been a delightful grab fest for me, gulping down great words, addictive, and energizing. A rollercoaster charging down the hill, guaranteed to get you happy. Pure fun. I met kids last week who write for fun.

When the young author shrugged that her books weren't vetted by "real people," I offered some thoughts about the demise of the Big Six (now the Big Four) and how these traditional publishers are getting replaced by The Crowd on the web, one that can tell you directly what The People want to read. I wish I'd asked her, "Why did you write these books? For the supposed editors, agents, and publishers--or for you and your dreams? Don't lose that muse and passion, that joy in crafting your stories. At the end of the day, that love is what we're guaranteed."

I took too literally my charge of being a Career Gal on Career Day. I wanted to be professional and glossy, sleek haired and elegant, admirable and driven. I do believe I appeared driven. But why so much sound and fury about this vaulting ambition? If I have no love, as the good St. Paul once said, I'm nothing but a banging gong, loud and brassy, full of sounds guaranteed to fade away.

As I travel this week, I'll have an old-school pen and an old-school pad of paper in hand. I'll get back to writing the way I did at an eager age nine. Maybe once again I'll sit outdoors on a porch, hearing sounds of nature and silence, the wonderful world of writing in the palm of my hand.