Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Classroom Visit

I did my first Author visit to a classroom yesterday!  It was a little informal, as I had no real time to prepare (I'd talked to the teacher late the night before, meaning to just drop off some books for him, and he asked me to come on in and talk to the class, too, nearly first thing in the morning). 

I wasn't quite sure how to do this, but the kids were great (and so was the teacher!), and helped me along in a hurry.  First question from one of the 5th-graders, before I even made it all the way in the door: "Can I have your autograph?"  I think he has hopes of selling it for big bucks.  I wish him all the luck on that!

I decided to take along my early drafts and show the kids how the book progressed from a rough idea through a handwritten MS in a notebook, to a binder with a printed version all scribbled over with edits, and finally to the printed book.  I really wanted to show them that nothing is perfect the first time, or the second, or the fifth. . . .  I have kids of my own, and know from watching them do their work, and especially their writing, that they a) recognize that writing might be fun, but editing is work, and b) hate not getting things perfect the first time. 

(As an aside, Second Son is the kind of writer who bleeds over every word and really does get it pretty well right the first time.  I pity him, because it looks painful, and he doesn't get the joy of just letting words flow.  Plus, he's worked so hard on that first draft that he doesn't feel like he should have to edit--but it still needs editing.)

When I finished what I had to say, the kids asked more questions, some about money (I'm not getting rich!) and another asked how many books I'd written.  That was a chance to drive home the point about practice, because I could tell them I've written four other complete books, none of which has ever made it to the point where I'm willing to publish.  I do hope they got the message, because we do have a tendency these days to downplay the need for practice, polish, and persistence (look at this whole blog thing.  I do edit my writing, but the whole form is much more designed for quick production than for polish--and don't get me started on Facebook posts and Tweets!).  What's more, far too many kids (like mine) feel they've somehow failed, or "can't do it," if they don't get it right the first time.  So on the one hand there's a push for instant results, and on the other a feeling that having to work something over repeatedly is a sign you're no good at it.

Maybe I got to deliver that message another way, too, because the teacher then asked me to read a chapter from my book, and I gave them one where the Ninja Librarian takes a couple of tries to get it right.  Yup, even the Ninja Librarian needs to experiment and figure out what works and how to make things happen the way he wants!

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