I was teaching at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference recently. I love teaching, particularly at conferences, where I get to meet so many new writers, and there’s such a condensed, creative energy in one place. But I’m a man of routines, and those routines involve a lot of solitude. All those people, and all that teaching, and all the hustling from one session to another, and all the late-night gatherings with wine and earnest conversation can wear a fellow out.
It was 2:00 in the afternoon on day three and I was slotted to moderate a session on making picture book dummies. I asked the Powers That Be if I could get out of it. I could not. I considered pouring a fourth of cup of coffee but decided against it. I knew the author teaching the class, and it was nice to say hello and learn how busy she’d been recently, but once I’d passed out her materials to the students, and told everyone to silence their cell phones, I felt like curling up in my chair and taking a nap.
My friend began explaining how one makes a dummy. It was sort of interesting, but I don’t write picture books. My mind wandered and I felt more tired still. The students were folding paper into book-shaped stacks, when my friend turned to me. “Bill, you want to make one?” I chuckled and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”
The class booed me. I was going to explain how tired I was, but I decided to make a book dummy instead. The point of the exercise was to learn how to lay out a picture book, to understand which pages a story can start on, and how one decides how much text to put on a given page. The other students had come with stories they’d already written and were busy choosing what text should go where. Once I’d folded and stapled and numbered my pages I wondered if I should copy off someone else. “Nah,” I thought. “I’ll just make something up.”
So I heard the first line of a story and wrote it down. It was pretty good. Then I heard a second line and it was even better, because it told me something about my protagonist and what his challenge was going to be. Now a third line came, which I quickly rewrote, and then a fourth and fifth line, and then nothing. But not nothing, of course. I was just waiting. I was interested now and I could feel another line coming and I was curious to learn what it would be when it did. Then I had it and I felt good writing it down.
As I raised my hand to call my friend over to show her what I’d written, I realized something had changed. It had changed without me noticing or caring, without coffee or naps or television.
I wasn’t tired anymore.
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Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com