Teaching Young Writers
by Terry Persun
I’ve been writing for a long time and I’m, well, up there in age. So, when I was asked to teach writing skills to eight teenagers from a private school, I froze. My first thought was that I would be over their heads, or they’d see me as just some old dude going on about passion and commitment, then stop listening when I got to craft. I wasn’t sure if it was something that would work for me, or the students, so I sidestepped and asked my daughter Nicole to teach with me. She just turned twenty-one and I figured she’d be close enough to the age of the teens that she could relate to them and be my translator in case one was needed—which I expected to be the case.
The girls—did I mention that they were all girls?—arrived at Fort Worden here in Port Townsend on a Friday morning and would be around until Saturday afternoon. We’d be teaching in the living room of the place they were staying. Although it was comfortable, with a great view, I felt a little out of place in the room when I sat down, but started things off anyway.
The room remained relatively quiet much of the morning, and Nicole and I talked about commitment and passion first. The blank stares I got back when I talked about writing every day, day after day, appeared skeptical at best, but I moved on. Then Nicole talked about her busy schedule and how she incorporated writing into it nonetheless. Then we opened to questions before going on.
And that’s when I realized the stares weren’t blank; they were commiserative. Every one of the girls wrote regularly, found that it wasn’t easy to carve out the time, but did it anyway. They were interested in knowing how to be more strongly committed, how to get their families to understand the time they needed, and how to stay creative during the process.
They understood. They were writers.
My concern about whether they’d even listen to someone my age was so unbalanced and wrong on my part. The girls were already serious about their craft, they already wanted to learn whatever I could teach them. As the day wore on and the next day came, I learned more about their struggles, which weren’t that far off from my own. I gave them examples of how I stayed creative, and Nicole gave examples of how she stayed creative. We both talked and laughed with the girls as though we were family. It was a wonderful experience.
The young writers listened closely and responded intelligently. They were artists in the best sense of the word, and I loved seeing the passion for their craft come out in their questions and comments. The couple of days I spent teaching with Nicole reopened my eyes to my own love for the craft of writing. It reminded me how much I enjoyed the work when I was their age, and how things change very little as you get older. We share in the same passion.
It is the love of something that keeps us together in this world. The pure enjoyment of doing what we love is totally transferrable to others, no matter how young or how old. And, may I suggest, that if I were to extend this idea to its natural end, that clear understanding we all have about what we love spreads across nationalities, genders, and religions. Art, and in this case writing, draws us together as one and shows us our similarities. We all learn from one another.