Body and Mind


When I teach, my students are nearly always adults, and usually at least several years out of college. Once, however, I was invited to speak to a couple high school creative writing classes. These were elective classes, but – and this is an important but – they were held during regular school hours (more on that later).

On the day I was to speak, I arrived at the school, signed in at the office, and made my way toward the classroom. I didn’t mind high school when I was kid, nor school in general, but wandering through the halls I remembered the distracted cattle feel of the students. It was like everyone was in two places at once. Our bodies were at school, but our minds were always longing for something else, somewhere else. What that something else was wasn’t clear, but it definitely wasn’t this.

Once in the classroom, I thanked the teacher, and stood discretely back while the first class arrived. I had planned to talk to these kids about the same sorts of things I talk to all writers about, but as soon as I saw their tired faces, and their bodies slumping in their chairs, and their twitchy fingers on their phones, I understood I’d have to change things up. The kids didn’t invite me to talk, and they certainly weren’t paying money to take this class like my adult students. This was just another day, with another adult talking to them about something they might or might not give a damn about.

It went okay, meaning there was no in-class rebellion, and a few kids even answered some of the questions I posed to them. The most lively the room got was when I asked everyone what they would change about school. That got them talking. If you’re curious, they all hated homework and standardized tests. I had to agree with them on that. So that part was fun, but when it was over, I swore I’d never do it again.

Here's the thing about writing: you can’t do it unless you want to, unless you know it’s your choice. Time might come when publishers or magazines assign you something, but first you’ll be the only one telling you what to do. As it should be. School has always been tricky for writers because so much of it involves one person telling another person what to pay attention to. When you write, you have to decide what is worthy of your attention.

Then last year I was asked to speak to some more high school students, this time specifically about Fearless Writing. I was going to pass, until I learned that this was an after-school club. These kids were giving up their free time to hang around the school for an additional hour because they liked to write. I was on board. It was a lovely experience, and some of the stuff the kids shared with me that day seemed mature beyond their years – though maybe I don’t really remember being 16.

In fact, a few of them even came to the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference this past September. One of those students sat at my table during Pitch Fest, where seasoned pros (I’m such a person, apparently), coach attendees on the finer art of pitching novels to agents. Her pitch was great. I don’t know if she got an agent, but it doesn’t matter. She made a choice to be there, made a choice to share her work, and hopefully felt the power of having her mind and body in the same place at the same time.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.