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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

School Visits--A Novice's Experience

When my phone rang this spring, and one of my daughter’s former teachers asked if I’d like to speak at a creative writing award celebration at her middle school, quite frankly I thought “Who me?” Sure I’ve had several short stories published, but I figured the middle school would rather have someone who wrote something marketed to young adults and tweens. I almost declined. These kids probably don’t read the Mossy Creek series. What would I find to say to them that would be inspiring?

Knowing that I needed to make the most of this opportunity, I tamped down the inner doubts and said, “I’d love to.” I also asked if I could bring my critique partners who are published in YA. The kids receiving awards would probably like to hear from them, too, and they might read their books. I wracked my brain for a way to use this event to promote my writing while celebrating the students’ accomplishments, and came up with a raffle of two books. Since the award event took place before mother’s day, I figured I could autograph the books for the children, and they could give them to their mothers. My idea went over well. The kids liked the idea of winning a book for their moms, and they laughed at most of my humorous asides during my talk. Best of all, I did not embarrass my daughter who was receiving one of the awards.

Since speaking at my daughter’s middle school, I’ve learned that some authors get paid for these sorts of events. These, of course, are famous or soon to be famous authors. For me, speaking at the school was worth the time away from my latest manuscript because I learned I could do it.

Other Things I Learned from Speaking at My Daughter’s Middle School:
1. Children who love to write and read love to meet published authors. It confirms that they can achieve their dreams.
2. Children who love to write ask for your autograph, whether or not you’re famous. They are convinced that one day you will be and their piece of paper will become valuable.
3. Critique partners who write YA, with a new books coming out two weeks after the event, are very grateful to be included in visits to middle schools.

Have you ever given a talk at a school? How did the event go for you? What did you learn from doing it?

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At 11:38 AM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

It's been a long time since I've done that, Mo, and it wasn't writing related. Sounds like you had a terrific experience! Kids are so interested in adults who have achieved something special, and for many of them, the joy of creating with language is just beginning to surface.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I think that's what was so neat about the experience, the kids didn't care that what I wrote wasn't marketed to them, and I was so convinced they would only be interested in Meg Cabot or J.K. Rowling. Of course, they asked if I knew them!

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Wow, Mo. That sounds frightening to me. What did you say? How long did your speech last? Did your cp show up too and did she sell any books? How nervous were you?! Okay, enough questions from me! Glad it went well. Good job!

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Those are some great questions.

I spoke about why they (middle schoolers who write creatively--some were poets) should continue to write even if they don’t have dreams of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. I talked about how writing helps us deal with the world we live in, the good and bad parts. And they should continue to write because the more they write, the better their writing becomes.

My cps, who write as Gillian Summers, came with me and brought a couple books to give away, too! They spoke about how they write as a collaborative team and why they thought the kids should continue to pursue writing.

We all answered questions about our writing process and about how our critique group works, and other questions I don't remember.

I was a little nervous because I have spoken to adult students as a teacher imparting knowledge and I used to get up in front of Georgia Romance Writers to conduct meetings, but I hadn't spoken about writing fiction before.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I forgot the time question. I spoke for about five minutes. My cp's did five minutes. We answered questions for about 5-7 minutes. The VP handed out the awards to the kids. Then there was a reception with punch and cookies for the kids and their parents.

I forgot! Some parents attended.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I know my teenage daughters are always thrilled to meet authors, "famous" or not. :) And there's nothing more important than telling kids to stick with their dreams.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Maureen, that sounds like a great forum. Short and sweet and a fun, inspirational talk for the kids. I think this is a great idea. And your daughter must have been so proud of you!

At 9:50 PM, Blogger louisa said...

I bet your daughter was thrilled, Mo! No doubt she was the coolest kid in school that day.

I have spoken at my undergrad alma mater on several occasions, usually when they are having a recruiting day or a freshman orientation. The music department loves to trot out their professional musicians as a way to say "See, you can make it!"

Actually it is a lot of fun. I give them a very realistic of what it takes to become a professional opera singer. The great majority of professional opera singers do NOT become Beverly Sills or Renee Fleming or Pavarotti. The majority of them are working singers who do three or four performances a night in the same opera house week after week OR they do that AND travel with a traveling opera troupe.

What I do tell them is that every little thing they learn in their coursework can help them and that nobody makes it in this business without learning everything they can about their craft nor without practice, practice, practice!

I have no doubt the same applies to writing.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Thanks for stopping by! I agree with telling kids to stick to their dreams. One surest way to fail is to stop working toward their dreams and give up.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Thanks for the compliments! Yes, short and sweet worked really well.

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

It does sound like music and writing are a lot alike. It's funny you mentioned the dose of reality you provide in your talks. Shortly after I did the award ceremony, I was asked to talk to elementary school kids for career day. I was very honest about the money and the rejections.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Carol North said...

Hi Dell:
Food for thought. Thanks for sharing such timely info.
Carol North

At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Tiffany James said...


Good for you! I still remember several middle school assemblies and how in awe I was of the speakers. It is encouraging for me (as an aspring speaker)to hear about your five minutes of middle school fame. I have a tendency to overwhelm myself with fancy Powerpoint presentations and involved "lectures"...when sometimes all it requires is sharing yourself. Thank you!



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