Sunday, November 15, 2009

"I Could Have Written That"

On Saturday, I headed out in the snow to teach an all-day advanced children's book writing workshop for Lifelong Learning, the continuing education program of Boulder Valley Public Schools. There were six students in the class. The class was structured entirely as a critique group; we spent the full five hours of class time in an in-depth critique of each student's manuscript, with a lovely break for lunch, all of us together, at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

The manuscripts were amazing - and one of them was even by a sixteen-year-old high school girl, whose mother had to petition to get special permission for her to take the class. I was supposed to be the teacher, but at least three of the students, although unpublished, had manuscripts, in my view, as worthy of publication as my own.

Now, a lot of beginning writers get interested in writing by looking at published work that doesn't impress them all that much and thinking, "Hey, I could have written that." As a spur to creativity, this is probably a good thing. But often, these writers don't get very far in developing their craft. I think we get a lot farther not when we look at other writers' work with disdain, but when we behold it with admiration and awe.

When I read my students' manuscripts on Saturday, I thought, "I'm going to have to work VERY VERY HARD to continue to get published in a world where not-yet-published writers have work this good." Instead of wondering how it can be that I keep on not winning the Newbery, I need to wonder how I can keep on getting published at all. The standards are high. They are getting higher. If I am going to continue to be a published author, I had better do some honing of my craft; I had better push myself harder, force myself to go deeper. I am going to have to stretch and grow if I am going to equal, let alone exceed, the work of the students whom I was privileged to "teach" yesterday.


  1. I second Brenda's comment! I've taught workshops with both high school kids and adults in the audience. Often the adults want to grab their ms and run after they've heard pages from a teen's novel. I come away in awe wondering how they are able to write so well at thirteen or fourteen when the best I could do at their age was a decent essay. As Hemingway wrote, "I have tried to write the best I can; somedays I have good luck and write better than I can." Maybe today!

  2. Good article. There’s never been a better time to invest in teacher preparation.Teacher Continuing Education Workshops held speacial workshpos. Our goal is to empower teachers by giving them research-based strategies to help their students succeed.