“A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”Proverbs 18:4
Not all that long ago I was asked to speak to a classroom full of ninth-graders at a local school for Career Day.
Remember Career Day? The day when policemen, tennis players, professors, doctors, veterinarians, and astronauts (okay, there were no astronauts, at least not at this school) stand up in front of a bunch of adolescents and inspire them to go to college and do great things with their lives?
I was honored and excited to participate. I couldn’t wait to tell those kids the glories of being a writer! They would walk out of that classroom determined to pursue the creative at all odds. They would face the challenge of characters, emotions, and plots with gusto!
I drove to the school, brimming with enthusiasm and the righteousness of my mission, got up behind the podium, looked into the faces of all those teenagers, and… I froze.
In a split second that felt like an eternity, I realized that I was just about to spend 30 minutes speaking on how I wake up and sit in front of my laptop in my pajamas and hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to write a sentence or two that is moderately coherent, and that is on a good day.
I don’t fight criminals. I don’t fly in outer space. I don’t heal cute puppies and horses. I don’t ‘do’ anything exciting or awe-inducing. I was going to bore these kids out of their minds, unlike the policewoman before me who regaled them with tales of heroism and bravery. (The bravest thing I did in the last year was call the fire department because I was positive my neighborhood was burning down. It wasn’t. It was a controlled burn. The fire department set me straight.)
All that to say, everything I had prepared to say went out the window in a wave of insecurity and my discovery that I had forgotten the English language. All my great ideas to inspire those staring up at me to use their words wisely, to understand the great power that is in the pen to heal and to help, to build and to bless were forgotten.
An awkward minute passed. They stared at me. I stared at them.
Finally, after floundering around for a while talking abstractly of the changing structure of modern publishing (which they couldn’t care less about) I opened the floor for questions.
They came fast and furious. These 13 and 14 year olds were sharper than any White House press corp.
“Do you get benefits?”
“Do you get to go to work in your pajamas?”
Yes. I could answer that question definitively.
“Do you have to type really fast?”
I guess so.
“How much do you make an hour?”
I could hear them thinking, “There is no way I’m pursuing a profession in the creative arts. Too risky. No steady paycheck.”
A girl in the back raised her hand and asked how I stay inspired?
I looked at her steadily and told her that I often was not inspired. I had to lean on discipline to finish the task at hand. And if I have a really bad day of writer’s bloc? I take a solid vacation. After a couple of days off, I almost always come back stronger than before, and often, I find I’ve solved a couple of story problems without even trying.
The minutes ticked on, but the flow was there. The tide had turned. Slowly, I found my voice. We talked about the power of words and story, and how they impart hope and give guidance and carry us through lonely nights and rainy Saturday mornings.
I relaxed a little, and thought, why not turn the tables? Why not ask them some questions?
Their favorite books? Lewis, Grisham, Clancy. (It gave me hope for the future of America. When was the last time you met a 13-year-old who read Clancy?)
Their favorite things to write? Fiction. Fiction. Fiction. (I agreed, of course.)
And then, I asked if anyone wanted to be a writer. 4 or 5 hands shot up. This class was chock full of wannabe wordsmiths. It made me smile like a proud mother hen. They weren’t afraid of not having benefits. Not that they fully understood what that might entail at 14.
One told me why after the class ended. In the crush of students in the hall, she pulled me aside and said that she loves to journal more than anything else because it allows her to describe emotions and feelings that she could never say out loud. Writing helps her process sadness. It helps her organize her thoughts and make sense of her world. It gives her freedom to express who she is and what she wants to be. That’s why she wants to be a writer. Words are her key to freedom, her door to understanding.
It’s an interesting thought–words being the key to freedom.
Jesus, the Word made flesh and how in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1).
Words unlock hearts. Words have power.
It puts a whole new perspective on being a writer, doesn’t it?
I left the school knowing why I do what I do. Like arrows, I have to aim my words towards a target. (We all do, don’t we?) My target? Those creatives just venturing out. If I can prod them forward, give them hope to pursue their dreams, inspire them to put those dreams towards making the lives of others better, I’ll have done my job.
So what if the pay isn’t steady? So what if I have to type really fast? So what if I have to pay for dental out of pocket?
So what if it’s a little risky?
I don’t want to get to the end and say I played it safe and hated my life, missed my potential, lived in a box. And when I have nothing left, or I reach a fork in the road… if the tide changes and my ship carries me elsewhere, so be it. But for now, I’m going to keep laying all my cards on the table, one word at a time.