I’ll say I’m a writer because I can’t speak. At least not well and not in front of large groups of people I do not know. I’ve done so anyway, and many times. And truthfully, I do just fine as long as I don’t count the “aint’s” and dropped g’s that come out of my mouth.
The invitation to speak that I received recently wasn’t one I could pass up. It wasn’t a fancy conference, wasn’t in a fancy city. It didn’t pay well (actually, it didn’t pay at all). It was instead for career day at the local elementary school.
It isn’t often that I get to play author, much less play one for an entire day. Despite the props I brought along—five books, a typed manuscript, and one bulging notebook—I knew it would be a rough road to travel. After all, I was going up against firemen and police officers and radio personalities. A writer would have a tough time competing with that with a bunch of grownups, much less a hundred fourth graders.
But as it turned out I didn’t have much to worry about at all. Sure, they were fourth graders—that peculiar brand of kid to which both reading and writing are anathema. So I started with the fact that when I was their age, I hated reading and writing, too.
It was all downhill from there.
I’m smart enough to know that kids aren’t much interested in publishers or first drafts or the horror that is the adverb, smart enough to know that adults aren’t much interested in them either. But I’ve found over the years that everyone, regardless of age or interest, perks up whenever I mention a writer’s primary gift to the world.
Not wisdom. Not inspiration. Not tight plots or moving themes or even memorable characters. No, writers do what they do because of one reason and one reason only—
They get to create magic.
They didn’t believe me, of course. Not right away. One kid asked me to make his pencil disappear if I knew magic. Another wanted me to guess the number she was thinking. I told them I couldn’t and that it didn’t matter, because the magic writers do was better. It was the greatest magic of all.
It was the magic of writing words down on a page that make pictures in other people’s minds.
It was the magic of being able to create entire worlds from scratch and put anything I wanted to in them.
It was the magic of being able to touch another person’s heart, a person who might live far away, someone you’ve never spoken to and likely will never meet.
And best of all, I told them, is that everyone possesses a bit of that magic. Anyone could be a writer. Didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, didn’t matter what color you were, didn’t even matter if you went to college or not. That magic was still in us.
It takes time, of course. All magic does. But I told them that if they did three simple things, that magic would grow and eventually spill out.
You have to read, I said. Every day.
And you have to write. Every day.
And most important of all, you have to believe you’re special. Because there is only one you in this world, and the way you see life is different than the way anyone else who’s ever lived has seen it. That’s why your story is so important. So needed. After all, that’s what the magic is for.
Turns out that an informal poll conducted by the teachers placed me second of the day’s top speakers. The winner was the radio guy. I wasn’t surprised. I can’t compete with someone who’s met Taylor Swift and Trace Adkins. I wouldn’t even try.
But a teacher told me that the next day when it came time for her class to do their journal writing, there was much less grumbling than usual. They were ready. Eager. When she asked why, her kids told her they wanted to make some magic.