I have been teaching a creative writing elective called Writer’s Craft for three years now. My first year, I knew I wanted to bring guest speakers into the classroom, but I was so busy with creating the curriculum and getting my National Board certification that I wasn’t able to. So my second year, that was one of my goals for the class.
That second year, I reached out to local authors and was successful in getting a few of them (three to be exact) to volunteer their time to come speak to my Writer’s Craft class. Not only did the students enjoy it, but I did as well. Listening to real, published authors was inspiring. My students were learning strategies and tips from professionals—people who made their living through writing.
In year three, I upped the ante. This year, my goal was to bring in a guest speaker once a month. Of course, there would be some months that wouldn’t happen, like August when we had first returned to school and I hadn’t had the time to network yet. Or December, when we were only in school for two weeks before winter recess and one of them was finals week. And March, where we were again off for two weeks for our Spring Recess. But overall, I was successful. We had a total of SIX guest speakers this year, and only one of them was a returning author from the previous year. (I would also like to note that only one presenter was paid to come speak to my class, and that was made possible through a donation.)
This year, my students learned about creating character from Jacci Turner. They learned about archetype and voice from Virginia Castleman. They learned how to write their own story from Terri Farley and about stakes and tension from Heather Petty. Todd Borg drove for over an hour to instruct my students on the hook, the twist, and the cliffhanger. And the last speaker for the year was Tracy Clark, whom my class met via Skype.
Previously, I had never used Skype as a teaching tool. I’d Skyped with my parents before on occasion, but I never thought about how I might use Skype in the classroom until Tracy Clark offered to gift my class with a 30-minute Skype session. I was immediately intrigued and terrified. As a teacher, panic sets in when technology doesn’t cooperate. I had flashbacks to when my mother-in-law wanted to Skype but could never get her microphone to work and we spent the time both on the phone and on Skype simultaneously so that we could both hear and see one another. However, my librarian worked on my behalf along with our IT department to make sure it was all working for the arranged date and time. And while we lost connection once and had to call Tracy back, other than that, it was probably the coolest thing I did in my classroom all year.
My students got to see the inside of Tracy Clark’s home. They got to imagine themselves living the writing life. It was so personal and intimate. It was like taking them on a field trip without leaving the school.
All of the authors who volunteered their time to speak to my students were amazing. Each one of them has said things that stuck with me. However, something that Tracy said in this Skype visit really made me think.
One of my students asked Tracy how she started writing, and in response, she told us this story. She said that she always loved to read and she was reading to her daughter one night before bed when her daughter said to her, “Aren’t you so happy? All of your dreams have come true.” Tracy realized that all of her dreams really hadn’t come true. That while she was happy being a wife and a mother, there were other things she aspired to, and writing was one of them. When she explained to her daughter that there were other things she wanted to do, her daughter asked her why she didn’t do them. And that’s when Tracy Clark started writing.
This all happened just as I was thinking about starting this blog. Wait. Scratch that. I had been thinking about starting a blog for a few years, but I had never actually gotten around to doing it. Just like I had started that novel. And just like I had that really great idea for that teaching book that I’d written a query letter for. For each of those things, I’d let my life get in the way. And it was easy to make excuses because excuses meant that I hadn’t failed. You can’t fail at something you don’t actually do.
I’d also gotten in the habit of trying to enlist friends into my great schemes.
I had decided that my friend (I call her Hooker) and I should do the blog together. We like to get together and craft (and drink). We could call it “Two Hookers and a Hot Glue Gun” or “Crafting with Cocktails.” But Hooker never said she wanted a blog, so why was I pawning off my dreams on her?
I was talking to my mom and explaining this to her when she said that we like to have someone to blame other than our self. And she’s right (moms usually are). It’s another excuse we can add to the list for why we never got to do ________________.
In my English classes, we just got done reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and we ended with a Socratic Seminar. As I sat there literally biting my tongue (as a teacher, it’s so hard not to speak during those things!) I was struck by the conversation of my students and my own thoughts on Chris McCandless. Among other things, my students were discussing how he lived his life, how he died happy and at peace doing what he loved, and how his escape into the Alaskan wilderness was his way of rebelling against society. Society expects people to go to college, to graduate, to start a career, to get married, and to have children. So many people wait till they are retired to do the things they want to do. When they are retired and the children are grown, then they will travel, or then they will have the time to golf, to start a garden, to hike, to paint, to read War and Peace, to learn Cantonese. But how many people never get to do those things?
The time to live your dream is now. The time to stop making excuses is now.
So here I am. This is my blog. What are you waiting to do?