She settles into the armchair at the front corner of the classroom. The students, gathered on the carpet at her feet, lean in. There’s an air of anticipation, of expectancy, an unusual sort of hush for fourth grade.
She pushes her new glasses back up on her nose. Pale winter sunlight streams from the window over her shoulder onto the large binder in her lap.
She opens it, finds the page she wants, and commences to read.
She’s not a professor, a lecturer, or even a teacher. The chair almost dwarfs her, having been designed for an adult, not a pixielike middle schooler.
She’s a former student coming back to share her writing.
The fourth graders listen. They laugh. They hardly move a muscle until she finishes the chapter, when they applaud.
She grins self-consciously, but clearly pleased.
Hands go up in the air. The questions begin:
How much of this story have you written?
Just a few chapters, but I have other stories I am working on, too.
Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from books I read or stories I hear. I start thinking, what if there was a character who had an experience a little different from this, like, what if a character from our time could go back to a time long ago, to a setting from the historical novels I read. Stuff like that. Sometimes ideas just come; I don’t know from where.
What’s your favorite thing about writing? Why do you like to do it?
I can make anything happen in stories I write. It’s a lot of work but it’s so much fun!
How did you get so much detail in your story?
I have to look a lot of stuff up. Sometimes I don’t know what things are called or what things were like if I am writing about long ago. Or, if I decide to write about an earthquake or anything I haven’t, you know, experienced myself, I have to know what it it would be like to live through it, so I look stuff up all the time.
The questions go on and on. She answers them all patiently, honestly, with a grace and wisdom far beyond her years.
Do you want to publish a book one day?
Yes, I really want to.
She looks right at me and smiles.
Just two years ago, she was a shy fourth grader who didn’t call attention to herself. In fifth grade, between her teacher’s read alouds and writer’s workshop, somewhere betwixt historical fiction and fantasy units, the writing bug bit hard, prompting her teacher to send this child to me for extended writing lessons in every moment we could manage.
These sessions were the highlight of many a day—what a gift it is to work with a student so passionate about writing when writing is the very thing you love most yourself. Together we tripped the write fantastic, so to speak, with me listening to her story (multiple chapters with multiple revisions), asking her to clarify portions, to add detail to others, and to fill in the “holes” that leave readers behind, where the writer’s mind leaps ahead too much.
Then fifth grade was over and she was gone.
At the elementary Fall Open House, however, I happened to look up just as she came barreling toward me from across the media center, face all aglow, her mother and younger brother in tow.
Her mother’s comment: “She’ll stay up all night writing in her bed with a flashlight, long after I tell her it’s time to go to sleep.”
But Mom’s face glowed, too, with unmistakable pride.
Now our young writer returns again, by her own choosing, to share her sheer love of the craft, to pay it forward. Watching her from the back of the classroom, I am flooded with an incomparable warmth, an inner light that a thousand years cannot extinguish. She will go on to create more worlds of her own and to people them. She will conceive more problems for her characters, how they’ll cope and eventually overcome; such will be extracted from, and parlayed back into, her real life, her own future. She’s already learned the value of a driving question and how to research for answers—a true self-guided learner, a critical, creative thinker. She’s exploring ideas, generating new ones, playing with language, writing with voice for an intended impact on readers, and inspiring others to do the same.
And she’s just eleven years old.
All this world, and those springing from her mind, from her pencil, lie ahead of her; I can hardly wait to see how far they’ll take her, how far she’ll go.
Still tripping the write fantastic. What an absolute thrill.
May it always be so.
For more about this student’s initial falling-in-love-with-writing experience, read Tripping the write fantastic.