In my last post, I related how Dirk Nowitzki and I taught 100 4th-graders how to write more betterer. Here’s part two of the Skype interview, sans Dirk.

What tips do you have for 4th grade writers?

The first one should go without saying. Listen to your teachers. Mrs. [the teacher that set up the interview] knows everything, and that’s not hyperbole [Ed. note: My teacher friend had a kid in class who pronounced hyperbole as hyper-bowl and was utterly convinced his was the right pronunciation. This was my veiled attempt at giving her further fodder to fix his phrasing.] Just like a car doesn’t work unless all of its parts are put together in the right way, writing doesn’t work unless all of its parts are put together correctly either. If you want to be a professional writer when you’re older, you have to learn how to spell correctly, and how to construct a sentence the right way, and when to use commas, and where to place apostrophes, and all of the other things you get drilled on all the time.

Use interesting or sad or funny stories from your life. If an experience made you feel something, you want to re-tell that story so that the person reading it can almost feel the same way you did when you went through it.

If you’re really serious about writing, try to write something every day, even if it’s only 100 words. You can keep a journal about the things going on in your life and how you feel about them, or you can write short stories. Or, like my nieces just did, get with your friends and come up with a book idea and have each friend write one chapter of the book.

And the best tip to become a good writer? It’s the same thing I told you at the beginning. Read. Read as much as you can. Read books that are interesting to you, but every once in awhile, try to read something that you don’t think you’d like, or by an author you’ve never heard of. Ask your friends what they’re reading. Ask your teachers to recommend books. Good writers are great readers.

So go and read. And write. Then read some more. Then write some more. Then ten or twenty years from now, send me your first book. I’d be happy to read it.

What was the favorite book you published?

[Awkward silence]. Unfortunately, I haven’t published any books yet.

… or your favorite blog?

[Slightly less awkward silence, followed by a quick recap of this post: Her Name was Desiree. Retelling the story felt strange since I didn’t relate exactly what I got out of the experience, but one of my follow-up thank you notes from the kids said, “I relly injoyed hering you say that you rot a story abot the gerl.”]

Which stage do you take the most time on?

Tell me the names of the stages so I know what you’re calling them. [After the fact, I felt bad that I put this particular kid on the spot with a pop quiz, but she passed with flying colors].

Pre-writing, rough draft, revise and edit, and publishing.

Pre-writing is where I often take a lot of time. It helps you get your ideas clear before you start writing so that you don’t waste a lot of time when you’re actually writing. I try to spend a lot of time brainstorming about what, exactly, I want to say, who am I saying it to, and why I’m saying it. Getting all of those questions answered earlier can make the writing easier and a lot more fun sometimes.

Is it ever stressful or is it just plain fun all the time?

[I laugh]. Like any job you may get when you grow up, it’s both. It’s stressful sometimes and it’s real fun at other times. Sometimes when I write something that I’m really passionate about, then it’s fun, because the writing comes pretty easily. But other times when it’s something I don’t know a whole lot about, and you have to do research, and research isn’t that much fun. For the most part, I really like it. One of the ways I learned that I wanted to become a writer is that when I start to write, I lose track of time, just because it’s one of the things I really enjoy doing.


The interview lasted 15 minutes, but I hope the effect on the kids and their writing lasts much longer than that. I know that their encouragement to me will last for decades:

Before hiring an editor, hire yourself.

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