Recently I had the pleasure of reprising my role as an interview subject for 100 or so 4th graders.
Last year, one of my friends, who teaches one of the classes, invited me to be interviewed as a “professional writer.” Apparently, I didn’t say enough to turn kids off from pursuing writing as a legitimate career, so she asked me back. If you’re interested, you can read how Dirk Nowitzki made an appearance at last year’s interview, as well as our Q&A.
Knowing that Dirk wouldn’t be able to help me out this year due to his busy schedule, I devised a different plan. If you can lead a child to laughter, maybe you can lead them to knowledge.1 Last year our interview took place via Skype. This year we went with a Google Hangout, and that was my key to a moment of sure laughter … I hoped.
After asking about my background, my influences, and my inspirations, one child asked, “What’s the most important stage of writing?”
The cynical part of me answered internally first: “The part where you get paid.” The more prepared part of me said that pre-writing and editing were important to me. The wannabe stand-up comic in me then told these impressionable children that the absolute most important stage of writing, which they likely hadn’t learned from their teachers, is the Pirate Stage.2 With those words, I clicked on a digital pirate’s costume within the Google Hangout. To the kids, I suddenly appeared as a cartoonish version of Captain Jack Sparrow’s lower-ranking second cousin.
Much laughter ensued.
Maybe my goal for this interview should have been to impart some kind of wisdom, or some kind of gentle encouragement into the thrilling world of fighting keyboards, but, let’s be honest, my goal was to get 100s of 4th graders all laughing at a silly sight gag. Mission accomplished. As we were only halfway through the interview at that point, I could finally relax.
But I was wrong.
The next few questions all centered on “publishing a book” and “your book” and “Have you won any awards for your book?” I felt like a deft politician answering those questions, since I have yet to publish a book. I attempted to skirt the issue as well as I could, not wanting to get into a heated debate with a 10-year-old about the definition of “writer.”
The last question of the interview may have been the best: “Have you ever written a book with your wife?” I replied, “No, she’s an accountant. She does numbers. I do words. I guess we could do a book about accounting … but I don’t think you’d find that interesting.”
As I signed off, I reminded them of the most important stage of writing, the Pirate Stage, and donned another digital pirate hat. They laughed again. My writerly self-esteem was back, buoyed by the giggles of a 100 4th-grade students.
A few days later, I received dozens of handwritten notes from the class, thanking me for my time. While every note was appreciated, a few stood out:
- “I’d like to be a Jr. Atwood.”
- “I will remember to use the Pirate Stage.”
- And my personal favorite: “You are the best person ever.”
Whenever I feel like a hack writer, these earnest words of encouragement prod me to stay on this journey.
Aside from the realization that the only thing that may have stuck with these kids is the possible existence of a Pirate Stage of writing, I came away from that interview with one demanding thought: I better write a book before next year’s class interviews me.
And, just so you know, I am.
1I have no children. This may or may not be good advice.
2This post has nothing to do with my alma mater, but maybe one of these kids will wind up there, hoping beyond hope that this is the place where the Pirate Stage of writing began.