When I talk to children or teens, the most important thing I say is “If I can write books and sell them, you can too.”
The advantages of age and experience are offset, I think, by their ability to see and hear perfectly, to access the computer more easily, to access the pop culture lost on me, to replicate the voice of a young person.
I explain also that I never thought of being a writer when I was their age. I wasn’t even much of a reader, since sports occupied most of my free time. But I had a teacher in 11th grade who read an essay of mine to the class. “Sally,” she said, “You have a knack.”
I soared through the rest of my day. I had a knack. I could describe someone in an essay and bring her to life. Hooray for knacks!
From then on, I grabbed The Readers’ Digest from my mother’s shelf. I studied and took the vocabulary tests. I didn’t read the thing—I just tried to increase my vocabulary.
My senior-year English teacher made us present new words to her each week. She chose two, and we had to learn their definition and use them all week long.
On my long drive to California after college for a teaching position, I’d eat dinner with the man I caravanned with out west, competing to find a word that would stump him.
“Pusillanimous,” I said.
“Cowardly,” he returned.
“Parsimony,” he offered.
I took care with every letter I wrote to make the language fresh and original. I never used a five-cent word when I knew a fifty-cent one.
The result—to my shame even today, was the “cursory purgation!”
Yes, you read it correctly. Just before my car trip to California, I’d enjoyed a conversation with my parents’ new minister, Father Fairman. Fair, he was, and wise, and simply lovely. And I asked him questions and shared concerns I had. And, of course, dutifully I wrote a thank you note to him for, you guessed it, “the cursory purgation.”
So you see why I say to all kids—“If I can do it…I of the cursory purgation—all of you can, too.” Happy holidays.