I like to bring the real world into my classroom—at least as much as I can—and when it was time for me to get down to writing a keynote address for the ASJA conference in NYC mid-May, I panicked.
What would I tell this group of writers, who undoubtedly had more profound writing credentials than I? What message did I have to share with them that might inspire or encourage?
“You’re a teacher. They’re writers. What’s the difference?” Gordon—one of my seniors—asked me.
“Ooooooooooh, that’s good, Gordon. Go on. Tell me more.”
And as he elaborated, making a strong case that writers are definitely teachers, my speech’s core started to come into focus. I knew how to talk to teachers, after all. I’ve been doing that, too, for 26 years.
So I went back to a presentation I had given brand-spanking-newbie teachers a few years back, some of them so new, they had never had their own classrooms. Then, I’d offered them real-life lessons from the classroom, ones I had found out along the way, ones that I hoped would lift them when they started having doubts about our profession.
Because they would. It’s inevitable.
And interestingly enough, those lessons fit writers, too.
They also fit the theme of the conference—Navigate, Motivate, Captivate—though, I thought the order could be reversed.
First, I brought in the idea of Personal Legend from The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Coelho’s philosophy is that everyone knows his life’s spiritual purpose, or Personal Legend, in his youth, and if he believes in and wants it badly enough, the universe conspires to make it happen.
Then I told my own story (see Permanent Marker: A Memoir, by yours truly), and how the universe brought me back to where I needed to be (my classroom) after a bunch of bad stuff happened to me.
Which led me to the comparison of teachers and writers (and the conference theme).
We both have to CAPTIVATE our students/readers to “engage” them. We also must have a “purpose” for what we’re teaching/writing to be able to MOTIVATE, so that we leave impact or an imprint (or a permanent mark), giving them the tools to NAVIGATE new waters.
Thus writers are teachers. And can get stuck in their profession just like teachers. Just like anyone. Maybe this inspiration and advice will fit YOU—even if you’re not a teacher or a writer!
- Find your passion and let it rule your career in a manageable way. For me, that was learning about the Holocaust and fairy tales and Ricky Martin. I make my classroom and my teaching about me. When you have a passion for something, your quality of work soars, your own curiosity magnifies, and knowledge increases. You will improve yourself.
- Don’t get too stuck on what you think “works” or what you think it means being a successful writer. You don’t have to be published by the “big guys” to be a winning writer, and you don’t have to have a best-selling book to know you’re inspiring or entertaining. Sometimes you have to feed your own soul. Sometimes you have to fulfill your own creative needs. And in doing so, may create something worth sharing. Some of my best writing I actually did for myself.
- Never forget why you became a writer in the first place. It’s what will remind you of your purpose, and it could relight your fire. It may even bring you back from the edge of crossing over into a territory that’s not really where your Personal Legend lives. For me, it’s my students and my desire to create life-long learners.
- Finally, pay attention to your universe and what it’s conspiring to do for you. Everyone has a story. We all do. The universe will give you the stories that need to be told and the way to tell them. It will give you the stories the human collective needs. And those might just be the stories that help you to leave your own permanent mark.
And hey, Gordon? Thanks again.