School Visit Fun

tl;dr: leap into that thing that’s been scaring you, keep writing, keep revising, author visits are valuable. And if you’re interested in having me visit your school, there’s more information on my school visits page.

As I told you a few weeks ago, I’ve spent the past many months revising a middle grade novel. Near the end of the revision, I started reading a book the wise Heidi Fiedler recommended: Playing Big by Tara Mohr. Have you read this book? It’s amazing. Every once in a while, I read a book like this, which is not merely interesting but life changing. This book grabbed me by the shoulders and said (not literally), “Wake up, Julie! Are you going to sit on that chair or are you GOING TO DO THE THING?” (The subtitle is “Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead” and I am a woman who wants to speak up, create, and lead, and needs practical wisdom, always.)

I won’t go into all the wonders of this book here (just go get it, if this is sounding like something you’d dig), but I will tell you that there’s a chapter called Leaping which talks about doing something you’ve been putting off because you think you need to do more research, or plan more, or get a degree, or or or. To forget all that probably unnecessary planning, and just DO THE THING. Right now. I knew what I needed to do: a school visit.

School visits are a staple of being a children’s book author. You get to go meet with your actual readers and remember why you write these books in the first place. Plus I get to holler about one of my missions, which is telling children that authors are real and alive and not royalty. If I had known someone like me could be an author (that is, someone without a castle or a butler), I would have worked harder to become one sooner.

So! My leap! I had been thinking I needed a lesson plan that puzzled neatly into the curriculum, that I needed a bulletized list highlighting the educational benefits of my presentation, that I needed to read several books about Common Core, that I needed special equipment and a laser pointer and also to take a class on how to use a laser pointer. Instead of doing all that, I contacted my younger kids’ teachers and asked if I could come in. I spent two days putting together presentations. Which, I found out later, happened to puzzle neatly into the curriculum.

I talked to fifth graders about how writers revise, walking through my process so they could see that it is exactly like their process. Writers struggle with stories too!

I talked to third graders about a specific picture book revision, the process of making a story about talking furniture into a story about talking animals, and then the forty totally-new-plot revisions that came after that.

And I talked to first graders about where ideas come from, how to find them, and what to do with them when you do find them.

I wasn’t nervous about meeting with the kids, but I was nervous about wasting everyone’s time. I wanted so much to to have my visit be worthwhile.

Turns out I don’t need a master’s degree in class visits to have a good one. I like kids, I think they’re cool, and if they hear me talking about what it’s really like to be an author, it’s helpful. I know I was spending a lot of time this year working on writing, and that’s important, but I honestly kept putting off school visits because I thought I needed to spend months preparing.

I wish I’d done them sooner! Or, well, I’m glad I spent that time writing and revising, but I wish I hadn’t been so worried about school visits. I had a lot of fun. And, not to be all, “I ROCK,” but I do think it’s hugely important for authors to meet kids and encourage them to write.

One third grader said, “I love writing, but then it gets hard and I give up” and I was able to tell her that means she’s a real writer, and we all feel that way, and please don’t give up.

After I met the third graders, they were lined up to go to recess and the teacher overheard one of them say, “Wow, she really inspired me to write more.” !!!

A fifth grader said, “I get now that my story’s not done after I write it down the first time.”

My own third grader told me that a few days after my visit, they were working on writing, and one girl was having trouble with her story, and said, “I’m going to get up and walk around, because that’s what Julie said she does.” So she did, and figured out what to do on her story.

In the first grade class, after we talked about ideas, we made little mini idea notebooks, which they could carry in their pockets so they’d be ready to write down any ideas that came to them. One boy came in late. He’d had a doctor’s appointment. I showed him how to make the idea notebook and told him what it was for.

“I don’t get ideas,” he said. I told him it was fine to not have an idea right now, and he again insisted that ideas were not a thing he had. I told him it was okay if his ideas weren’t words. That ideas can be pictures too, just like how there are wordless picture books, there can be a wordless idea.

“Okay,” he said.

I went back to my presentation.

And then he came up to me at the end. He wanted to show me his idea notebook. This is a kid who was telling me about how he was idea-less. He had sounded dejected. But then he sat down and made THIS:

Did he make all that because I was there? I have no idea. I don’t want to take credit for this kid’s creation. But I do know he went from “I don’t get ideas” to “Can I show you my idea?”

Here’s one last thing I know. I know that, as a parent, I can tell my kids to do something for years and then some stranger will stroll by and be like, “Hey kids, wash your hands before you eat” and disappear around the corner and suddenly my kids are saying, “Oh wow, it’s important to wash your hands before you eat! Who knew?” And a similar thing sometimes happens between students and teachers. Teachers can tell students to keep writing, and to keep revising, but it might not really sink in for all of them until an author waltzes in and says, “Hey! Keep writing! Keep revising!”

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