Here's an admission: I'm a bit of a nervous driver on the best of days. Today I had to drive over the Champlain Bridge and my friends who've been driving to Montreal's South Shore this week had warned me that the morning glare was making the drive difficult. But guess what? The glare wasn't a problem. And even if it had been, it would have been worth it since the students at Ecole Monseigneur-A.-M.-Parent were so much fun to work with!
I started the day with Miss Dias's Grade 10 students, and after lunch, I worked with Miss Dias's other Grade 10 class, as well as with Miss Molle's Grade 11 students. Ecole Monseigneur-A.-M.-Parent is a French school, and I was impressed by how fluent the students were in English. Afterall, if they could keep up with speedy me, their English must be good!
When I told the first group that I've been writing three pages a day in a journal for nearly 30 years (I only skipped one day because I had the flu), a student named Jonathan called out, "That's 36,000 and something pages!" I laughed because in all those nearly 30 years, I have never stopped to make the calculation. So Jonathan's comment showed me something about him: that he's into numbers! (Hey, Jonathan, I just did the math on my computer and it's actually 32,850, but hey, you were close enough!) If I were writing about a character like Jonathan, I'd definitely make him a numbers-kind-of-guy. It's the kind of detail that would help bring a character to life -- and make the character, like the real-life Jonathan, unforgettable!
I told both groups of students that I really believe they need to write A LOT if they want their writing to improve. I also told them something my grandfather, who was an artist, once told me: "To succeed you need this much talent [he spread his arms about four inches apart] and this much hard work [here, he spread this arms as far apart as they would go]."
After I finished my first talk, a student named Tammy-Lee stayed behind to chat with me. I had already observed her excellent braids -- and I asked her how she gets them to look so cool. Tammy-Lee told me, "I use elastics, and then I pull on the hair." I learned that it takes Tammy-Lee about 30 minutes to make those braids. Today, she got up at 5:50 so she'd have time for braiding. Why am I telling you all this? Because details are interesting, and because maybe I'll use a student like Tammy-Lee in one of my stories, and make her an excellent hair braider. Tammy-Lee said she learned from my talk that, "I need to persist in what I do." Yay, Tammy-Lee!
In the second group, a student named Callixte stole my heart. That's because he didn't seem all that interested when I first got started, but when I explained that the ability to write well can be a passport to a better life, I noticed Callixte liven up. Later, Callixte told me he hopes to become an engineer. Engineers definitely need to be good writers -- and thinkers. (If you ask me, wrkiting is a kind of thinking!)
When I first started doing author visits 15 years ago, I never talked about money or the business side of writing. But that has changed. I told the students today that when I was growing up, adults used to tell me, "It's nice that you have writing for a hobby." Now I think to myself: writing is not my hobby, it's one of the things I do to earn my living -- and I'm fiercely proud of every penny I have made as a result of working hard on my writing. As I reminded the students today, if they have a little bit of talent, and are willing to put in the hard work -- writing can also become a way for them to earn their livings.
A student named Jahzeev seemed super interested in the idea of doing creative work to support himself. Jahzeev told me afterwards that his dream is to design cars and eventually own a car company. Go for it, Jahzeev!
When I asked the students what they think I write about in my journal every morning, Anne-Sophie had an answer I loved: "Everything and nothing!" Exactly, Anne-Sophie! Anne-Sophie also wanted to know, "Do you ever write down your dreams?" Yes yes yes! Hey, Anne-Sophie, you're nearly ready to take over and do the writing workshop for me.
Thanks to librarian Michèle Benard for finding a way to bring me to Ecole Monseigneur-A.-M.-Parent today, and to Miss Dias for the invitation. Thanks again to Miss Dias and to Miss Molle for sharing your lovely, lively students with me. And thanks to Miss Molle for being the one to laugh hardest at my stories! And thanks especially to the students for being who you are. Now... get to work on your stories!