Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Next Step

Last weekend, I shared about the writing life with a group of college sophomores. Then yesterday I was at a local high school, offering tips on how to tell your story. (By mid-February, I'll have worked my way down to Princess Peach's pre-school to tell all the 4 year olds how useful those 26 letters can be!)  It's been a little surreal to spend so much time with students, trying to remember what my big questions were back then.  I realized that they all came down to some version of: How do I make a good life?

When I was at the schools this week, a few different students came up to me and said, "Tell me how I can be just like you!" It was a struggle not to dismiss the question with the usual blah-blah-blah about how no one's life is perfect. But I tried to remember what it is I was (Okay, what I am)  looking for when I stare at people who represent something I dream of:

A next step.

So rather than exhorting the students to be unique little flowers blooming in their own special way, I asked each of them some questions, trying to figure out where they are in life's process.  One is leaving next week for a semester abroad; another is a math/science geek who just wrote a story she really likes for English class and doesn't know quite what to do with the idea that she might be a good writer.  I made up next steps for them.  They weren't certain, or elaborate.  "Keep a journal of the people you meet and how they challenge your thinking," I said to one guy. "Pick a secondary character from your abandoned half-novel and write her next chapter," I suggested to a freshman.  "Live a big life" I said to almost everybody, trying to describe how having many facets to your week helps keep you in balance.

Who knows if any of it will be helpful?  I'm not sure.  But I know I find life a lot less daunting when I know the next step I need to take.

(And on that note, I'm off to flip the laundry!)

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