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Collecting Material

The Rich Writer: Collecting Material

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Collecting Material

Today was my son's first day of middle school. All I can say is: wow.

I thought I remembered middle school. I didn't. After this morning, I wonder if anyone really remembers middle school. The kids I saw today were all too busy worrying--about their schedules, who they knew, where they were supposed to be--to notice much beyond their own bubbles.

Nearly all the students were nervous--and they all felt alone in their nervousness. Maybe it's a human trait to try to hide our weaknesses, assuming that no one else shares them. Maybe that's why I remember so clearly being the only kid in middle school who couldn't get her locker open the first week of school--it never occurred to me to look around for those other kids who were just as nervous and self-conscious as I was.

Today reinforced for me how important it is for us, as writers for children, to be with children. I often think that children's writers remember childhood more clearly than most people--but we still forget. As I sat in that room with a hundred incoming sixth graders and their parents, I was flooded with all the bits and details of what it's like to start a new school. I was flooded with the sorts of detail you can't get from memory: backpacks too heavy with school supplies, a mother near tears, two girlfriends greeting each other with squeals of joy, a cafeteria steaming with sweat and nervous kids and parents, hallways crowded with students who are desperately trying to figure out how to open combination locks without anyone else realizing that they're trying to figure it out.

Why do I write for kids? Maybe today is why. Maybe it's because of the fears and hopes of kids as they start a new grade, a new school. Because I want to help them make sense of life--and because I want them to know they aren't alone.

Until later--Cheryl



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