At school I'm asking kids to think of the book they would write. I sketched out the project in four parts:
- Chapter Titles (6, 8, or 10)
- Chapter Descriptions (1, 2, 3, or more sentences)
- A Blurb (1, 2, 3, or more paragraphs)
- 3rd Person Author Bio (2, 5, 10, or more sentences)
"Yo, I ain't writing no whole book," one kid said in the first class. Another, her arms crossed and head shaking back and forth so her braids whacked against the chair, asked, "Mister, is you saying we gots to write a book?" They figured I would say yes but I described how books usually take years to write and we don't want to be together that long. (Stephen King writes more than two books a year, an alarming pace, but only because he's Stephen Freaking King.) I told the kids, "we're just writing about the books we would write if we were to write a book. We're making a plan to get an idea of what it might look like to be a writer and to see what we can do." There was a forty-sixty mix of relief and suspicion. That's better than my usual batting average.
"That said," I told them, "if you decide to write a chapter after we're done, no problem. I'll move onto the next project but you might blow me off to write your chapter."
This appeals to them, the idea of blowing me off and doing what they want to do. Only one or two will choose to take the thing as far as a chapter. Some won't even make it through the outlining project described above. Most will finish the project to some degree or another and move on with me to whatever comes next. (I should really think about that and figure something out.) I accept that this is how it works at this school and I get better results with acceptance than with vinegar. Or something like that.
This project appeals to me because I would love to blow off school and write a book. Best case scenario I would keep getting paid and have healthcare but write the whole day through. It's a lovely dream, one that grows more and more attractive as I become more and more burned out and feeling like I just can't face the classroom anymore. The other day a kid spat on a teacher. Another kid threatened another teacher. They'll both likely be back to school next week. Anything goes.
I could write a book about that... Instead I typed this as my students watched the television to which I had hooked my Chromebook:
I try to be a student in the class and as much as I can. I'm composing this paragraph in class while some students watch. These students don't know how to begin, don't know what to do with the blank page. They're good people (who are reading these words as I type them so I kind of have to say that) but they can't see the point of writing or maybe have had such bad experiences with writing in school that they are blocked. (Shit, yeah, one just said.) I say, "begin with whatever is happening." One said, "nothing's happening." I said, "well, there's this book idea thing. Let's start there and see where it goes."
Just writing like I'm doing might not help us with the book outline (or maybe it might) but it will get us writing. The first key to writing is to write, not to think. All the thinking and worrying and planning can come later. We need to get words on the page. It doesn't matter much what those words are (though if you could refrain from swearing or threatening I might be able to get a good night's sleep for once). We just need to feel the rhythm of writing and let it carry us.
It has carried me here, to the place in which I most want to be. The book outline I'm doing for our project is about how to be a writer in the schools and make more students into writers. Who knows, maybe it might turn into a real book proposal and from there maybe into a book. I've still got teaching to do and a paycheck to earn. I'll find the time to write early mornings before school, brief bursts in class, over lunch, and in the afternoons and evenings at home. That might not be enough to write a book but it might be. I might as well find out.
Fun fact about the pictured assignment atop this entry: Notice the copyright symbol? Management passed a rule that anything teachers produce at school belongs to the school. They own my ass for 7-1/4 hours over 183 days a year for the time being, but that's all they get. My ideas remain my own. But you should feel free to use it as you like.