Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How do you write?

A Pulitzer Prize winner once told me that he hates writing. He does, however, love having written. I’m trying to tell this to 25 Kindergarteners. An hour earlier, while driving my son to school, he tells me writing stories is not what Community Helpers do. Community Helpers, like the ones lined up to speak to all the Kindergarteners at his school this week, do things like put out fires and make sick children feel better and, you know, talk on TV.

I say, “People pay me to write stories for them. This gives us money to buy your lunches and your HotWheels.” He says, “Oh.”

But I am here, with a short stack of books and magazines under my arm, staring at 25 pairs of impatient eyes who would rather I read to them than talk about what I do. I hold up Kate McMullan's book, “I Stink.” She was at the school last week and the kids adored her. Truman says, “She looks like Grandma, but she’s only 29!” Only 29, and already a popular author. What have I done with my life?

I don’t write stories 6-year-olds would find entertaining. I write about sudden and unintentional acceleration. I tell stories about people who had reactions to medications that left them jerking out of control. I write about women who sue birth control pill makers for blood clots and strokes.

And sometimes I write about my son.

“How do you write?” This question comes after a lengthy pause from one of my son’s favorite friends, who had his arm waving in the air from the moment I started speaking. I want to tell him that sometimes it’s easy. That the words spill out of me when I’m trying to sleep or make breakfast for my son. That sometimes I have to run to the computer to get it all out before the words fall on the floor and disappear forever. And this is when writing is a joy.

But sometimes my mind is silent, and I have to listen for the whispers. I have to coax the words to come, like I did when Coco was a scared kitten, hiding in the bushes where she was tossed by someone who didn’t want her. Sometimes they stay hidden, and I have to leave them be until they are ready to be heard.

But instead I look across the room at the little heads before me, futures of promise brimming just underneath their soft hair. “How do I write?" I say. "Why, I type on the computer.”

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