I promised a post on why I must brew a pot of tea before I write. But first, I want to backtrack and explain how I revived an exhausted muse last year. I just got some fabulous news this week: my middle grade novel is going to be represented by a seriously wonderful agent. I can’t wait to make the formal announcement! So I am explaining how exactly I got here, and why you might be able to use this same principle the next time you feel creatively stuck.
Three years ago, I was at the end of a multi-book contract in the inspirational market. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write next. I only knew I wanted to write for kids. That’s what I had always wanted, and I’d be so blessed to have multiple contracts in the adult inspirational market while I learned my craft. But after refusing another contract, and with no particular story burning inside, I didn’t feel lost; I just felt blank. My muse was tired and restless. If I wasn’t going to write another book immediately, I needed a plan.
My dear friend, author and radio host Michelle Phillips, says: “When you don’t know what to do, go serve someone else.” I took her advice, and decided to serve young adults who dreamed of becoming working writers. Working with a public middle school in Atlanta, I founded a Young Authors program. My goal was to teach them everything I knew about writing. (After that first class, I’d have to wing it.)
Walking into middle school for our first meeting, I felt slightly nauseated. Middle school was not a season of my life I wanted to revisit. Yet here I was, about to enter that world again. I feared I still wouldn’t be cool. I feared the kids would dismiss everything I said. Or worse, that I wouldn’t say the right thing at all.
Within five minutes, I realized that they were far less interested in what I had to say, than in my willingness to listen. I ditched my lesson plan and followed their lead.
Now, every week, I listen to their stories. I listen to their dreams and nightmares. I get to be the adult who says, “There is beauty and power and truth in your story. No one can tell it but you. Ignore the critics. Ignore the bullies. Tell the world what you see.” What an incredible privilege. And my muse? She’s never happier than when a kid dares to read a deeply personal tale. Witnessing an act of courage is powerful stuff.
I don’t worry about whether any of these kids will go on to write professionally. I am setting an anchor in their souls so that when life’s storms hit, and they are pushed off course, something deep within will draw them home. They will remember who they are, and they will remember that truth is a powerful ally. Most of all, they will remember that their stories and their dreams, they matter.
To all of us.