Word Lab

For the past year, I have volunteered at the Young Writers Program in Santa Cruz. It is one of the best decision I've ever made. I find it incredibly rewarding to spend time supporting and encouraging young writers in their work.

I volunteer at their after-school program, Word Lab. Students from various schools attend once a week for two hours for a nine-week session. Their goal is to write a 650-word piece that will be included in an anthology published in the summer. Students can write fiction, nonfiction, whatever they want. At each class, they learn about a concept of how to tell a story.

This past week, I was honored to speak to all three classes about being a writer and how to find ideas for fiction. I shared with them my persistent desire to write novels, an urge that began the moment I picked up a book as a child. I told them that, when I was growing up, we didn't have anything like Word Lab. There weren't programs for creative writing through the schools. I shared my experience after college, when the woman who drove me to one of my early jobs emphatically warned me that no one could make any money writing novels, that it was just an impossible thing to do, and I foolishly believed her. I expressed the other myths that I held in my head, the idea that writers suffered, that they were penniless and came down with tuberculosis, and that a novel would take twelve years of blood, sweat, and tears before you could ever finish it. I said that there came a day when I realized that if I ever wanted to make my dream come true, that I had better get started because the novels weren't getting to write themselves. I said I was determined and scared, and I studied and worked and had fun and figured it out.

I told these groups, that when I imagined my first book, I decided to write about music because it was something that I always loved. But what about music? I said that, as a child, I had studied piano, and I remembered sitting at the bench and feeling like I was the captain of a spaceship that I could travel to faraway lands and explore a range of emotions, that I could create true beauty just by placing my hands on the keys. I expressed that when I thought about that time, I remembered that wonder and then I felt sadness because, when my family moved to California, I stopped playing the piano. Then I shared with them that one of the powerful things about writing is that it can change your insides. When I was done writing the book, where the girl, despite everything, continues to play, I no longer felt sad that I didn't. I will always love music, but my real home is as a writer, and I will live in this house and work and play at my craft for the rest of my life, and that is one heck of a happy ending.