Around two years ago, my publisher approached me with an intriguing idea: Would I be willing to host a series of videos to teach school kids how to write? I was immediately interested, but there was a question that had to be answered right off the bat: What should I discuss in the videos?
For the answer, I simply turned to the very people that we would be making the videos for: The students themselves. It has now been slightly over thirteen years since my first book, Belly Up (Simon & Schuster, 2011), was published, and in that time, I have answered a staggering number of questions from students. They write to me via email, or snail mail, or in the comments section of my blog. And they ask questions in person at my live events or school visits. Questions are always my favorite part of an event; it’s great fun to engage with excited young readers. (I will admit, at my very first event, I was worried that no one might have any questions; but then I discovered one of the great things about elementary school students: they always have questions.)
The questions can sometimes be personal. (“Do you have any pets?” “What’s your favorite color?” “Do you like pizza?”) On occasion, they are silly. (“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” “Could a lion beat a tiger in a fight?”). But a surprising number of them are about the writing process itself. There are a great number of kids out there who are fascinated by how books are created, many of whom are trying to write themselves.
So, when the time came to create topics for the Mission: Write videos, I simply answered the questions that I get asked about writing the most: How do you get inspired? What is your writing process like? How do you create characters? How do you structure a scene? How do you edit? How do you deal with writer’s block? How do you get a book published?
Simon & Schuster put together a great production team and we filmed the videos over the course of a week in various locations around Los Angeles. I recruited some fellow authors to do a little bit of axe-throwing (to serve as a metaphor for editing) and we toured the telescope dome where Edwin Hubble confirmed Albert Einstein’s theories of the universe (to explain both research and how I structured the climactic scene in the first Charlie Thorne book). To provide additional writing help, Dr. Rose Brock, who has a Ph.D. in library science, created lesson plans to go along with each video. (Dr. Brock was a perfect choice, as she has been writing the study guides for all my books since I began writing them.)
Mission: Write has been a success. The videos have been viewed thousands of times and many schools are using the series to teach their students. Some of this, to be sure, is due to the talents of the team that did such great work putting it all together. But I think the main reason for its success is that we are simply answering questions that just about all young writers have. In fact, the most-watched video in the series is one simply called “Writerly Advice,” in which I answer common questions.
Of course, there are still many questions about the writing process that we didn’t have the time to answer. Hopefully, we’ll be able to answer those in future videos for Mission: Write. In the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a project that has helped so many young writers, and which will continue to do so for years to come.
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the answers to the questions above are:
I have a dog. My favorite color is blue. Yes, I like pizza. I once ate a barbecued guinea pig in Peru. And maybe the tiger, since they tend to be bigger than lions, but I don’t know for sure. For the answers to the writing questions, check out Mission: Write!)
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