Tangential Opportunities of Being Published

Before my book was picked up by Abrams, I dreamed of the varied benefits of being a published author. For one, I wouldn’t have to feel that gnawing sensation in my stomach when someone asked, “So, what do you do?” To which I’d roll back my shoulders, suck in my gut, and try to answer with pseudo-confidence, “I’m a writer.” But even if I pulled it off, the question coming next would be a painful one. “Wow, that’s awesome. So what books do you have out there?” Gulp. “Um, none. Well, not yet. But I’m working on one….”

It’s my impression that people outside the writing world don’t take you as seriously if you don’t yet have a book coming out. They don’t get how long it takes from buying your first ream of paper to signing a ream of paper-sized contract. Now that I’ve reached that next step, new opportunities are opening up around me. I am embarking on the next benefit to being published, starting today at ten. I will be in charge of the How-to-Write-a-Book Camp, which is being sponsored by Fast Forward, a fantastic magazine written by kids of all ages and distributed to many schools in the Bay Area. The editor is taking a chance on me, which I deeply appreciate. After all, being a writing teacher for kids has ranked high on my dream list since forever.

But now that it’s actually upon me, I have to admit, I am kind of Freaked to the Max. Exactly how do you plan a four-hour-a-day, week-long camp?

Will I run out of things to say? I mean, I never have before, but still...

There are ten girls attending, many of them of high-school age. Will I be able to keep their attention? Will I find the delicate balance between informative and fun? And what if I speed through all my topic cards by Tuesday at noon? Teaching, it now dawns on me, is a totally different animal than writing. I know I will love it; I am the type of person who can’t even open my mouth without trying to teach people things (it’s very annoying, I know.) 

Just please don't let me be boring!

But I won’t know for sure that I‘ll be good at it until the end of the week. That’s rather terrifying.

My topic cards: How to write a book in 30 easy steps?!

The planning stage of teaching this camp has taught me a lot, though. For example, I have everything I want to cover on topic cards. They mostly fall into these categories:

• Plotting
• Characters
• Settings and descriptions
• General Writing exercises (voice, POV, tenses, dialogue, wording choices.)
• Revision

Just figuring out what comes first in writing a book—plot or characters—has led me to think about my own strengths and weaknesses and assumptions.

My plot chart: Will they understand? Will they be able to read my bad handwriting?

I am teaching things that I don’t do but should, like making my protagonist take a Character Questionairre so I can get to know her better. This camp could end up helping me as much as my students. Here’s a good old Latin proverb–By learning you will teach; by teaching you will understand.

I am the same person I was a year ago, pre-contract. But today there are more tangential opportunities, and I am grateful. I can’t wait to explore them. For now, though, please wish me luck this week. As for those of you in the same position I was in a year ago, never stop inching toward your dream. It can come true.



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15 responses to “Tangential Opportunities of Being Published

  1. How cool! I volunteered at our elementary summer school a few weeks ago (when our district decided they couldn’t pay for it, parents and teachers got together to make sure it happened). It wasn’t about writing, but I did spend the first ten minutes with each group talking about books- what they’ve read, what they liked, and I showed them what I was reading. It was amazing. I’m sure you will have a fun, enlightening, difficult at times, but totally fulfilling experience. I hope you give us an update here!


  2. L.B. Schulman

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Katherine. I am definitely nervous. My biggest fear is running out of things to say, which is funny because my file of handouts and topics is almost a book unto itself. Your comment about volunteering at school just reminded me of the time I did a little free lunch hour club on books. I survived that just fine! 😉 I’ll be sure to leave an update in the comments section here.


  3. Well, it’s 10:45 on the east coast–but not yet for you! I’m quite sure all will go very well–can’t wait to hear the updates!!!


  4. You’re going to be great, Lisa. The great thing about working with this age of kids is that they can handle a lot of “meat” and real conversation about writing. Just keep them challenged and they’ll love you!


  5. Lisa, I love your plot chart! I once heard the orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander give a lecture about a piece for which he handed out a chart very much like yours (except a lot messier). It was riveting–as you will be!


  6. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity! From the looks of those index cards and having read your previous blog posts, I’m sure you’ll be well prepared. The nice thing about teaching a writing class is that it’s best done by giving the students time to do exercises on their own and then share, making it less necessary for you to fill up every minute. Let us know how it goes!


  7. Great post–I’m facing some similarly great-but-daunting opportunities myself, so this all sounds eerily familiar. I’m relieved and happy to know I’m not alone. I’m sure that you will rock–keep us posted!


  8. J. Anderson Coats

    I agree with Jeanne Ryan – make the kids do all your work for you! If you’re feeling really mean, make them draw plot charts.


  9. Mike Jung

    Teaching really is a great way to learn stuff, isn’t it? If only to avoid making yourself look like a total idiot. Which you WON’T do, by the way – I’m 236% confident that you’ll rock the house!


  10. Thanks, y’all! IIt’s so nice you have confidence in me–made me smile! It went well, I think. It’s kind of interesting how you don’t really know for sure, though. I have ten very intelligent students, which is such a great thing. I am hoping to make it more lively tomorrow. ..time to break out the Brownie Bites. I think what we’re missing is sugar.


  11. I’m sure you will do great. Funny thing, I am a teacher but am a little afraid of school visits–a very different animal to give a presentation to a bunch of wiggly middle schoolers instead of teaching my subject area to a bunch of college students. I think a week long writing camp would be a blast, though! The big thing is to be genuine in front of students, and to respect their intelligence. If they see you respect them, they are usually very willing to respect you in return. And the great thing about a group like you have is that they are there because they want to be–they are eager to receive your knowledge. I am sure you will do well, and they will learn a lot! Can’t wait to hear how it went after the week is over. I hope you will do another post to tell us what you learned, what went well, and what you would change (I think a person should always teach the same class twice, because you learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work the first time through.)


  12. Pingback: My Former Life: An Apple Versus an Orange Versus a Wombat | EMU's Debuts

  13. I just taught a five week creative writing workshop, two two-hours sessions each week, one for rising 6-7 graders and one for rising 8-9th. As someone who has never been a teacher, it taught ME so much about both teaching and writing. I just got the evaluation summary back and it’s been very instructive in terms of what made the most impact on the kids (the sensory exercise won hands down) and I hope to be able to teach more of these because talking about the writing process to them made me more focused and aware when I went back to doing it myself.


  14. Lisa, with your bubbly personality, I’m not surprised at all that it went well. And with the addition of Brownie Bites–c’mon! What’s not to love?? 🙂

    I feel the same way Jeannie does–although I’m a teacher, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I’ll do with school author visits. Sarah, great idea to have an evaluation–great way to get feedback to tweak future presentations.


  15. L.B. Schulman

    OMG, I was away in L.A. at SCBWI conference when I got the call that a photographer took a picture of me teaching my camp and put it on the front page of the newspaper in an article about the center closing where my camp was being taught. How fun!! http://www.marinij.com/portlet/article/html/render_gallery.jsp?articleId=18618428&siteId=234&startImage=3 Thought I’d share with y’all.


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