My 16 year old Sebastian has been writing fiction since he was small; he’s been writing seriously (more than two hours a day) with an eye toward honing his craft, since he was 11. He’s focused when it comes to his writing, he’s single-minded and disciplined and we have great conversations as only two writers can. We commiserate during the dry times and celebrate during those after-writing moments when we believe we’ve just written not only our best pieces, but quite possibly masterpieces. He’s taken part in a couple short-lived writing groups, made up of busy pre teens and teens, some of whom were roped into going, that just didn’t have the momentum. So last night when I dropped him off at another teen writing group over 30 minutes away from home and prepared to make a long, meandering trip through Whole Foods to kill time, I tried not to get my hopes up. The workshop leader did say that the group consisted of serious, dedicated writers, but it was late in the day and I was tired and poor Sebastian was walking into another group of strangers-who-knew-each-other, ready to put it all on the table just to meet a bunch of kindred writerly spirits. I felt his pain. I’ve been in that new workshop situation as a young adult and as a middle-ager and it doesn’t get much easier; the precarious act of trying to be open, friendly and creative, tempered by the need to protect yourself; to come across as serious and confident, but not arrogant. And then wearing all of those positive qualities on your face while someone is telling you what’s wrong with your title, your line breaks, your repetitive use of dashes and the word ‘soul’, which, honestly, only Emily Dickinson could get away with. I’ve been lucky; most of my poetry teachers, workshop leaders and fellow writers have been members of the constructive criticism tribe, not the infamous ones who throw a manuscript down on the table and declare: “This is shit!” I think I would have broken long ago if that were my experience. Being a poet is hard enough. So, after two hours at Whole Foods and Marshalls, with not a few uncharacteristic food products in my cart (organic fluff I’m looking at you), I retrieved my brave boy from amongst a mostly-female group of worn out writers and heard the matter-of-fact words I so love to hear: “Well, that was a success.”
We made our way to the car and I was feeling pretty pleased at the image of 10 teenagers spending two hours at the end of a long day engaging in a task that’s not so easy to do: making something out of nothing, and preferably making it interesting, then reading it out loud. Sebastian is a habitual ‘I’ll pass’ type of writer when it comes to reading his work to the group, but reading out loud is mandatory in this group, so he did it! What I found most heartening was that he was impressed by the quality of the writing, by the talent and hard work the others’ have put into their craft. As I was getting into the car, I had to wrestle some groceries out of the way and realized a couple girls from the group were trying to get into a mini van beside me. “Oh, sorry,” I said as I squeezed myself into my seat. “It’s cool, it’s cool,” one of the girls said. I had to smile.