Today was an inspiring day. I woke up early to take my fourth-grader to school (I even slapped on some lipstick) because a poet who has written 10 children's books was giving a presentation, and I wanted to be there to see an expert at work.
Brod Bagert has written 15 books of poetry and tours around the world giving presentations about poetry and writing and strength and listening. And he was a master at getting the kids involved. The room was full of children from first to eighth grade, which Brod recognized as a challenge--he usually gears his discussion to the age group of his audience. But in this talk, he managed to get the youngest ones clapping along, the oldest ones hearing concrete advice about writing and enjoying poetry, and everyone hanging on his every word. Myself included!
As a poet and a wanna-be children's book writer--and someday, hopefully, someone who visits schools to read and inspire kids--I was inspired. And a little daunted. It's sometimes difficult to see someone who excels at what you'd like to do--and to think, damn, I can't do that.
But Brod actually spoke to that very impulse. As he said, everyone wants to sit down and write their very best work. But when you sit there, what comes out is usually not your very best. And so you feel worse and worse as you realize that the work coming out is not what you wanted it to be, until you decide to give up because apparently you're no good at it at all.
He even said that the better you are at something, the worse you're going to feel when you see the not-good work coming through.
So what's the secret to being an excellent writer? Brod says to sit down and plan to write your very worst. Write something that isn't good. Something that is full of mistakes and errors and problems. Then go back to it and make it better. And then do it again. Make it better. Again and again, until you can't make it any better.
Then read it out loud to someone else. Doing that makes you hear it in a brand-new way--you see different flaws and mistakes. Then sit down and make it better again.
I loved this advice: Never ask yourself, Is it good? Ask yourself, How can I make it better?
So I am going to sit down with my book and I am going to make it better. Because I don't know if it's any good, but I do know that I can make it a lot better.
(He also said that dreams are meant to be broken--that's the first step to them coming true. When they move from a delicate bubble in your imagination to taking form in the real world, they often break. The artist's job is to cry, feel sorry for yourself, and then get to work building those dreams again.)
My only regret: Once the kids were dismissed to their classrooms and recess, I didn't go up to Brod and introduce myself. I was suddenly overcome with shyness and rushed out the door. Ack! I know how nice it is to hear thanks and good job and I was inspired--and at the same time, hey I'm also a poet writing for kids can we stay in touch. Self-marketing, networking, not my thing. Yet.