Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Talking About Writing With 6th Graders and Putting My Words Where My Mouth Is

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. -- Author Unknown

Every writer I know has trouble writing. -- Joseph Heller

Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.-- Sylvia Plath

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. -- Mark Twain

So, here I am last week down in Georgia talking to kids--6th graders--about writing. You'll notice that I didn't say  I'm teaching them how to write. That's a whole 'nother thing altogether. There are those of us "writers" who hold fast to the notion that you can't teach people how to write and I believe that's true up to a point. Once you have a pretty good idea of how to successfully and legally sequence words on a page, the rest is up to you--trial and error, error and trial. Lot's of them, errors and trials all lined up year after year. It's hard to find the right word to make lightning strike on the page--unless you're actually writing about lightning bugs and then I guess it's okay to use an almost-right word.

When you're in 6th grade, you've been writing for a while, maybe five years if you count the crayon phase (the crying/screaming phase will last all your writing life), but you're still in the process of learning the mechanics of the trade: When to use a semicolon, when to paragraph, where's the best place for this comma--that sort of thing. I let their teachers deal with that. I want stay popular.

No, what I do when I talk to elementary school kids about writing is just to entertain them and nothing is more entertaining to a group of grade schoolers than answering their questions about writing. This is because they see you as something you might not be--a famous and rich--and they are thrilled to be able to actually talk to you, a rich writer. And you are careful not to correct that misunderstanding, believe me. What do you care? They're just kids and what harm is there in pretending to be something your not, just for a few hours. That's what we writers do--we pretend.

The quotes above are from famous writers, the most famous being "Author Unknown." The advise gathered up in them is pretty representative of the questions the students asked me that day:

Do you re-write and proof read? A hundred times, a thousand times, a million times and there are still mistakes. It drives me crazy, bonkers, looney toons. I want to bite down on a lemon and swallow the rind but instead I go and buy a quart of ice cream and eat it all by myself.

Where do you get your ideas? I steal them from people who are more creative than I am---No, no! Just kidding! I steal them from people who are less creative than I am.

Is it hard to get published? Heck no. In this day and age you can get published tomorrow if you have enough money to pay someone to publish you. Oh, you mean is it hard to really get published, you know, by a real publisher? Yep. Damned near impossible. That's why make believe writers are making make believe publishers rich and real writers have to work so hard at it for so long and put up with years of rejection and dreams constantly turning to ashes in their mouths.

How many books have you written? About a thousand. Maybe a million, I can't remember. Really. I have a stinking pile of unpublished stuff as high as my ceiling. The neighbors are complaining and my wife is encouraging them.

Are you a millionaire? Yes, but don't tell my wife. Someday I'm going to surpise her and tell her she doesn't have to get up and go to work at the chicken processing plant anymore.

But it was not all work and no play while I was in Georgia. I also spent a week with my grandson and his mom and dad celebrating his 2nd B'day. Here he is in the expensive new garbage can I got him as part of his college fund investment because his grandad is so rich and famous.

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