Next Time I’ll Bring Candy!

Last week– God. Was it only last week??? How time flies when you’re panicking about fitting the workshop you’re presenting in a week’s time into the allotted time-span having fun. Ahem. Last week, I was invited to talk to senior students at a local high school as part of the school’s literacy week.

It wasn’t my at kids’ high school — much to their relief I suspect. (Sooo embarrassing having mum rock on up to talk about what she does for a buck to their friends and classmates. They’d never live it down.) And I figured it wouldn’t be too stressful; a casual Q&A session based around the few guidelines I’d been given. (High school-aged kids = not being allowed to talk about my “adult” manuscripts *g*) I’d been on a couple of panels before, hosted a panel of other writers, given a workshop to our RWNZ Auckland Chapter…. How hard could this be?

Because I’m a big fan of being prepared for the worst, I spent a precious day typing up a few topics to talk about in case questions from the kids started off a bit slow. I even prepped a fun on-the-spot writing-type exercise for the kids to do — you know, in case the teachers might expect something interactive. And then I put all thoughts of the talk aside to continue working on the workshop I’m presenting at next weekend’s annual RWNZ conference.

Everything had been pretty casual so far as content of the talk. However when I received the school’s confirmation and schedule a couple days beforehand, turned out it was going to be a teensy bit more structured than I’d expected. Namely four hour-long talks to four separate groups of kids….

Yikes! I was supposed to give the same talk four times? To four different lots of kids? As if doing it once wasn’t going to be nerve-wracking enough. But the bottom line was I couldn’t afford to spend any more time prepping when my main focus had to be working on the workshop for the upcoming conference. And I sure didn’t want to be reading from notes and effectively giving an hour-long “speech” — couldn’t think of any quicker way to bore a bunch of teenagers witless. I had my back-up notes but I wanted to keep it casual and wing it.

Tuesday came and I set off in the car, trying not to let last-minute nerves get the better of me.

Sancta Maria Literacy Week 6Aug13I was shown to the library, and into the room where I’d be giving the talks. I was chuffed to bits to see that the staff had printed out some posters of my book covers, along with a publicity photo from way back when. (Note to self: update that photo!) My host chatted about some of the other guests… which only served to increase my nerves. From my perspective they were all very impressive people with a lot to offer the kids…. and I’m so not very impressive, and I wasn’t at all sure I had anything much to offer in comparison. My host must have sensed my worries, and she assured me I had a very different perspective to offer when it comes to the path to publishing. I figured I would be happy if I could make the kids aware that today they have more choices than ever if they choose to pursue a writing career, and that there’s no “right” way to become a published author.

So I sat and waited for the first group of kids… and tried to project “cool, calm and collected”, like it was an every day occurrence for me to be invited anywhere to talk about my writing and my books.

Here’s the thing with teenagers: I have two of them so I know they’re not at their best first thing in the morning. Turns out “not at their best” is ramped up still more when teenagers have come straight from a  morning assembly where they’ve had to sit still and listen to teachers for half an hour or so. So this first group? Zoned. Out. To. The. Max. Which resulted in no questions. Not a one. Despite me pausing periodically to ask if anyone had any questions and glancing around expectantly.

No one would meet my eye. Yep. This was a tough audience. And I bet they knew exactly why I frequently had to refer to those notes I’d hoped I wasn’t gonna need. I don’t think I was the only one who breathed a sigh of relief when the allotted time was up and they filed out of the library.

Afterward, their teacher lingered to tell me she’d enjoyed my talk and learned a lot — which was very nice of her and made me feel a little better. As for her kids? I have no clue whether anything I said resonated with them at all.

Thankfully, groups two through four were happy to oblige with questions.  (Though that might have been prompted by me starting each talk with mentioning the first group had been a real tough audience so I’d reeeeally appreciate them helping me out by asking loads of questions! Yep. Begging works.) I hope I had some valuable information to share about being a writer — even if I wasn’t an award-winning literary author like one of the later guests. And I hope at least something I said during that hour resonated with the kids and gave them something to think about.

Honestly? By the end of group four, I was plain wrung out.  And the first words out of my mouth when my husband got home and asked how it went were along the lines of, “Man, that was fricking haaaaard!”

DH is a veteran of giving talks and presentations. His advice? Next time bring a couple of bags of sweets… so you can toss one to each kid who asks a question. In his experience, bribes work really well with tough crowds. Only wish I’d been given that little piece of advice before I gave the talks!

As for the workshop I’m giving next week? At least everyone who enrolled in the workshop will be there because they want to learn what I have to teach — not because their teachers are making them. But I might bring sweets just in case.



P.S. And apparently I’m learning to keep my eyes open when a camera is pointed in my direction. Woohoo!

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