Ten times out of ten, if I see it coming, I cross to the other side of the street and refuse to make eye contact. (Same goes for other sketchy characters like furniture dusting, laundry and meal planning.)
Now don’t get me wrong. When I’m one-on-one, I can out-speedtalk a telemarketer any day of the week. But put me in front of a group of people expecting me to say something profound, and invisible claws latch onto the back of my neck and send electric prickles of sheer panic shooting across my scalp, down my spine, and out my toenails.
In fact, I only have to imagine myself looking across the sea of faces and whatever scrap of intelligible thought I have vanishes. My heart pounds and my internal thermometer hits about 194 degrees. Celsius.
But I love writing. And I love talking to other people about writing. Ask my poor husband, who has to hear me talk about “book stuff” on a regular basis. But I can’t help it; I have a passion for story and its power to change the lives of those it touches.
And sometimes passion makes you do crazy things.
So when the English teacher at the local Christian school asked if I’d be willing to come and talk about writing with the high school seniors, my crazy story-loving side jumped up and down and squealed Yes, oh yes, I want to do this in the worst way while the rational side of my brain screamed No, you can’t do this! You know you can’t! You’re too young to die!!!
Before Rational Emily realized what was happening, Crazy Story-Loving Emily blurted, “What would I talk to the students about?”
“Whatever you want,” the teacher said.
And suddenly it was a done deal.
Crazy Emily clapped her hands and danced around saying, “Isn’t this awesome?! A captive audience! People who have to stay and listen to me talk about book stuff. This is going to be so much fun!”
Rational Emily went home and threw up.
* * *The next day I sent a panicky email to a writing buddy and told her what I’d agreed to do.
Sally was supposed to say, “You did what?!”
Instead she said, “That’s great, Emily! The students will love you.”
Her confidence was so complete and sincere it had me feeling self-assured in an instant. I could do this. I could entertain high-school students. I could talk about writing and make it interesting and fun. I could go toe-to-toe with Seņor Public Speaking and watch that punk back right down.
“How do you know they’ll love me?” I asked Sally.
“Because you’re not their regular teacher. And you won’t assign homework.”
So I spent the next week
stressing thinking about what to discuss with twelfth graders. I jotted notes and prayed and jotted some more and prayed a whole lot more, and only three times did I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
And I’m here to tell you I did it.
I went in there talked about how much I love writing. I talked about story world and the three-act structure of a plot. I showed how to create empathy for characters, and how to build goal, motivation, and conflict into a novel.
But mostly I talked about the Hero’s Journey—how story is really about a reluctant character who accepts a challenge and, despite the self-doubt and internal flaws, steps through a doorway and embarks on a journey. How that journey will bring him to the brink, challenge the core of who he is, force him to face his demons and in the end leave him changed for the better.
Because he did what he never dreamed possible.