It’s easy to think that what you’re writing doesn’t matter. It could be years before it’s published, if it’s ever even published at all, and it’s hard to imagine that someone else is out there waiting to read your words.
While it’s true that many of the students I work with as a high school librarian are too concerned with their smartphones, sports teams, and other extra-curriculars to care much about your characters, there’s also a core group of readers out there practically salivating for more books.
I know one student who checks in daily about new books, even though he knows that we don’t get new books everyday. When I told him that we order many of our books online and therefore can’t necessarily pinpoint a delivery date, he simply insisted that was all the more reason for him to check daily. He just doesn’t want to miss the chance to read a new book before the rest of his peers.
I know a girl who checks out so many books that we often have to ask her to return them because others have put them on hold. These conversations can get a little dicey. She reads multiple books at a time, and she is very protective over the books she’s reading. First she gets mad, then a little sad, then she starts coming up with terms to a deal, like what if she finishes book x by Thursday if I agree to renew book y for two more weeks? It’s refreshing to see her so connected to the books she loves.
There’s this one guy who has no joke read every graphic novel we have. He’s barely ever said a word to me, and he rarely checks a book out, but he always sits in the same chair during his free block, devouring graphic novels. I buy new ones for him based on the notes he drops in our suggestion box, and every once in a while I’ll hand him something I think he’ll like. He doesn’t respond, instead just retreating to his chair, but I know if he likes it or not by the amount of time he spends with a particular title.
Our state teen-choice reading award is called the Green Mountain Book Award. We have a display of the fifteen nominees for this year and a punch-card with pictures of all the book covers. Students who read at least four books on the list (and get four punches) are then invited a special voting/make-your-own-sundae party in the spring. The student or students with the most punches will receive a gift card to our local independent bookstore. Long story short, one girl read five of the books over the summer and wanted to make sure that she got credit for it. She said that one of the books is her new favorite book and the writer of that book is her new favorite author and her mom could come in and tell us all about how many times over the summer she read that book and the other ones too and could we please find a way to punch her card even though she didn’t check the books out of our library. I didn’t make her mom come in.
I know one boy who’s pretty athletic and usually hangs around with his teammates. When they’re done doing a little group work and chatting and it’s time to leave the library, he often lingers, fiddling with his backpack or pretending to tie his shoe, that kind of thing. Once his friends are gone, he’ll head to the fiction section to grab something to read. Sometimes he’ll talk about books or ask for a recommendation, too. After he makes his selection, he calmly places the book in his bag and walks out. I don’t think his “friends” have any idea that he reads so much, but who cares? He clearly loves it, and it’s okay that it’s a private activity for right now.
There’s a girl who always notices when a display changes. New nonfiction? She reads the blurbs. QR codes linking to book trailers? She whips her phone out immediately. A sign? Reads it. A post on our webpage? Asks about it. And no matter what, she always has a book under her arm. Or two.
I enter the school building through a side door every morning. Without fail, I see two students in that section of hallway. The first is a girl sitting in the doorway of her first class, knees tucked up under her chin, a book about two inches away from her face. Sometimes she’ll look up and say hi, but most of the time she doesn’t. She’s too entranced with the novel. The second student is a guy who walks and reads. Sometimes he’s pacing up and down the hall, other times he’s practically spinning in circles, completely lost in the pages he’s trying to devour.
I could keep going, but I hope you get the point. These kids exist. Still. In 2013. Their brothers and sisters and friends exist, too. I see them every day. They crave your words at a level that is nearly impossible to explain, although I’ve tried. They need you to keep writing. They need you to stay confident. So please, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the blinking cursor in front of you, think of these readers or someone like them and just start typing. You never know who’s trying to peek over your shoulder from afar.
p.s. I needed this just as much as you did.
Peter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.
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