Other than birth and death, there’s no bigger transition than graduation. Here in coastal Maine, June is full of them—eighth graders even get one. For those of us left behind (I’ve been a writing coach at my local elementary school for nine years), it can feel a bit like a continuous loop, sixth graders turning into seventh graders, then eighth graders, then graduates, year after year.
This month, one of my early students is graduating from high school as valedictorian. In the fall he’ll be off to Middlebury to major in drama and writing. I’m terribly proud of him, but I have to acknowledge that I didn’t do much more for him than hold his coat while he got down to business. He was a writer from the get-go—all he needed was a chair, a keyboard, and maybe somebody saying “Wow. Cool idea.”
Here’s the thing: In a small, rural community like ours, everybody’s a coat-holder at some point or another, and we wear a lot of different coats, whether we’re organizing a benefit supper for a cancer patient or planning the Fourth of July parade. My valedictorian’s parents are farmers, and last time I worked with him on an independent study project he kept showing up with eggs and maple syrup. His mother spent years on the school board, and she’s a guiding light of the school garden that my pet organization, the Brooklin Youth Corps, tends and harvests for sale in the summer. His father, a forester and amateur playwright, cut down the dying spruces at my house for a pittance, and a few weeks later my partner and I read his wonderful play aloud during a car trip and gave him a critique when we got home. It’s another continuous loop.
From the day I entered it in 2004, I’ve found the writing community to be a similar loop of coat-holders. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in several group blogs: this one, of course, but also the Class of 2k8 and The Enchanted Inkpot. One of the best aspects of each has been the Yahoo listserve we’ve used to keep things organized. Yes, a lot of the time we’re talking about who’s doing what when. But also we share our successes and heartbreaks, and support one another through the sometimes harrowing publication process. I would have gone mad long ago without these amazing colleagues propping me up.
Also, there are a bazillion kind and generous souls out there on the web, eager to share what they know and ease the transition from dreamer to published writer. (I just typed “published writher” by mistake, which also is true.) The great-grandmama of kidlit message boards, of course is Verla Kay’s, which covers everything from research to syntax to finding other web sites. But also there’s Elana Johnson on query letters, and Holly Lisle and Darcy Pattison on just about all aspects of the craft.
And then get ready to hold someone else’s coat. In the meantime, tell us: Who’s held yours?