Spending a summer living amongst the descendants of the ancient Mayans inspired me to write my first novel Jungle Crossing. I love to research before I write any story because I love to learn new things.
Long before I wrote any fiction, I wrote in diaries. I have rarely missed a day of journaling since I was fourteen years old. Even the shortest most boring entries end up telling a more complete story.
Sometimes rereading those old journals (I don't do it often) is painful, but doing all that personal writing has taught me how to access emotions in my fiction writing. I encourage young writers to keep a journal.
I talk about how I wasn't a superstar student. I like to encourage those kids whose potential isn't recognized by teachers, or anyone, but who have a passion for something and ambition to succeed.
I talk about how hard I worked to learn how to write. Again, keeping a journal helped me get to that personal and honest spot. But I still had to learn how to spell - and I still had to learn about the importance of meeting deadlines.
I still practice my writing skills by doing short writing exercises, writing short stories, and playing with writing. I rarely reread these pieces. Writing practice has taught me to write fast and without self-criticism. You can always make bad writing better!
I talk about learning to deal with rejection. I use to keep all my rejection letters in a notebook, but now writers get ignored more than rejected. We still have to figure out a way to keep going. I often talk about how many novels I've written (12) versus how many I've sold to be published (5). Every story I've written has taught me something new - and I have no regrets! I will only regret not writing the stories I hoped to tell.
I always emphasize that writing is a skill that's important to every single person in the modern world. Some of us will end up writing stories, but others will write grants so that they can do their scientific research, fund their nonprofit work, or report about some other aspect of their business.