Friday, August 5, 2016


I took the headfirst plunge into full-time writing straight out of grad school. In order to pay the few bills I had (I’d never taken out a student loan, so I had no school debt), I decided to teach music lessons out of the house. It was the perfect setup: I’d write in the morning and early afternoon, then when the kids got out of school, I’d start teaching. 

I was still pretty young when I started teaching (about 25), so it wasn’t like there was a ton of age difference between me and my students. BUT: we’d had a technological revolution. When I started high school, we didn’t have an answering machine in the house. I typed my earliest college papers on a Smith Corona. Computers were for university computer labs. They certainly weren’t something you were glued to, toted everywhere…

I was sure the kids who showed up would be savvier. More worldly, somehow. They’d be different than the kids I went to school with. I was sure that, even at 25, they’d see me as kind of an old-timer.
And then…they showed up. And after a while, once they got to know me, they just started talking. They’d tell me about teachers. Or friends. And the crazy thing was, they were still going through the same things my friends and I went through when we were ten, or twelve, or fifteen. The fashion had changed. They listened to digital music instead of CDs. They carried phones instead of fighting over the family landline. But sixteen was still sixteen.

So while it’s important to stay (or get) current—to know what kids wear, how they talk, what they’re into—you already know what it’s like to be a teen. Because you were one once. Reconnect with that person. Dig through any high school stuff you might have: flip through yearbooks. Listen to your favorite songs from high school. Even reconnect with an old high school friend on Facebook. If you’ve got an old diary or journal, that’s a goldmine. Remember who you were, at the core, when you were fifteen. I guarantee that there are fifteen-year-olds who feel just like that today…


  1. This reminds me of what I once read about C.S. Lewis and Narnia--that he learned to write for children from BEING a child. For anyone who works with or for children and young adults, it's so important not to forget what it was really like to be 8, or 10, or 15, or 18.

    1. It's so true! When you reconnect with teen-you, you also wind up writing with such strong emotion!

  2. The real stuff always stays the same, doesn't it?

  3. So true, Holly. While my teen years sometimes require a telescope to view, I can pull up emotional vignettes that still feel fresh.

  4. Thanks, guys! It's amazing how much never really changes...

  5. You've inspired me to read some of my old high school journals, Holly!