The thing about being an author is that most of us are a little off in one way or another. Maybe we talk too loud, or too quietly. Maybe our hair isn’t quite right, or even if we do get it perfect then you can bet our mascara is screwed up — and that’s probably because the only tube we own expired five years ago but we’re a frugal people and it’s still half full. And this is us as adults. Functioning ones who carry full time jobs on top of writing.
Imagine us as teens, and you get an even more awkward picture. A lot of us were the girl in the library, the quiet guy who was nice but it wasn’t quite enough to get him out of the Friend Zone. Or we made awkward jokes that most people didn’t get, and inundated the few close friends we had with enough pop culture references until at least one person laughed (that last line might be a little too close to home).
So when you take that person – one who has acquired a least a little more self-confidence through the process of getting published and achieving their life goal – and you put them in front of a room full of high schoolers… they should be fine, right? I mean, they made it. They’re cool now.
Except in our own heads, we’re none of those things.
We’re still the kid who didn’t have the right clothes because we couldn’t be bothered to care (then or now), or whose chin was always breaking out because we rest our face in our hands when we’re thinking – and we think a lot.
This is why a lot of authors have a knee-jerk aversion reaction to doing school visits. It’s like pulling us off the ladder that we’ve tried so hard to climb, asking us to willingly put ourselves back into high school and – even worse – be the center of attention.
A lot of the advice I’ve seen about doing school visits has to do with reminding yourself that you’re an adult now. That you can walk through the halls without having to worry about fitting in or if you look perfect. And before I continue – don’t get me wrong, I never look perfect. That takes a team of professionals.
But I don’t walk into high schools and remind myself I’m an adult (except for the one I work at, because, you know, continuing employment is good). When I do a school visit I wear jeans and a t-shirt, I look around and wonder what it’s like to be a student there. I peg the cool kids in the hallway, the quiet ones and the angry ones, the resentful ones that don’t want to be here – and they definitely don’t want to have a goddamn assembly with an adult talking down to them.
And just like with writing I know that there’s a sliver of exactly who they are inside of me. Every character I write – even the heinous ones that you despise – have a little bit of me in them. And if I take that and apply it to the real world that means there are 400 seats in the auditorium filled by versions of me – the quiet, the angry, the confident, the lovestruck, the bitter, the anxious and the self-assured.
And I know exactly how to talk to myself. I do it all the time.
I’m a writer.