Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I enrolled in my local junior college as a petrified, fresh-off-of-homeschooling college freshman. My first semester, I met Audrey Wick, who taught Grammar & Rhetoric (ENG 1301 – or 101 for you four-year folks.) I didn’t know it, but I’d lucked into not only a wonderful semester, but a 14 years-and-counting friendship. Over my college career, I took two more classes from Audrey – American Lit II and Pilates – and loved every minute of them. When I found myself in my crisis pregnancy, she was pregnant with her little boy, and she was encouraging and understanding when I began the fall semester at 38 weeks pregnant. She’s really a one-of-a-kind college instructor, and I hope my kids will have the privilege of taking one of her classes in the future!
Besides the encouragement and grace extended to me, she has taught me much about writing prose, specifically the importance of cohesiveness, word choice, and engaging your audience. Her own writing has been published in several regional newspapers and even college literature textbooks. I’ve enjoyed following her writing career over the years. So, I was THRILLED when she told me early this year that her new book, Finding True North, had found a publisher and would be released this spring! I greedily devoured the story about a newly single mom living in a small town in Texas, and the relationships in her life. I enjoyed the descriptions of the setting, which was truly representative of what I know small town life to be like. I also appreciated reading about the protagonist’s struggle with the emotions, developments, and decisions that came about as a result of her divorce and the fears and uncertainties around beginning a new chapter in her life. I think it was a nice dose of perspective for me as a married woman, giving insight into what challenges my divorced friends and family might be facing. And that, in turn, gives me a place to start in my encounters with these members of the Body of Christ.
My daughter Elizabeth (11) has recently discovered a love for writing stories. She has gobbled up a few books written to help young writers, notably Writing Magic and Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine (she wrote Ella Enchanted!) She still had some questions, though, so we thought it would be fun to ask them of Audrey – a published writer with a kiddo the same age as Elizabeth. Without further ado, here are Elizabeth’s questions, Audrey’s answers, and then a few of my own questions for her about how we as parents can encourage our young writers. Enjoy!
Elizabeth: How can I grab the reader’s attention in the opening part of my story?
Audrey: Openings should hook the reader, and one way to do that is to start in the middle of the action. Dialogue can be a powerful way to accomplish this. If the audience can hear your characters and experience the action, they might be hooked!
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Elizabeth: How do you come up with words or phrases that are descriptive so that your reader can visualize the characters and setting?
Audrey: Description is one of my favorite techniques to use in writing, especially to convey universal experiences. For instance, we all know how it feels to be excited. If you want your characters to see excitement, you have to show it through a character. Sensory details like flushed cheeks, a flutter in the stomach, an uncontained smile, or rhythmic toe tapping can do that. The same is true of setting: paint the picture for the reader using your words.
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Elizabeth: How do you get your thoughts together and organize them?
Audrey: For fiction writing, I make sure I have a story to tell before I write it. I draft a quick version of it—in 5 or 6 pages—where I hit the high points of the storyline to make sure there is enough conflict, development, and resolution to carry a 300-page novel. The details get added later.
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Elizabeth: What is your favorite book? Do you have any reading recommendations for an aspiring youth author like me?
Audrey: When I was your age, my favorite books were series. I particularly liked Hank the Cowdog and The Babysitters Club. That’s because I could identify with the storylines, and the books challenged me to think about what I would do if I were in the characters’ situations. Read what you like. Enjoy a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Try graphic novels. Don’t think you dislike something until you give it a chance. And don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from librarians. They are experts, and they can help match you with books you might enjoy. Keep reading, and keep writing! I hope to read your stories one day.
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Wendy: In your work with college students, what do you find to be the biggest obstacle or challenge for their ability to write well?
Audrey: Often students’ biggest challenge is thinking they can’t do it. That may be a result of never having tried or never being encouraged to do so. In class, we approach writing as a process, so modeling the craft, breaking down the process into steps, and showing them how to edit can result in some impressive final products.
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Wendy: How can we, as parents, encourage kids to write?
Audrey: If you want to encourage your children to write, create a literary environment for them. Let them see you writing—everything from grocery lists to thank you notes—and let them see you reading. Children develop habits by what they see, so if you want them to write, they need to see the value in it.
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Wendy: Of all the essays you’ve read and graded over the years, which one stands out the most in your mind and why?
Audrey: Students have written lots of memorable pieces over the years, particularly in their journal assignments where they get a great deal of freedom when it comes to expression. One assignment that has resulted in the most poignant, bittersweet, and heartbreaking responses is when I ask students to describe their most vivid childhood memory. Little did I know how therapeutic this assignment would be for so many of my students! Their trust in me to read their responses reminds me of the importance of my job—and of the power of writing.
– BONUS! LAGNIAPPE! (Couldn’t help myself…) –
Wendy: Describe your ideal place to write.
Audrey: I can write pretty much anywhere, and I can draft on paper as well as I can draft on a word processor. Often, I write at my dining table with the blinds of a nearby window open so that I feel less isolated. But I would love to write on a long vacation, particularly from a cozy corner room overlooking Mount Esja and the coastline of Reykjavik. I enjoy traveling, and Iceland is one of my favorite countries.
What tips do you have to encourage young writers? Share them in the comments below, then head back to This Ain’t The Lyceum for more Quick Takes!
Audrey Wick is a full-time English professor at Blinn College and just released her debut novel. Finding True North is women’s fiction set in Texas, and its sister story Coming Home releases in July 2018. In addition to fiction writing, Audrey’s non-fiction has appeared in college textbooks published by Cengage Learning and W. W. Norton as well as in The Houston Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel, and various literary journals. Audrey believes the secret to happiness includes lifelong learning and good stories. But travel and coffee help. She has journeyed to over twenty countries—and sipped coffee at every one.
Learn more about Finding True North and read the first chapter for free here: http://tulepublishing.com/books/finding-true-north/.
Stay up-to-date with release information for Coming Home here: http://tulepublishing.com/books/coming-home/