What a great event – Cory Elementary School’s Family Literacy night!

I always enjoy waxing poetic about how and why literature matters in this world, but it gives me even greater pleasure when I see such an enthusiastic and receptive audience as this community of students and parents.

Some of the questions posed by these aspiring young authors left me, literally, speechless. I felt as if I were at an adult writers’ conference and not an elementary young authors’ night.

Young Tessa for example asked me (paraphrasing here, as I cannot remember her exact words, which were probably far more eloquent than mine!)

“If you find inspiration to write by reading a lot of books, how can you be sure that your work is then not derivative and unoriginal?”

Wow!  What a great question.

I told Tessa that this was the sort of question that could not be answered on the spot but deserved much more mulling over and pondering.  Off the top of my head, I did say that for the most part, at their age, they should not concern themselves overmuch with thinking that their work might be heavily influenced by what they have read.  After all, most writers quite honestly will admit that the do sort of “steal” ideas from  other books and authors – not in a literal, word for word way, but rather in a more fluid, intangible, almost accidental way.  And most writers will certainly say that they have been influenced by other authors: JK Rowling credits C.S. Lewis for much of her inspiration, C.S. Lewis credits G.K.Chesterton and other examples abound.

Marcus Aurelius tells us “The color of our thought dyes our soul,” and so when we read stories that touch our hearts with wisdom and wonder, beauty and truth, then of course, all those thoughts will indeed ”dye” our soul and consequently, our stories.

All this tangle of thoughts lets me answer Tessa’s question now by saying,

“Perhaps it is true – “there is nothing new under the sun.” When we write, we are tapping into our hearts and souls – into our very essence and this essence has been influenced by all that we have thought and read and loved our whole lives – so in that sense, what we write may not be all that original, unless……

We make sure to breathe our own life into it – take an old idea, an old story, and old image and make it FRESH with our words, with our way of looking at it from a different angle.  Trust in our own unique way of seeing the world, of loving it, and wondering at it.

Oh, and another question that made me catch my breath,

“How do you cope when publishers reject your work?”  (Most adults, let alone elementary students, are completely oblivious to the fact that even authors who have been published multiple times still have their work rejected.

Such an insightful and forthright question warranted an honest reply, and so I had to say, albeit sheepishly,

“BADLY!”

Rejection never gets any easier no matter how often it happens.  But….evenings such as this one that honors and celebrates Literacy makes up for that.

Thank you Cory Elementary Community!