Maribeth Boelts gave an engaging and thought-provoking talk to my students and I last week. She talked about so much more than just her books and her process — though she did that too. She talked a lot about writers and writing, which inspired me to pull out the manuscript I finished in November and do something with it! (It’s time for me to revise!)
In addition to providing me with the jump-start I needed, Maribeth shared so much the class in a little over an hour. Some big ideas that resonated with me were:
- Writers need to study how authors put books together. (This was the essence of the course I taught, but it bears repeating.)
- When something grabs a writer’s attention, writers go after it because they’re curious.
- If you want to write, ask yourself, “What deeply matters to me?”
- Start with the most urgent thing at the beginning of the story.
- When you’re exploring the characters you’re creating, it’s important to ask yourself, “Am I giving my main character enough obstacles to overcome and are they increasingly difficult?”
- When words capture you, you collect them and capture them.
Maribeth provided us with background information on her books, including Happy Like Soccer and Those Shoes, which we studied in depth. Both were created by weaving a few different people, moments, and events together. The basis of Those Shoes, for instance, came from three events: a memory from sixth grade, a kid who came back to a class Maribeth student-taught in with shiny, black dress shoes, and from a child she witnessed needing new shoes because the old ones were too small. If you know Those Shoes, then you are aware that she took the story beyond a desire for a fad. Instead, Jeremy gives up on those trendy shoes in exchange for something he needs more: a caring friend.
One of the most interesting parts of Maribeth’s visit came when she shared some of her drafts with us. She showed us four drafts of a book she recently sold, which I believe will be called What’s Mine. She took us through her drafts, which aren’t just her writing. They’re also her responses to her own writing. Maribeth showed the class that she acts as her own editor and critic. She gives herself advice, tells herself when something is missing, and suggests new possibilities. Having her walk us through her drafts was powerful since it helped the teachers in the room have more context about the revision process (which they can share with their students in writing workshop going-forward).
Maribeth was incredibly gracious during the autographing time I set aside. Knowing she had a plane to catch, I had my students write their names on sticky notes on the title page of each book they wanted her to autograph. I figured that would expedite things. However, instead of just signing books, Maribeth took the time to speak with each of my students. (The joy of teaching a graduate seminar with reasonable numbers!) She made a personal connection with each of them while she was signing. How incredible is that?
If you use Maribeth’s books in your classroom, then I highly suggest bringing her to your school for a visit. (She also does Skype visits.) She kept my students and I engaged for over an hour and I am confident she would do the same with an auditorium full of kids.