Walking into the elementary school, the smell in the air matched the exact scent I remembered from my childhood. I wondered if all schools mopped the squeaky floors with the same cleaner.
I found the third-grade hall and knocked on the door covered in student essays. I was admiring their neat penmanship when the teacher, who’d invited me to come talk to her class about writing, ushered me inside: “They’re ready for you,” she smiled.
The students were quietly sizing me up as I eased onto the small stool in the front of the room. I grinned at the dozen young faces constellated in a semicircle on the floor: Go ahead; ask me anything you want!
Hands shot into the air like little stars. They wanted to know how to get published!
So, I spoke a bit about submissions, namely, send your writing to the publishers that print what you enjoy and find meaningful. Students nodded and a few jotted notes in spiral-bound journals. It seemed to be going well.
Then a child toward the back introduced herself as Eden. Her young brow wrinkled as she asked quietly, “What if you get … rejected?”
That worry on her face. I recognized it in myself.
I said that everyone gets rejection letters. It stings, yes. Painfully so. But sometimes publishers reject manuscripts for murky reasons that have nothing to do with you.
Eden looked unconvinced. I tried harder.
I said that someone’s “No” today doesn’t prevent someone else’s “Yes” tomorrow. I said that some endings are actually beginnings, and that’s the best story to write.
I sensed the anxiety in the air was making everyone fidgety. I wanted to give Eden something more than a pat answer or cliché. I needed to give her something she could take with her. I remembered the writing advice: Show, don’t tell.
I spoke about Rachel Carson, a great poet of the sea who is best known as a fierce defender of the environment. Rachel Carson wrote books to save the world, I emphasized. Even she got rejections! When she received those letters, the great Rachel Carson took out her scissors and snipped those pages into butterfly collages.
Eden again: “Will you show us?”
Her teacher held up a stack of papers printed on the school’s official letterhead: “These will do beautifully!”
I know I can’t relive my childhood. I imagine that kids today face worries and pressures that I wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was their age. But after we had spent the rest of our hour spread over the floor, cutting and pasting and giggling together, I sauntered back down the school hallway toward the exit, deciding that the smell in the air was a mixture of fear and hope.