While her mom and I had a meeting, the 9-year-old girl sat quietly drawing and writing on blank copy paper. "I'm writing a book," she said, but when I asked to see it, she covered it up. "It's not done," she said.
"That's okay," I said. "Sometimes writers need to keep their ideas under wraps until they're ready to share." Then we had a little talk about what it's like to be a writer at the tender age of 9.
I don't encounter a lot of preadolescent writers, but when I find one, I feel the need to encourage her, especially when I'm aware of what's waiting on the road ahead. I used to judge some regional Power of the Pen writing competitions, and I always enjoyed reading work produced by preadolescents. The younger students' writing skills may be relatively unsophisticated, but their imaginations remain free and untrammeled by social convention, with a fearlessness that feels as if it could change the world.
Something happens when the adolescent hormones kick in, though, as if those swirling chemicals drain confidence and combine with social pressure to squeeze the imagination into certain set patterns. Instead of bold, original, fearless writing, suddenly there's a stack studded with vampire romance, Game of Thrones fanfiction, or adolescent revenge fantasy.
Of course not all writers follow this path, and those who do may find a way to recover the freshness and fearlessness they once knew. If I could find a way to bottle those characteristics, I'd be rich, but instead I do my part to encourage budding writers wherever I find them.
"Someday when you're ready to share, I'd love to see your work," I told my friend's daughter this morning, "but even if you don't want to share, you should keep writing. Because that's what writers do."