Growing up, I wished for conflict. Of course, I didn’t call it that. I just thought my life was boring. I’d watch movies and read books drenched in ancient drama, victorian romance, World War devastation, and cold war tension, and think, “I wish my time wasn’t so boring. Nothing interesting ever happens now.” I was nostalgic for a time I’d never experienced. The 90s were so uneventful, in my mind, that I couldn’t imagine anyone from my generation would write anything worth reading.
My all-time favorite teacher—my sixth grade teacher—was the first person to tell me how silly I was for thinking this way.
Our assignment was to write an autobiographical narrative. I marched up to Mr. Neunaber’s desk and said, defiantly, “I have nothing to write. I haven’t lived enough!” What I meant was that I had not yet experienced the kind of drama and conflict and adventure that was required for a good story—autobiographical or otherwise.
My teacher told me that I had lived plenty. “And,” he said,”I’ll prove it in ten questions.” He proceeded to ask me ten questions about myself. Each revealed a unique perspective of mine, an experience I had stored up, or a story that was living inside of me, waiting to be told. I can’t recall exactly what his questions were, but I can remember several of my answers. And I remember how the questions made me feel: relevant and unique. More importantly, though, Mr. Neunaber’s questions took away my excuses—for the rest of my life. Even today, when I whine to myself that I have nothing to write about, I think of my favorite teacher and his questions. And I shut up and write.
Our job in guiding our DeepKids through the writing process is not unlike what Mr. Neunaber did for me in the sixth grade. Only, after having written together for several weeks already, we have tons of material (aka “seedlings) from which start. Oftentimes, our students don’t realize the potential, the inherent conflict, the drama, the adventure, the universal but unique message hiding inside of themselves. All we have to do is make them aware of themselves and encourage them to be courageous enough to share it with the world.
Here are a few of Mr. Neunaber’s questions (as well as I can remember, anyway):
What’s the most surprising place you’ve been?
When you win something or do a good job at something, who do you tell first? Why?
What was your favorite thing to do when you were younger? Why don’t you do it anymore?