Saturday, October 28, 2017

Generation NaNoWriMo

Lately I was invited to speak, along with two other local authors--Cheryl Carpinello and Jerry Fabyanic--about our experiences as professional writers to students at the Rocky Heights Middle School. My sons are in their thirties, and so I have little recent experience with young teenagers. I was curious about our audience and before the talk I shared my thoughts with Judi Hoist, their teacher and faculty advisor. Obviously, things have changed since I was an adolescent. Demographers and sociologists like to group populations by age and tag them with attributes to differentiate them from their predecessors--BabyBoomers, Generation X, Y, Millennials, etc., Though the students at Rocky Heights fall outside the scope of Millennials (born between 1983 and 2000) but since they share many of the same cultural traits--access to the Internet, cell phones, social media--they are for the moment classified as Millennials.

My perceptions were framed by the whining I've heard from older generations about Millennials--that they're helpless without a connection to the Internet, that they're spoiled and feel eminently entitled, and they're clueless about the world. However grownups have been complaining about the younger generation since ancient times.

The children now love luxury.
They have bad manners, contempt for authority; 
they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

Plus I've seen how my sons and their peers have stepped up to their responsibilities and challenges as have all generations before them.

This particular group of students was from the school's NaNoWriMo club. What impressed me was that they not only knew about National Novel Writing Month, but they actively participated in the event and in writing year round. Before the talk, Hoist proudly showed me a dozen books written and published by her students. The examples were indie-published by Amazon and showed a level of craft and application that eludes many adult wannabe writers that I've met.

The session began with Hoist counting noses and briefing the group about our visit. They then filed into the library and took seats. Hoist handed out snacks the students munched on and this seemed to have calmed them down. I counted 40 students with only five boys among them, and while it might be easy to draw the conclusion that boys are not as academically oriented as girls, in fact, the robotics club was going on at the same time, and there the boy/girl ratio was reversed.

Carpinello, Fabyanic and I were allotted an hour and a half, and beforehand we worried that the session would drag along. But once the Q&A began, the students proved eager to ask detailed questions and quiz us about our takes on various aspects of writing and publishing. What we didn't do was talk down to the students since they had a surprisingly keen grasp of the subject. The Q&A further deepened my impression of what these young scribes were capable of. Their questions focused mostly on the technical aspects of writing: asking about when and why would you use 3rd POV versus 1st person POV, what should go into a prologue, when is too much exposition?

The time quickly passed and at the end we sold a few books. The girls were especially drawn to Carpinello's high fantasy stories. On the way out we passed a rehearsal for the school play, and those students were every bit as serious about their craft as were ours in the NaNoWriMo club.

My takeaway from all this? Anecdotes about slackers and losers among the next generation make for interesting but misleading news stories. The next wave of leaders and movers are diligently at work and getting ready to take control when their time comes.


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Interesting to hear about your experience. Yes, I think the young have a tendency surprise us older folk and do what we least expect.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Oops, I mean the young tend to surprise us in a positive way ;)