Writing Rule # 1

The young woman sitting in front of me scrambled frantically into the depths of her bag and came up empty. I recognized her problem. She couldn’t find a pen or pencil.

We were at the WIK 13 [Writing and Illustrating for Kids] conference sponsored by the Southern Breeze area of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Matt de la Pena was giving the keynote speech – not a good time to be without a writing instrument. I passed a pen up to her and waited until after the speech to share Rule # 1 and give her my own story.

I had been writing devotional material regularly for a youth magazine that also carried a few feature articles. On a visit to my sister Gwyn, we went to a local church to hear a trio that I had previously heard with our mother. Gwyn had taught math to the young men in high school and they were returning for a concert in their home town as they neared the end of college.

Rule # 1, which I had heard many times, is “Writers should never leave home without paper and a writing instrument.” I could see the sense in it since one never knows when an idea will strike. Most of the time, I followed it. On this occasion, it had slipped my mind.

As the leader of the group interspersed funny stories with the music, I knew quickly I had the material for a feature story for the magazine. What I did not have was pencil and paper. Gwyn scowled and did her schoolteacher signal for quiet. To silence me, she found a stub of a pencil in the pew. I pulled out my checkbook and began to take notes on the back of old duplicate checks.  Throughout the concert, I took barely legible notes. I grilled Gwyn for more information when we returned to her house.

I returned home, wrote the query, and got an acceptance by return mail. I enjoyed writing the article and getting the byline when it ran, and I learned a valuable lesson. Other writing rules may sometimes need to be broken. This one – never!

The young woman, at the beginning of her writing career, laughed at my story and assured me that she, too, had learned her lesson. Maybe after this experience, she will also carry a spare to help a fellow writer in need.