Are You Smarter than a Sixth Grader?

Having spent time with 81 sixth-graders in three writing classes today, I can say I am indeed smarter — in most cases. But Miss Guttag’s classes had some great questions when I visited her at school. Just about every year since my friend Miss Guttag started teaching, I’ve come in to her classroom to talk about writing and how much professional writers and student writers have in common. A short list:

  • The challenge of coming up with new ideas
  • Finding the best story in those ideas
  • The benefits of having a plan before you start to write
  • The need for revision. Lots of revision

The classes all wrote questions ahead of time on index cards, and I got to pick which ones to answer. Some of the questions were asked often, like, “How did you become a writer?” “What is your day like?” and “What do you do if you have writer’s block?”

No Such Thing as Stupid Questions

Two of my favorite questions happened to be back-to-back in the stack of cards, which made for an easy answer: Have you ever had any other jobs besides being a writer? and What inspired you to be a writer? Yes, I have had jobs besides being a writer, and they were awful (waitress) or boring (data entry). That is what inspired me to be a writer.

There were also out-of-nowhere questions, like, “Does your hand hurt?” from the kid who gets writer’s cramp. (No. I type.) Or “Are you famous? Like, very famous?” (No. Lady Gaga and I do not hang out. Which I regret.)

If you freelance writers out there want a boost, go talk to a room full of kids. Tell them you write about Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and that you set your own schedule, all day every day. Tell them you sit at your desk and write for as long as two hours at a time — without a break — and listen to them marvel at your stamina. After you’ve described the ins and outs of your craft in the plainest terms, bask in the glow of a room full of people under five feet tall clapping for you and your achievement.

I may be smarter — and taller — than a sixth grader, but they are pretty awesome kids.