Do you want to write a book? Find the space where it would live on a library shelf and make yourself a promise.
What follows is an excerpt from Jack Gantos’ fabulous new book “Writing Radar.” Jack is an award-winning children’s fiction author, and now he has a new book called “Writing Radar” that’s something of a “how to” book to help children get started writing creatively and seeing themselves as writers. Like most things from Jack, it’s funny and interspersed with stories, so the story leading up to the excerpt is about how he stole his older sister’s journal when he was a kid.
After my run in with Betsy, I restarted my journal mission – and this time I did it the right way no funny business.
Here's what I did, and what I'm about to tell you is exactly what I want you to do.
I made a deal with myself and took an oath that would change my entire life.
After school I was in the library helping the librarian, Mrs. Hammer, reshelve books. She has a last name that made her sound tough, and she was. She had been fired from two other schools for "abusive behavior." I wasn't sure if that meant abuse of kids or abuse of books or both, but I knew that when she hit a kid with a book both kid and book suffered. But she also had a big heart and protected me from all the wicked kids who never read but just sharked around the library looking for trouble. So I was happy to help her out whenever she asked.
Well, I had a book cart full of returns I was reshelving. You can probably guess that the G section was my favorite reshelving territory. That day I did what I always did. As I pushed my book cart I ran my fingers across the spines of the G authors until I came to my future book slot, the one with GALDONE on one side and GEORGE on the other. I could imagine my book, with my last name, GANTOS, fitting snugly on the shelf between those two authors. Of course I didn't have a book with my name and title on it to reshelve between GALDONE and GEORGE, so I shoved in the next best thing—I stuck my hand between those books and wiggled it back-and-forth until I opened up a dark, vacant slot. As I stood there a powerful feeling came over me, and I lowered my head.
My father always told me that a man's handshake is as good as his word. And so with my hand pressed between those books I whispered an oath and promised myself that I would begin to write a book—no matter how hard the task—and I’d trust and believe in myself and I wouldn't be a quitter and my book would someday fit exactly where my hand was now.
I placed my other hand over my heart. "I give my word of honor," I said gravely, and then slowly shook hands with that empty slot.
Once I removed my hand I quickly finished up my library work. I waved goodbye to Mrs. Hammer and marched out the library door and down the street to the stationary store while thinking deeply about my oath and what I had to do to keep it.
I had saved my chore money, and at the store I bought an inexpensive new journal. It was a small black book that was an artist sketchbook. There was no lock on it. The pages were unlined and unnumbered for drawing, and the binding was strong because I dropped my books a lot. The black book came with no directions or rules. Whatever I wrote inside of it, good or bad, was up to me. The sharp tip of my pen was now the boss of every word in the dictionary, and it felt good to be the boss of something as amazingly powerful as the entire English language. All I had to do was to tell each word where to line up. That sounded easy enough, but I suspected it wasn't easy. Words always have a mind of their own.
As it turns out, my writing oath became one of the most important promises I ever made to myself—and it was a promise I kept. So I want you to go to your library and find exactly where your future book with your name on it will fit on the shelf. Then I want you to shove your hand into that slot and promise yourself that you, too, will write a book and that someday it will be on the library shelf for some reader to check out and take great pleasure in reading.
Yes, I want you to do that. Not just for me, but for yourself. Now, do it!
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