“Are there any writers here?”
Being a specialist in teaching writing, writer identity, emotions and writing, and writing research, I ask that question a LOT when I work with any group of people. I have asked it of college freshmen, kindergarteners, and students at every stage in between. I have asked it of beginning teachers and classroom veterans, of doctoral students and senior professors. I have asked people in school, in Sunday school, in the woods, and even by the pool. And for all of those groups of people, across all of those times and places, if the group is new to me, the answer to “any writers here?” is almost always “no.”
Most folks keep both their hands and their gaze down.
Some folks give an emphatic, “No! I hate writing!”
Some folks raise a timid hand for yes, then lower it as they see nobody else is.
Lots of folks ask or tell what “counts” as being a writer.
The older they get, the fewer writers seem to be in the room. Younger kids will say they’re writers if their teacher has been saying it. (and how I love those teachers!) Older ones will say it, but will often qualify it, like “well, I write, but I’m not a writer-writer; I’m a kid.” With teens and adults, maybe one or two in a room usually will claim the label “writer.” These often either journal regularly or have published something.
Lots of teens and adults say with regret, “I used to be.”
Sometimes someone brave says, “I want to be.”
A lot of my work is about helping all these people (and their teachers!) get from feeling like non-writers who can’t write or hate writing to feeling like writers who can write and do write, even if they also hate writing. We build confidence and stamina, we learn to find and grow ideas, and we learn how to work in a writing community. If we keep at it, we learn to live with the difficulty that never really goes away (writing is hard!).
But today was different.
Today I visited a group of pre-kindergarteners I had never met. We gathered on the carpet, and like always, I asked the question. “Are there any writers here today?”
I blinked, and every hand in the room was up. Intrigued, I asked them to point to any writers around them. Many of course pointed to me– I had been introduced as a real author! But then, those small and pointy fingers started to move. One child pointed at another. A third child pointed at herself. Children pointed at the ones across the rug from them. A teacher pointed with all her fingers, spreading them like jazz hands aimed all over the carpet. Pretty soon fingers were waggling and twirling, and a few whole arms swung around heads, pointing at any human in their paths!
A whole room of writers. And so, we got to work!