Teaching 12 Year Olds How To Write….Yeah I Know

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By Tabitha Makumi,
“I would like you to give a talk on what’s like to be a writer,” I laughed when a friend of mine who teaches at Riara University asked if I could advice 12 year olds on writing.

“Wait, what?!” That was me "flabbergasted" by the idea..the word is slowly growing on me. I could just use astounded but nah...flabbergasted it's.

“Did you zone out on me,” that was her staring at me waiting for some sort of response...reaction...anything...(sometimes I tend to do that….lose trail of my thoughts when someone is talking)
“Did you say teach 12 year olds how to write?” and that was me hoping that's not what she meant. Because, really?

You are at your friend’s apartment…it's Thursday evening, say around 8.30ish, you’ve just finished eating some home cooked meal, you are sitting at the sofa watching “Amanpour” on mute and your friend (who means well) has just brought up an idea you would like her to drop asap. (Btw, why do they call it "Amanpour" when she is not even hosting the show?...love her though)

Why with the second guessing? Well, for a number of reasons but mainly because no one taught you how to write. Well, you had a unit in creative writing at campus, kept a dear diary until the age of 17, read whatever you could get your hands on…and then you started to write. There’s no this big science or theory to it. But maybe there’s. I don’t know…which explains my amusement on the thought of teaching someone how to write... Let alone kids...holy moly....

She is the kind of person who has numerous humanitarian projects on the side. You know the sort of  peeps who are always committed in doing good deeds in the society… they make you feel like shit sometimes because you can't recall any good deed you've done recently?  Yeah.... she mentors young kids in Mathare, Kibera and in her rural home in Nyeri. Her husband works for a remote NGO in Turkana (something to do with equipping locals with farming equipment’s)…you get the drill, these are nice people and when one of them asks or rather requests if you want to “talk to 12 year olds on writing,” you goddamn say yes because c'mon!

But then you get home at around 11pm and start rethinking your decision. “What the hell did I did just agree to? Do 12 year olds even read your blog (I hope not), what will I say to them? What I will wear? Am I even qualified for this? Wait, when is this thing again? Should you just wing it or have a concrete plan of what you are going to talk about? Wait…..you are giving a talk to 12 years olds?

You are tempted to just call your friend and cancel. “I am sorry… I think I will have a cold on that day"…hehe...but the thought of cancelling on them kills you…so you decide to grow some balls, put on your big girl pants on and give a talk to 12 year olds who want to become writers.

“Why do you want to write though,” maybe you should ask them that. You could be anything you want to be in the world…why writer? Look at you trying to be all philosophical in the middle of the night. You decide to sleep on the idea. Maybe you are a shitty person after all and you will cancel the whole thing or deep down, there’s a nice human being who wants “to teach” young kids the basics of creative writing...stringing words together to make a sentence.

The “talk” happens on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We meet at The Clarion Cafe. Nothing formal…five kids, my "humanitarian" friend (she will kill me for this quotes thing..haha!) and her husband. Something really casual. What I had imagined before was something more like a Ted Talk or something....but jokes aside, I am in the mood of telling these kids “Listen here younglings. Forget about being writers and become doctors, lawyers, political analysts...

But of course I don't say this because at 12years, I wouldn't want anyone to tell me what or what not to be.  You grow up and figure it out on your own and make the rules as you go (lol). I just hope they don't romanticize the idea of being a writer. Although, there's something liberating and freeing about it.

“So, who’s your favourite author,” I hear myself ask

Ngugi wa thiongo and Chinua Achebe are among the favourites. The only girl in the group mentions “the harry potter author,”

“J.K Rowling,” I say and she nods and we start talking about how those harry potter books are quite voluminous and all. This is not how a serious and meaningful career talk is supposed to be or go down…right? No? I reckon so…I ask them why they want to write. “Form of expressing themselves,” “they just love and want to write,” “it’s a hobby,” etc etc.

I say a lot of things about sentences and dialogue and having your own writing style, reading whatever you can get your hands on, 1st draft, 2nd draft, joining writing competitions to see how you measure up with other young writers…yada yada yada…they nod…ask a few questions and then I remembered I brought a few books with me. (Not the most kid appropriate books...cringeworthy moments)

Now…I have a hard time parting with books. I don’t know why that is. But for this special occasion, I decide to part with 5 of them (ouch) because I am not sure what I’ve said this afternoon to these five kids holds any water. To one kid I give “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the kid looks at me like I am all kinds of crazy and I know why he is looking at me that way …word “feminist” Booo...big scary word..haha!

Here is the thing, I don't know if those kids will become writers, bloggers, authors or mascots...Que Sera, Sera...But I do hope they are happy with the decisions they make.

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