Tracy K. Lorenz ...


The Process

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Meisner’s 7th and 8th grade language arts students at my Alma Mater, Muskegon Catholic Central, this week.I’ve noticed whenever I get asked to speak at a school it’s always right before the school year ends and the teachers and kids are about to strangle each other after being cooped up together all year.  Remember when you were in school and the teacher would wheel in a TV for some lame video at the end of the year? I am that TV.

Speaking at a private school as opposed to a public school is different in a number of ways. Perhaps the most difficult (for me anyway) is the private school kids are very respectful, they sit perfectly still in their seats but they’re kinda emotionless, there’s not a lot of laughter. I image it’s like doing standup in Japan. 

That’s not a knock on the private school kids, they were very attentive, they asked good, solid, questions.  When I speak at public schools, the questions are “Where you get that belt? What kind of car you drive?”; at the private school it was “What made you decide to become a writer?”  and “What is your process for writing?”

And that’s where the whole thing kind of fell apart. When I was asked “What is your process for writing,” I had to admit I don’t have one. My basic routine is I get a nasty text from my editor saying “Where’s your column?” and then I quick find a computer and type what’s in my head at that exact second.


There’s no forethought, no outline, just panic. But it’s worked for the last thirty years. I think if you can write you can write. It can’t really be taught, you can learn how to spell, and you can learn sentence structure and verbs and stuff, but you have to know how to put the letters in order, that’s the tricky part.

But the hardest portion of my little speaking gig was trying to talk about the newspaper biz with a bunch of kids who have probably never read (or held) a newspaper in their life. I might as well have been talking about how to conk a dinosaur on the head with a rock. It was also hard to talk about any career opportunities in journalism because I’m not sure there are any, so that was a bit of a wicket.

So basically I spent an hour and a half just talking about past columns. Luckily a few of the kids had read my past books and they asked me questions about those. A kid would ask about throwing coconuts in Belize or being Furious Fred and then I’d prattle on about that for a few minutes while Mrs. Meisner questioned her speaker-choosing protocols.

But all in all I had a great time, I got to get out of the office, I got to see a glimpse of our future, and I got to do it in a classroom I couldn’t wait to get out of four decades ago. It’s weird how life works: I spent years driving around, traveling the world, and when it all shakes out I end up standing in the front of the exact same desk I sat at forty years ago. Well, not EXACTLY in front, I was about three feet to the ... right.

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