word craft



Avi Skype visitOver the years I have had count­less vis­its with read­ers, teach­ers, and librar­i­ans in class­rooms all over the coun­try. My first such vis­it was in 1970. There is not a state into whose schools I have not walked. Such vis­its are reward­ing, inter­est­ing, and often fun. My goal is for every­one to enjoy the ses­sion. It is not a lec­ture. It’s a dis­cus­sion. I like to engage with the kids, hop­ing to learn about them, work­ing to make sure they know I’m inter­est­ed in them, even as they are inter­est­ed in me.

But in more recent times, while I still vis­it class­rooms in per­son, more often than not I vis­it via Skype. There are many rea­sons for this. A vis­it to an actu­al class room requires fair­ly com­plex, entire school orga­ni­za­tion. In con­trast, a Skype vis­it is essen­tial­ly one on one—the teacher and me. Actu­al­ly bring­ing me into a class room involves trans­porta­tion, lodg­ing, meals, etc. The social­iza­tion I engage in is very reward­ing, but it can be expen­sive, and time-con­sum­ing. And, it must be said that transportation—usually by air—is not a very pleas­ant expe­ri­ence these days.

In con­trast, set­ting up a Skype vis­it is sim­ple. You just have to agree on a time. Time zones can be a puzzle—try Col­orado and Thai­land. The school also needs to check on equip­ment and poten­tial prob­lems like hid­den fire­walls. A tech­ni­cal check between me and the school is gen­er­al­ly nec­es­sary. It takes five min­utes if all works well. If it doesn’t, there is time to trou­bleshoot with­out a class of fret­ful kids in tow.

Class­es often prep by dis­cussing which ques­tions to ask. I’ve learned that a class dis­cus­sion about use­ful ques­tions is often in itself a learn­ing experience.

I do charge for a Skype visit—a hun­dred dollars—but I do so because I’ve learned it’s too easy to walk away from a planned vis­it if there is not some form of com­mit­ment. Alas, mon­ey works.

Hav­ing done these Skypes for a good num­ber of years, I now vis­it a fair num­ber of class­rooms on an annu­al basis. Often it comes at the end of a class author study of my books. The kids read one book togeth­er, and anoth­er of mine that they choose.

The Skype vis­it for­mat is extreme­ly sim­ple. It’s a full hour. For a giv­en class, every stu­dent gets to ask me at least one ques­tion. More often than not, they get to ask more. I encour­age teach­ers to ask ques­tions too. Curi­ous­ly, more kids par­tic­i­pate dur­ing Skype vis­its than when I actu­al­ly go to class­es. Usu­al­ly, there is a lot of laugh­ter dur­ing these ses­sions. I real­ly enjoy them.

Do I have a mes­sage to share in these vis­its? To the extent that I have one, it is pri­mar­i­ly to pro­mote read­ing. When shar­ing my writ­ing expe­ri­ence, it’s about research, rewrit­ing, that what I do is work—work I like to do—but work nonethe­less, work to pay bills. I try to human­ize the writ­ing expe­ri­ence, seek­ing to reduce the dis­tance between read­er and writer.

What do I get out of it? For me it’s cru­cial that I make con­tact with real read­ers to learn what works and what doesn’t work. Not least of all, their enthu­si­asm and excite­ment is a spur to more writ­ing. When con­sid­er­ing Skyp­ing, think shar­ing, by every­one, read­er and writer.

For more infor­ma­tion about my Skype vis­its, click here.

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