A Favorite Chautauqua Quote

While pulling together bios for this year’s Chautauqua attendees, I became entranced by this quote from Dora Yuet Lan Tsang of Hong Kong:

My best advice came from Max, a seven-year-old. One day I asked, “Max, when you grow up, what would you like to become?” Bewildered, he frowned and answered, “Of course, I would like to be myself. What else would I want to become?”—Dora

I don’t know about you guys, but as a shy kid I spent a lot of energy trying to either disappear or appear to be someone more amazing than who I thought myself to be. It’s taken me many years to figure out that what I should always have been doing was becoming the best version of Kim I could be. In other words, the only life I should have been living was the one granted to me and me alone–complete with scabby knees, cat-eye glasses, and scraggly strawberry-blonde hair. A life sogged out by humid Georgia days and kept in line by a list of rules for being “ladylike” that didn’t seem to allow for my love of climbing trees and capturing turtles.

This reminds me of what I tell writers who attend my “Finding Your Voice” workshops: The only stories worth telling are those that are only yours to tell. What exactly do I mean by that? I mean that unless you have a personal connection to the story, don’t bother writing it. It won’t have enough guts, enough energy, enough spark to light a fire in your readers. A personal connection to a story might be anything from an emotion you’ve felt to a place you’ve lived. Most of all, any story that rises from your personal understanding of the human condition–because you’ve experienced a particular aspect of being human–will be stronger than stories arising from ideas or concepts or abstractions.

Take a look at the stories you’re writing now. Honestly evaluate each one for your personal connection–the thing that makes it truly your story to tell. If you don’t find one, I would encourage you to move on to other stories. But don’t forget, a deep interest in a topic is also a personal connection. The things that fascinate you, draw you in, and make you want to know more arise from a deep place within you. Those things can lead to “your” stories, too!


About kimgriswell

I'm an author, an editor, a writing coach, and a workshop leader. I spend my days asking questions and looking (or listening) for answers, and thinking up ideas for new stories to write for my favorite audience: kids! I guess I'm just about as curious as Rufus Leroy Williams III, the intrepid pink hero of my picture book series from Sterling Publishing, is persistent. Did you know that in 5000 B.C. people blamed 'tooth worms' for their cavities? Neither did I until I developed THE HAUNTED OUTHOUSE for the Bathroom Reader's Institute. Turns out, ancient dentists filled the wormholes with metals like gold or silver. Except the Aztecs. They used a mix of iron, water, and belly-button lint. As you'll discover by reading RUFUS GOES TO SCHOOL, RUFUS GOES TO SEA, and RUFUS BLASTS OFF! I believe that reading opens up worlds for young people. Books did that for me, and I hope my books will do the same for today's kids.
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One Response to A Favorite Chautauqua Quote

  1. Liz says:

    I love that quote!
    I’ve signed up for Finding Your Voice – looking forward to it.
    Now to look through my manuscripts & evaluate them for my personal connection to them.

    Oh, and as a kid, I couldn’t really disappear, so I had to grow into my height in more ways than one. [ I was 5′ 11″” when I was 11 years old.]

    Enjoy the process,


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