First, I want to remind everyone that the purpose of this column is to instruct all librarians everywhere on how to teach your patrons the art of writing (yes, I’m asking you to become your library’s writing instructor). I’ve said it before, and now I’ll say it again: most people cannot write. So, when you spot a patron writing (or attempting to write) something, and the patron seems a bit baffled, bewildered, or befuddled, make gentle contact with that person, and tactfully offer some assistance. In the majority of cases, they will say “yes,” and they’ll be eternally grateful to you, the brilliant librarian. And how will you become a writing instructor? By reading my column, and my columns, all of them, one at a time, in order. And here’s the good news: you are reading my column right now, and that means your journey has already begun.

Wait—Did You Read My Previous Column?
If you haven’t read my previous column, go and read it now. It’s here, on the NYLA website (December 2021), and it’s the first in a cycle of successive columns that will take you through the entire writing (and teaching) process. Plus, you’ll like it. Damn, I’m good.

In that column, I approached a rather frazzled patron named Alexis. While chatting with Alexis, I learned that she is a senior in high school, and she is freaking out because her social studies paper is due in just a few days, and she has no idea what to do. I told Alexis that I’m a writing tutor and that I can help her, and does she have time to meet with me today? “Yes,” she said (looking a little relieved). “I would love that.” So, I got some paper and a pencil, and we sat down together and began our first tutorial. Pro tip: for the early sessions, all you need is some paper and a pencil—and maybe a table and some chairs. And now, let’s teach our students how to write. 

What Are You Writing About?
When you begin teaching someone how to write, you need to learn (and understand) very clearly what the person is writing about. So, to start our session, I asked Alexis a very simple question: “What is your paper about?” She produced the handout from the teacher, and I read it carefully, and then explained the assignment to Alexis. 
    “Okay, your teacher wants you to write a paper about social media, and it’s based in an ‘essential question.’ Here is the question: ‘Are Social Media Making Us More Lonely, or Less Lonely?’ Do you understand the question?”
    “I think so,” Alexis said. “I have some social media accounts, and I understand how it feels to be lonely.”
    “Okay,” I said. “This is called an argumentative essay. This means you have to pick one side, and then argue it. You try to prove to the reader that your side is the correct one, or the more correct one. You cannot argue both sides. Do you understand?”
    “I guess,” she said. “But I thought I would talk about both sides. I mean, social media puts us in touch with other people, and friends. But it can also…” – she thought for a moment – “I mean, sometimes, I’m in my room with my phone, for like three hours, and I’m alone. So, I guess…” I could see her beginning to think analytically, and I silently applauded her incipient growth.
    “Good,” I said. “See that? It’s a complicated issue, and there are good arguments on both sides. But you have to pick a side. You cannot play both sides of the fence. So, you have two choices here, and let me write them down.” Here’s what I wrote, in pencil, on the notepaper: 

Her lips moved silently as she read each one.
    “And there’s one other thing, and it’s really important. It says on the handout, ‘This is an original essay, so do not consult research or outside sources.’ That means your teacher wants to hear your own original thoughts and not the thoughts of someone else. Got it?”
    “Ugh,” she said. 
    “You can do it,” I said, stifling a laugh. “You’re going to be amazing. For your homework, I want you to think about each side, and then choose the one you want to write about. The one that feels closer to your heart. When you choose your side, circle it. And then come back to me, with the notepaper, and we’ll create an outline of your project. And please relax. If you work with me, your paper is going to be terrific. Can you make it tomorrow? Say, four o’clock?”
    “Okay,” she said, and she handled the notepaper very carefully as if it were an ancient and sacred document. And she slid it into her backpack.
    “Great,” I said. “See you tomorrow.” And I smiled my goodbye at her.

The Perfect Month for Tulips
In the next column, I will bequeath unto Alexis the eternal secrets of thesis statements, and the simple beauty of outlines—and she will witness her paper budding like an early April tulip. Thank you for spending this time with me, and I’ll see you in the impossible miracle of springtime. Until then, so long—and don’t forget to write. 

Dr. Timothy Horan is a full-time school librarian and part-time public librarian on Long Island (NY). He holds master’s degrees in English, library science, and education, along with an advanced graduate certificate in creative writing, and a doctorate in English literature. In 2013, The Suffolk School Library Media Association (SSLMA) awarded him the “School Librarian of the Year.” In 2019, they awarded him the “Outstanding Contribution to the School Library Profession.” He has published dozens of scholarly articles on libraries, writing, and education. He is the inventor of the School Library Writing Center, and literally wrote the book(s) on the subject: Create Your School Library Writing Center, Grades 7 - 12, and Create Your School Library Writing Center, Grades K - 6 (both from Libraries Unlimited). He is the editor of VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Magazine and has a library in his house which he designed and built himself. This is where he does his best thinking and writing.