''How do you write stories with the kind of quality that you do?'' the kid asked. ''My teacher says I should study your works.''
I puffed up like a peacock. ''Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.''
''I dunno about that stuff,'' he said. ''But teacher said if I compose my essays exactly the opposite of yours, they'll be perfect. So how do you do it?''
Obviously, the boy mixed up his teacher's instructions, but I let it pass.
''You got a notebook, son? Take this down. First, avoid cliches like the plague.''
The kid penciled in this wisdom. ''Is that right?''
''Right as rain.''
The kid chewed on his eraser. ''What's that mean? If rain is right, is sunshine left? Or is it wrong?''
''Well, see ... It's just an expression, kid.''
''A cliche. You told me not to use them.''
''Um, yes. See what happens when you do. Next point. To write good ...''
"You mean 'write well.' 'Good' is an improper word in that usage.''
I bristled. ''Look, kid, now who's the writer here, you or me?''
''My teacher says you play one.''
I pumped my fist. ''Exactly. Now what do they teach in that school of yours?''
The kid tapped the pencil against his chin. ''Well, we learn the Six Traits of Writing.''
I squinted at him. I thought he was putting me on. ''Nobody told me that writing has a trait, let alone six of them.''
The kid flipped some pages in his notebook. ''Teacher says ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency and conventions.''
I waved my hand. ''Oh, those. Yeah, I do all of them.''
''No. You do organization?''
''Of course. I'm a writer, ain't I?''
''Aren't. I've read your works. I never suspected organization.''
''Well, maybe I was too busy concentrating on word choices.''
The kid snorted like he suddenly got a joke he'd heard earlier in the day. But he didn't share it with me. Instead, he said, ''No, really, do you ever use any of the Six Traits?''
''I remember going to a convention once in which ...''
The kid shook his head. ''The conventions of writing are things like spelling, punctuation and grammar.''
''Well, I make it a practice to use spelling,'' I said. ''And I had an idea once. My boss yelled it across the room. What a voice. Talk about word choices used with fluency. I have no idea how to spell half of those conventions.''
The kid shut his notebook. ''Thanks, Mr. Cole, I think I learned all I need.''
''Glad to help. I kind of exude this stuff, don't I?''
His eyes kind of rolled back. I feared he might be getting faint with excitement, but he regained his composition fairly good. I mean, well.
''I'm thinking of putting together a clinic to learn kids to write.''
''Look, kid, you really need to stop interrupting instruction. Anyway, what do you think?''
''Um, OK. Just as long as they know the seventh trait, the one about doing the opposite.''
The kid really needs to work on his word choices.
---- This is scary. Cole actually does visit schools to enthuse about the craft of writing. Most recover. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Burton W. Cole author page on Facebook.