Guest Post: Emma Kress on Hope

By Emma Kress

2020. What. A. Year. And, um, as you may have noticed, it ain’t over yet.

So what is it that drags us from our beds each day? Sure, for many of us it’s our insistent children. But besides them? Hope.

This year, we’ve seen the footprints of hope everywhere: billboards thanking medical workers, corporations promoting #BlackLivesMatter, Italian citizens stepping to their balconies to sing, a wall of moms standing between police and protestors, the Getty Museum challenging people to recreate works of art—even out of laundry. Hope even exists in laundry.

Thankfully, I spent much of 2019 researching hope for my Critical Thesis, a requirement for my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. When we entered quarantine, I was able to put that research to work for my family, and I’m eager to share it with you.

C.R. Snyder is considered the foremost expert on hope. He discovered that you need just three things for hopeful thinking: a goal, pathways thinking, and agency thinking.

The goal should be attainable and reasonable. Pathways thinking represents the path to achieve that goal—the plan, but also the flexibility to adapt that plan or goal when you hit that inevitable obstacle. Agency thinking is the ability to say, “I’ve got this.”

I talked up Snyder to my family. I modeled goal setting and failure, pathways thinking and agency thinking. I talked of the times in my life I didn’t think I’d get through, but did. I reminded them of their own you-did-it moments.

I excitedly talked of how this time will act as a giant hope sparkler for future agency thinking. Because, if we can survive 2020, we’ll conquer anything. And, isn’t it thrilling to engage in a challenge so remarkable it will become a blueprint for future success? Slowly but surely, in the weeks that followed, we cultivated hope.

For us writers, hopeful thinking can be even more than a psychological lifeline through 2020. I discovered that hope is a critical ingredient in every good story. What is scene and sequel, after all, but a hope sequence (goal-pathways thinking-agency thinking)? What are secondary characters and B-stories except artfully placed hope sparklers helping to light our protagonist’s way to the ultimate victory?

I believe, too, that as writers for children and young adults, we have the opportunity to create the ultimate hopeful ending. This differs from a Pollyannaish happy ending. A hopeful ending acknowledges hard truths, but paves the way for positive change.

In On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope (Penguin, 2019), activist DeRay McKesson writes, “We have never seen a world of equity, justice, and joy. We are trying to create something altogether new. And it is impossible to create something new in the absence of hope.”

Indeed. We can use hope to imagine the world as it should be. We need that now more than ever. Hope is best as a verb. Use it to focus. Use it to get your butt in your writing chair. Use it to propel your characters towards a hopeful ending that will help future readers find and hold onto hope. Go on, spark some hope.

Signs of Hope in the Neighborhood

Cynsational Notes:

Emma Kress is a writer and educator living with her family in Saratoga Springs, New York. She is a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut YA novel Dangerous Play (Macmillan/ Roaring Brook Press), about a girls’ field hockey team who takes on the patriarchy, will release on Aug. 3, 2021. 

The lead photo depicts “Hope in the City,” a mural in Buffalo, New York by the artist Ouizi.