Friday, November 02, 2012

Teaching Kids To Write Fiction

I just started teaching young adult creative writing workshop (ages 12-17, though in fact the age range right now is 12-14) via our public library.

I was compelled to take up this task for a couple of reasons -- one, no real resources exist for young writers in our little Arkansas city (about 80,000 people here, the second largest city in Arkansas, but also, sadly, one of the most conservative); second, my kid desperately desired such a workshop, and her sadness and pleading finally got to me; third,the woman who had been teaching writing workshops for adults was retiring, and Dr. Skull was going to take over her work, so why not start one for the kids at the same time? and finally, when I myself was 12 and 13, 14 and 15, I would have killed for a community of writers -- the sad ghost of my writer self, in other words, hung haunting about, gazing at me accusingly.  Could I leave those kids like me out there, abandoned, lonely, untaught?

So I volunteered.  And I am so pleased I did.  I was a bit trepidatious, I'll admit -- I've never taught kids, much less adolescents (I'm not counting the 17-20 year olds I am quite used to facing, as professor who regularly handles First-year Comp: those students are technically kids; but long ago I stopped thinking of them as such).  What if I couldn't do it?  What if there was some...trick, and I didn't know it?

Well, maybe there is.  But no issue.  They might be kids, but they are also writers, and writers trumps kids, clearly.

Plus! Real writers!  All of them!

I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.  As a veteran instructor of several writing workshops now -- many of which have been stocked with, um, how to put this, an unhappy ratio of real writers/faux writers -- it is a sweet pleasure to have a workshop filled solid with real writers, even if they are all under sixteen.  (Two of them are 12, three of them are 14. The youngest 12 is a very young 12, and just as cute as a puppy, sliding down in his seat to sit with his eyes barely visible with the edge of the table, or kneeling in his chair to sprawl halfway across the table while he writes giant letters across his paper -- but he's a writer too.  His stories make me laugh out loud while I'm typing them into the worksheet.)

And!  Not only can they write, they can read.  This was the part I was most worried about -- would they be able to critique one another's work? An essential part of workshop is reading the work on the worksheet and commenting on it, saying what works and what doesn't, helping the writer see how to fix problems, helping each other see the best parts of the writing: developing the critical eye, IOW.  I'm used to having to give a lot of direction to my young writers at first.  But man.  I barely had to say anything to this lot -- well!  I barely could say anything.  They took off and ran.

I'm giving them assignments, and handouts, mini-lectures, and leading short discussions; but it's that part, the workshops, them talking to one another about the stories, about what a story is, what good writing is, that's the best part.  That's the part I'm really liking -- and the part they are too, I think.

No comments: