The Beginning of a Writing Process, WNY Young Writers’ Studio 2010

It happens every year.

“We’re only here because our moms made us come,” they told me. “We hate writing. Seriously.”

Seriously? I wonder if most kids are given much of a chance to consider what writing really is anymore or why they would even want to do it outside of the classroom.

And so I suggest that writing isn’t just about linear text. It doesn’t always happen on paper. In fact, if we’re to consider relevance and meaning at all, it usually doesn’t happen on paper. It hasn’t for a long time. I ask them about their favorite YouTube videos, the gaming they do, what their hobbies are. More importantly, I help them to define a vision for who they want to be as a writer. I don’t call it that, but it’s where we always begin.

Want your kids to become strong writers? Ask them the same question. Then, ask them to define the difference they’d like to make with their words–for real people, real places, real purposes. Ask them to choose a medium that aligns with their vision. And help them make their vision a reality. You don’t need to master all of the tools or forms. In my experience, it’s critical that I don’t. I only need to connect the kids who are eager to learn about them with the resources and most importantly, the people within and beyond our community who can help them. This was an important realization. Success isn’t dependent on what I know and what I teach. It’s dependent on what they know, what they teach, and what they’re able to learn from others.

Prompts are nice, but I find that I have to be very careful about the prompts that I use. Often, they aren’t even necessary when writers begin with vision. I know that there are a pile of tech tools that “generate” ideas, illustrations, or visuals for kids, but like prompts, I’ve learned that these options can limit the creative process. I’ve come to realize that the most powerful tech skill I can empower young writers with is the ability to make purposeful choices that align with their vision. When I focus my energies here, they often make choices I wouldn’t have and teach me and their peers things we would not have otherwise known. This phenomena is critical to the development of our learning community.

“If you could do anything else right now….if you could be anywhere else right now….if you could be creating some sort of message that might make a difference in some way right now….where would you be? What would you be doing? How would you be doing it? What would you say?” I asked these self-defined haters of writing.

“You wouldn’t let us tell that story,” one of them replied.

“Why not?’

“Because we like action stories.We like video. We want to write about the mafia–you know, a real crazy story that is kinda violent and scary and stuff. That’s what kids like us like. That’s the sort of thing we want to do.” I suppose I was supposed to be horrified by this, but I wasn’t. “And can we work with Andrew?”

“Sure, he would probably like that. Why?” I asked.

” ‘Cause someone told us he did this awesome stop motion video stuff last year, and that’s what we want to do. But it’s not going to have words yet. We just want to do some story boarding and get our ideas organized and then learn how to make the video first.”

Sounds like the beginning of the writing process to me.


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