It never fails, no matter the Workshop or class I teach, no matter my students, their ages and/or experience: I always learn as much as my students,
most times even more,
courtesy of those students.
Pictured below are seven of the eight talented writers enrolled in my Chicago’s Newberry Library Summer Workshop “The Write Place,” a facilitated children’s book writers group, who literally became my TeachingAuthors June 6 through July 18:
back row, left to right - Debra Mitchell, Nancy Lee Wells, Philippa Norman, Susan Halko, Sarah Hoban; front row, left to right - T. Kari Lewis, (Susan Bazargan in absentia) and Carrie Golus.
Became, as in my June 6 post “It’s never too late!”
We were definitely watched over.The uncharacteristically-small class size, the commonality of story subjects and formats, the previous Newberry Workshop attendance and overlapping work experiences made for a palpable positive group dynamic.
Two Chicago students lived but two streets apart, and didn’t even know it!
The variety of formats my students were writing demanded I fill my Summer ReadingPlate to overflowing, with picture books, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels and Readers Theatre scripts.It was mind-boggling, the bounty the right and successful children’s books offer when read aloud and/or showcased, then parsed for Teachable Moments.
There are always considerations when telling a good story well to young readers and I was more than happy to share them with my students: the format’s demands, the readers’ needs, the appropriateness of story, the appropriateness of writing style; there’s originality; there’s the marketplace; there’s an existing body of literature and of course, the elements of narrative.My Summer Writers excelled at considering. J
We all came to see, though, again and again, what I’m forced to re-learn with each book I write: when a writer is stuck, when a story remains flat, when a plot lacks tension or begs for subplots, the characters hold the answer, always and ever.It sounds so simple, so formulaic, right?
Except, as Marian Dane Bauer writes in WHAT’S YOUR STORY? (Clarion, 1992), a writing guide for middle grades I recommend to all writers,
the writer truly needs to know who his character is and what he needs and wants and why he needs and wants it, not to mention who and what stand in his way.
Week after week, I’d share and declare, “Invest in your characters! Learn their Back Stories cold!”
And in return, my TeachingAuthors this Summer did a swell job underscoring that Truth for me, ensuring I do as I say (and preach).
I’m happy to report: My Summer Writers also became a Writers Group, meeting online, as well as in person seasonally.
My Summer Workshop proved a Win-Win Situation indeed, for my students-dash-authors who came to know their stories and themselves, but also, thankfully, for me.
Following my first class June 6, each of my writers declared a project for the seven-week workshop – for example, revising a picture book manuscript, defining a book’s setting and world, creating a GPS of sorts for a second revision, writing a first chapter of a first-ever novel, simply figuring out what a story’s about.
Periodic checks allowed writers to note their progress.
For the last class, July 19, writers came prepared to list Five Things they didn’t know June 6 about (1) Writing for Children, (2) their stories, (3) their writing and (4) themselves.
Think about your writing and your most current project. In your journal or Writer’s Notebook, list Five Things you didn’t know when you first began the project about (1) Writing for Children, (2) your story, (3) your writing and (4) yourself.
Declare a Fall Project/Goal for Extra Credit!