Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout--STAND ON YOUR HEAD and revise!

Howdy Campers!   Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'

TeachingAuthors--and most writing teachers--have taught and discussed versions of this exercise over the years—and it's worth repeating.

Last week I tweaked it just a bit and the raw results in student writing was much more personal than when I've used this exercise before--their stories were notably stronger.

In my UCLA Extension Writers' Program class on Writing the Children's Picture Book, I spend one of the three-hour classes on rewriting.  I tell my students, "the information I'm about to tell you may be a tad depressng."

Then I show them a stack of revisions of my 1087-word picture book. I read an early draft, a middle draft and the final published book.  I show a PowerPoint which details the long journey to publication:

•    April 2000: interviewed expert on topic; wrote first version
•    April 2002: additional interviews
•    October 2004: accepted by publisher
•    January 2005: author’s revision sent to Dial
•    July 2005: editorial notes promised
•    December 2005: editorial notes received
•    January 2006: author’s revision sent to editor
•    January 2006: line edit promised “soon”
•    March 2006: line edits promised “May at the earliest”
•    May 2006: no line edits yet
•    May 2006: illustrator accepts offer
•    September 2006: considerable line edits received
•    September 2006 (about 12 days later): edited ms. sent off with new title
•    May 2007 titles still under discussion—August 2008 projected publication date
•    September 2007—book delayed until summer 2009 because illustrator is delayed.
•    April 2008—tiny edit: five small word changes
•    Fall 2008: illustrations arrive—wow, wow, WOW!
•    June 2009: book ship—yippee!
•    Summer 2009 lots of PR
•    September 2009: official launch—bricks-and-mortar and blog tour

      = 38 versions from start to finish.

After depressing them with the timeline, I did something different this time.  I read them the touching picture book, I Remember Miss Perry, written by Pat Brission, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (he's also the illustrator of New Year at the Pier).  It's about the death of a beloved elementary school teachers and how her students work through it by sharing happy memories of her.  It's a delicious book about a topic no one wants to talk about--the kind of book that every school needs in its library, because when you need it, you need it immediately.

I want my students to feel they can tackle any topic in a children's picture book as long as it's written honestly.  As long as it rings true.

So, here's the exercise:

1) Have your students brainstorm for five minutes, writing a list of experiences from their childhood that rocked their world. 

Tell them to jot down whatever comes to mind, writing quickly. They don't need to worry about neatness or spelling or complete sentences--they're making notes for themselves.

Here are some possible topics:

When did you do something that made you feel grown-up?

Maybe you helped paint the kitchen.
Maybe you did something that helped someone older than you solve a problem.

When did something scary happen to you?
Maybe your dog ran away.
Maybe your parents separated.

When did something joyous happen to you?
Maybe your family moved into a nice home for the first time.
Maybe you learned how to skateboard or read.

2) Give them just five minutes to circle one of the things on their list that they want to write about and then write a brief outline of the whole story. 

3) Tell them to change one thing about this story.
Tell them: BE WILD!  
They might change:
~ Point of view.  Instead of first person, try third person.  Or perhaps the family dog tells the story.
~ Time period.    Instead of the present, try setting it in ancient times, in the 1920s, in the future.
~ Place:              Instead of on a farm, try setting it underwater, in a volcano, on an island, in New York.
~ Characters:      Instead of people, try ground hogs, lightning bugs, elevators, a jar of pickles or cows.
~ Plot:                Instead of the cricket finding his home at the end, perhaps he gets even more lost.  Or instead of the bully getting her comeuppance, throw a party for her and see what happens.

As I said, this is the first year I've read my students that book before we launched into this exercise; the stories were more heartfelt than in the past.
They tried riskier subjects, subjects that were closer to their skin--and every idea was worth pursuing.
I hope you try it--either in your own writing or with students.  Then let me know what happens!
And, hey--thanks for reading this!
April Halprin Wayland

P.S. : Don't forget to enter our current book giveaway for our own Jill Esbaum's Angry Birds Playground:  DinosaursSee Jill's post for details.   Entry deadline is TODAY!


Carmela Martino said...

April, I've used this very exercise with young writers in grades 3-8 and they've come up with some AMAZING stuff. I've never read I REMEMBER MISS PERRY, though. I'll have to check it out.

Pat Kahn's Childsplay said...

Thanks, April. Sounds like a great exercise.

April Halprin Wayland said...

I'd love to hear back from you once you've used this exercise, Pat...and if any additional tweaking made it more useful or relevant for your students...