In what might be considered another life, I volunteered as a writing coach for elementary and middle school students at my children’s schools. For the younger students, I ran a Writing Club. We’d meet once a week and work on stories and writing exercises. They’d write their stories, and I’d act as editor to help them see how to make them better.
It was exposure to the ‘grown-up world’ where kids who liked to make up stories got to see what that could mean if you did it in real life. Some years we ended the year creating a magazine to pass out that showcased the students’ work. And we always entered the local Student Writers Showcase, usually bringing home winners in more than a few categories. The day the winners were announced, students from all over the city attended workshops run by different kinds of writers, even songwriters (this was in Nashville, TN after all), and heard a well-known writer speak.
My older students, particularly in grades 7 and 8, produced a newspaper, 4 to 8 issues a year, writing the sorts of sports, music, and school activity stories their classmates would like. These students were also encouraged to participate in the Student Writers Showcase.
My motivation was – to be honest – partly guilt. I had my own children in these schools, each with innate writing ability, and they had me as guide and editor. It seemed unfair that other students at our school might not have that advantage. I offered my services to teachers and principals of the two schools. They were happy to accept.
I’m not a teacher. In fact, I’d say I’m not even a good substitute for one. But I know writing; I love writing. I can coach the thing I love. So I would find or devise word and writing exercises for the kids. I’d answer questions and explain what it was like to have real deadlines and editors and how you got a book published. I encouraged them to write the stories they wanted, and pushed to get them to be able to share their stories by using words that would transfer the picture in their heads into the heads of their classmates.
I didn’t focus on deep grammar, sentence diagrams, or conjugating verbs. Instead I went with things like word choices, active tenses, flow and continuity. They learned to uses their senses and then describe what they detected with them. They learned it was okay to use fragments and run-on sentences. Sometimes. They learned about dialogue and paragraphs, about how to choose what to put in and what to leave out. They learned that some editors, teachers, and even readers don’t want to read bad language and how if you want these people to read your story, you’ve got to stretch to think of other words to use. They learned they could write about anything. They could write in any genre or style. They could write fact or fiction, poetry or prose or song. They could even write plays.
I like to think most of the kids enjoyed it – they were only supposed to be in the Writing Club if they wanted to write. I like to think I helped some of them become better writers, and I know a couple at least have taken on careers that make use of their good writing skills.
Re-energizing this blog means re-dedicating myself to sharing writing craft. Over time I’ll post some of the exercises and workshop ideas I used in Writing Club. Maybe they’ll help some writers out there – or some writing coaches. If you’d like to get an idea of some things we did, check out one of my previous posts: