I’m a writer. Do I feel inspired?

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We’re now on week 3 of our Young Writers’ Mentoring programme 2018/19,

which I run as part of my Patron of Writing role at Didcot Girls’ School, so it’s high time I posted an update, methinks!

I guess what impressed me most at first about my new cohort of 23 year 9 and 10 students, was their openness to inspiration as writers. 

I think it’s true to say that ALL writers (poets, novelists, bloggers, life writers etc) have periods of writer’s block, when the ideas go quiet and all moments of inspiration dry up. In that situation, it’s hard not to wobble and question yourself (‘I know I wrote that great thing ONCE, but what if I’m a one-trick pony? A fake?) Out of necessity, to combat these periods, we have to develop strategies for managing these crises. Prevention is generally better than cure; for this reason I start at the beginning with my mentees, challenging them on where and how they find their ideas, as well as how, where and why they ‘store’ them.

The refreshing news is that, during our week 1 discussion on this, the group contributed a wide range of places/events/stimuli where they find inspiration, as well as a broad spectrum of methods/technology they use for storing and retaining these ideas (as and when they encounter them!) Here are a handful of their ideas, as captured in my messy whiteboard notation, around the central question: ‘where do we get our ideas?’

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My particular favourites here are: memes; ideologies and role play! It was also really refreshing that ‘stuff you read’ came up; this sparked another conversation later about how necessary and significant it is for writers to read.

The discussion proved to me that young writers are more alert and open to stimuli than more mature writers. As ‘adult’ writers, somehow we have to work harder at finding and retaining fresh ideas and material. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous.

Ultimately, it’s amazing to have these discussions, and I know that increasing their awareness of their own creative process will enhance their range and productivity even further. Which is pretty exciting.

 

#LetsDoThisKids 6 – To Be A Mentor

This week, I did some catching up with The (always brilliant) Verb (BBC R3) and came across their ‘How do you choose a mentor?’ discussion (Dec 1, 2017, with the inimitable poet Hollie McNish, listen to it here). It got me thinking. And realising that I am deeply glad to be a mentor to my young writers on our Mentoring programme at Didcot Girls’ School.

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Everyone needs a little helpful direction sometimes.

Every week this process presents me with challenges:

What can I offer them? How will I share it? How will it impact them?

And I guess this week, having reached half term and a short hiatus, was a time to reflect. So.

What’s changed in the last 5 weeks?

  • These writers are continually demonstrating sharper observation.
  • They are increasingly aware of their power as wordsmiths. Power to reflect their world. Power to make a mark on their world. Power to present realities in a fresh way. Power to challenge things.
  • They are speaking out. A few read their own work in front of the entire group this week. That’s a FIRST. But I know it won’t be a LAST.
  • They are probably taking away with them more than I can imagine, as I continue to share openly with them about my thinking about writing: my process, my source of ideas, my treasured and collected fragments garnered from other writers.

And in other news …

Some of the writers are working towards competition deadlines with their work (DEADlines: always a good push to finish things 😊), receiving one-to-one feedback from me as they go.

Most are currently editing a ‘Voice’ piece, and putting into practice new editing skills and insights

Many may be thinking about the quote I shared this week, that writing is in fact ‘80% reading’ (as according to Patience Agbabi) … and picking up a book …

and

Most are getting excited about our plans to publish our own ANTHOLOGY at the end of our 20 week journey (more on this soon!)

BRING IT ON.

 

Writer’s Development Task 5:

Continue to observe ‘your person’ and add observations to your notebook.

Over half term, edit your Voice piece. Use the question prompts.

CUT. ADD, using your notebook ideas. EXPERIMENT. Work on the TITLE.

#Letsdothiskids – Discoveries of a school Patron of Writing

I’m reeling.

I’ve just been reading the creative writing of a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds. Original, compelling, artistically adventurous writing.

Here’s a flavour:

I’m summer, I’m winter,

I’m everything it seems.

Emily W Year 7

She is a record player, playing softly as everyone dances. She smells like warm leather but on the inside: burning.

Natasha S Year 8

He is ocean washing over people, as ocean does, leaving a mark but never staying long enough to be known in full. Deep. Shallow. When he is roused he howls with the wind full force no mercy.

Ellie B-W Year 8

These thoughts, feelings and worlds were captured during a short session in the middle of a school library, just before lunchtime on a Friday (the last day of term in fact, a day when you’d think the kids would be exhausted, depleted and unable to focus on anything except the swiftly advancing school holiday).

The students demonstrated that they can harness imagery and use it to propel themselves forwards; they can reach for the most striking word; they will take risks with poetic lines and whitespace; they are flexing their drafting and editing muscles, with impressive results.

Don’t get me wrong. I know how lucky I am. I’m thrilled to be a part of this. Reading and, even better, hearing THEM read their own work is a huge privilege and an incredible buzz.

In this blog series, I want to capture some of my experiences as a new ‘Patron of Writing’ in a secondary state school. I want to share what’s happening, get it out there, and share what I’m learning about HOW we can make this happen for kids, and WHY it needs to happen – now more than ever.

Since Friday, I’ve been asking myself (in typical writerly egotistical fashion) – What did I do to enable the kids to produce such sublime writing?

The honest answer, I guess, is: it’s all them. It’s not me at all. The fact is, these students are inherently capable of imaginative leaps. They are pretty in touch with their own, and others, emotions. They are eager to learn. They’re unafraid.

That said, in their learning at school they are too often (and I’d argue, increasingly) working under limitations and restrictions. ‘Don’t forget to include X. To get the marks, you must refer to Y. Pens down, this is time to listen.’

(And yes, I am very familiar with how things work, I’m a former secondary English teacher.)

So, in what I see as my role as facilitator (‘Don’t call me ‘Miss’. Call me Elaine’), I started by taking the breaks off. No BUTS or NEVERS. As one of our expectations, as a group, we agreed to ‘ignore the rules’. The kids couldn’t believe their luck. Yes, a bit of a risk, but really worth taking.

So, if I give them a task to describe how they are feeling today, using only colours, they could tell me that they’re feeling ‘green, like the freshest patch of grass’ OR they could tell me in their own imaginative way – to use the language of crisps, maybe they are Pom-Bear. Maybe Space Raiders.

If I move them on to describing a character using a metaphor of place, some might crack on with this immediately. But equally it would be ok for them to be just sitting thinking, staring into space, doodling, writing about the colour of the sky at 3 o-clock yesterday; the way their house smells after it rains; their Mum’s loony driving…

I reassured them that this was ok. It was ALLOWED. In other words, I let them go.

(When were they last ‘let go’ that day? Is that an impossible thing to ask a teacher to do?)

So I’d say that getting kids to write the best that they can (and never put a limit on how staggering that writing can be) doesn’t start with sharing your experience, or with unintimidating pen-to-paper tasks, or with modelling excellent writing (important though these things may be). It starts with giving them permission to think their own way, and then giving them recognition when they start to put those unique thoughts down on paper.

More on this later.

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I’m currently working as Patron of Writing at Didcot Girls’ School, Oxfordshire. For more highlights of my exploits and work-in-progress with young writers, have a look at my Tweets @kitespotter and check out the school Twitter feed @DidcotGirls, along with their website.