One of the highlights of my week is a 90-minute class I teach on Wednesdays –Novels for Young Writers. Currently there are seven students in the group: one boy and six girls, ranging in age from 13 to 16.
This group of young writers (and I try never to use the word ‘kids’ around minds as keen as theirs) signed on to learn the basics of how to write a YA (young adult) novel. But we quickly expanded our format to include poetry, short stories, and even scripts. Each week I give a short talk on some aspect of either the craft of writing or the business of publishing.
The real fun of each class, however, are the experimental writing exercises we do in class. I think it’s boring to just write, critique, rewrite, blah, blah, blah. That tends to keep writers locked into a certain range, and quite often it either narrows the limits of their own skill or keeps them from exploring ways to cross those limits. Soooo....I used my teen class to see how we can break through those glass ceilings.
Each week I give two or three exercises, and each week the students dazzle me. They think differently than adults do, probably because they haven’t yet been made to conform to ‘ordinary’ thinking. They break conventions on a regular basis. They demonstrate insight that adults probably never expect in writers that young. And they learn fast. Lordy, lordy do these so-called ‘kids’ learn fast.
The writing they do the first week or two is safe, controlled. They haven’t yet learned to trust their own intellect or value the complexity of their own imagination. The writing the do in the following weeks and months is totally different.
Sure, there are current limits to diction, style, etc, but each time I see them and listen as they read their latest work I see those limits being pushed back or disregarded entirely.
We did some experiments where I placed a big and complex piece of quartz crystal on the table in the classroom and asked them first to describe it as they would in a story written for their peers. Then I asked them to describe it to someone who was blind from birth. Then to describe it to someone who has been blind since early childhood. And so on. Each time we tried the exercise the students had to realign their thinking; they had to find new ways of expressing themselves based on shifting needs and expectations in the target audience.
Each time we do one of these writing exercises I’m both delighted and totally blown away. Next week I’m going to ask them if I can post some of their work in a future blog. You’ll see.
Happy Writing, folks
Writers Corner USA