Thursday, December 1, 2011

What Writing Advice Would You Give 4th Graders?

I volunteered to do a writing workshop for Megan's 4th grade class. Yes, partly to assuage my guilt at not being a regular classroom parent. I have my reasons--I'm already so overbooked that my husband giggles when I say things like, "I really need to take a break, but I've got to get this synopsis and thirty pages submitted before . . ." in the same breath.

What to teach a class of fourth graders, though?

Today is not only Dec. 1, it's the entry deadline for the Utah Reflections contest. So last night I spent much of the evening making sure all the i's were dotted and t's crossed, such as "application must be put in a plastic sleeve, but masking taped, not stapled, to the outside of the other plastic sleeve the picture goes in, and not inside with the artwork," making a CD of photos of my daughter's sculpture, etc. Another night of, "I'm exhausted, I have a cold and need to go to bed early, but if I put Emily's artwork on a piece of card stock . . ."

I'm way off track. I mention this because the writing in my daughter's "artist statements" impressed me and made me think. I gave them some prompts on the theme of diversity: "They don't just want to hear, 'be different, be yourself,' but how we work together despite our differences."

Yet despite feeding them my pre-conceived ideas of what the judges would want, they came up with amazing things on their own. Megan used a rainbow in her piece. She said to me, then wrote, something like this, "But Mom, it's a rainbow path. We all walk it, but everyone is their own color. Then the colors come together. I think I'm indigo."

Wow. Emily's explanation about her work, being a zebra among horses, was just as profound and well-written. I know, I'm biased when I say they're amazing, but it got me thinking. Children's creativity tends to just flow out, pure and simple as spring water.

One of my critique partners, Alison, said that her daughter completed NaNoWriMo without any trouble. "She just writes," Alison said. As writers with the advice of many conferences and workshops floating in our brains, we are much more prone to self-edit our work. We need this editing process, but how do we keep it from slowing us down or stopping us?

How do we write, or guide writing, without squelching that natural inner spring of creativity?

Please share your ideas, both on freeing creativity, and what to say to that 4th grade class.

And PS, my total word count was 34,491, using a conservative count. It's not 50,000, but I also had editing to do (and still do.) Plus, my main goal was to finish my book. It's done. I may end up changing a lot, but I have a draft. That feels good.

Maybe I'll rest now. Or maybe after I get the shopping and the cards and the 30 pages . . .

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