I led a workshop last weekend at the Thurber House, a literary center located at the once-family home of James Thurber, who grew up in my hometown of Columbus, OH. Fifteen or so kids, ranging from 3rd-7th grade showed up to go “Nutty about Nonfiction.”
- two girls who go to each other’s houses after school to write together,
- a girl who writes chapters of fan fiction inspired by the Warriors cat series,
- a boy who said in the first five minutes that he didn’t read or like nonfiction, but he likes to write and so wanted to try different genres. (Good for him!)
- a few kids who were wondering why their parents signed them up for this.
By the end of the afternoon, then all had proven themselves to be true writers. Together, we faced down writer’s block, and each young writer found the story and voice for his or her piece. Their writing was colorful and informative and wonderful. Then during the sharing time, we had the prerequisite apologies for their work. What a bunch of writers! Simultaneously proud to have something, anything at all on the page and disappointed that the words don’t yet live up to their ideal.
We talked about not needing to apologize. They had done good, important work just by showing up and giving their best effort with paper and pencil in hand. That’s what makes today’s writing good. And if desired, a writer can always make good work even better by showing up and doing the same tomorrow.
Then came the parents and siblings and cookies and punch. A good time was had by all.
One interesting aspect of teaching is that we are more likely to be generous on behalf of others than we are on behalf of ourselves. And it's inspiring to see good advice used to good effect by young writers. It's a good reminder of core principles that relate to our own writing lives.
p.s. The boy didn’t like nonfiction said at the end that it was now “less boring.” I’ll take that as a compliment from a middle schooler.