Writing on your own is one thing, but teaching a child to express themselves verbally is another. Trust me. Who decided that high-school students could take on the role of a writing mentor?
Our youngest campers, ranging from the third to fifth grade, tend to need the most assistance. The fifth graders are caught in a constant in between. They feel older than the elementary school kids, but they aren’t in middle school yet. Most of them are only just coming into their own as a writer. The third and fourth graders feel that they have something to prove.They haven’t quite grasped the fundamentals - spelling, grammar, and punctuation - but they have great stories planned out in their heads they just want to get out. They’ve got the ideas without the articulacy. This can mean that half the time they're saying the wrong thing; thinking one thing but writing another. Or they punctuate the wrong place; wanting it to sound one way but making it sound another. That’s where we’ve been found most useful. We are the editors for a team of creative minds. However, in desperate attempts to prove they can stand on their own, they refuse any feedback (be it editing, peer reading, or questions about content). They want to be looked at as equals, and that is one thing we have tried to master. If you can talk to them as you would an adult, they trust you, and they are more likely to share. A younger individual is more likely to respond positively if you speak to them as if they were just another friend, treat them with as much respect as you would an adult, and let them know that what they are trying to say matters. We have to take a step back and remember that these aren’t just kids. They’re young, but they are our peers. They are part of your community too, and as writers, we must support one another.
Delana has what most would call an “overactive imagination.” We’ve been working together for most of the camp, focusing on editing and detail. Upon first reading her rough draft, I asked if she had more detail. She did, and when we began talking through her story, it was all there. You could read it in her expression, see it in her eyes. The tales of two dragons - Scarlet and Thrashath - that enveloped and consumed her.
I say, “Just close your eyes and imagine it, then write everything you imagine on paper and then you kind of form it into words on your computer.” She’s done this with me; she begins and the world of dragons and kingdoms is playing across her closed eyelids with intense detail.
She reads to me, When I had awoken I was in a thick soft barrier. It was transparent and it had a scaled pattern that matched my own. I could see out of the enclosure; while I looked I saw my mother sharpening her talons with the sharp edge of another dragon’s tail, she filed them into a curved point. She spat some fire over my barrier, keeping me warm as the night went by. When she thought I was sleeping, she started to flap her wings.
She is wise beyond her years, and has taught me more than I feel I’ve taught her.
On Monday, we focused entirely on editing. She had been given input from family members, and her eyes had dimmed from their fiery glow. She wasn’t ready to edit, having only gotten to the first major conflict. The idea that she could continue writing a story beyond the camp had never crossed her mind. Is that something that has manifested within us because of the current Language Arts education in schools? Many of the 5th graders still spilling words onto the page are afraid of deadlines; they aren’t able to express the story they have when given such harsh structure and time limits.
“I like to just get the story down and then… come back and edit.” In her own ventures, she uses the same advice we’ve been giving out: Write your stories without worrying about anything. Just put words to paper. Adding some notes might be useful later on, we’ve found it handy to mark down character names and their characteristics. Get out what you need to get out, execute your idea, and then we can help fill in the gaps. That's usually all they need.
In the words of a ten year old, “Normally, I would just ‘bleh’” Her arms move in a throwing motion, her words coming from her mouth into disarray on the page. “Put them on the page, put them everywhere, put them out of sequence and then form them on the computer.”
The next part is usually the part they get shy about. Having someone else read their work. At first they're psyched about it, but as the editing process starts they begin to feel less confident about their work.
This is another place where we have to step in; making sure they know and understand that their story is still there, that we’re just cleaning it up a bit. Like if you’re near-sighted or far-sighted and the world around is a little out of focus. As editors we just make the story, the author’s vision, clear.
In the end, these young writers are inexperienced and worried and overprotective of their ideas. Openness comes with time. They are the next generation of authors, journalists, and screenplays writers (just ask the two girls filming their movies in this final week).
They write because they are writers. They write because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be themselves. I think we all need a little more of that in our lives, a little more raw passion. Let us not dwell on the technical aspects, let us feel the words bleeding out of us. Let’s be storytellers.