The workshop on Saturday at the Franklin Library was a lot of fun (I certainly had fun, and from the smiles on the young writers' faces, I think they did as well). Each person thought up a first sentence for a story. Then we went through and changed the sentence ten different ways; some basic (changing the tense, changing the point of view) and some radical (write in the style of Robert Louis Stevenson; write the sentence in rhyme). By the end we had some amazing differences from where we started. It's a great way to experiment with language and have fun with an idea— and even discover a story you never intended! (Again, kudos to Jennifer Wingertzahn of Clarion Books for introducing me to this terrific idea.)
We followed up with a more focused exercise, with each person choosing an object in the room and writing a description of it, as if the object were part of a story. Once we'd finished, we made a change: we had to describe the object again from the opposite point of view— if our first description was positive, we had to make the new description negative, and vice versa. (Thanks go to my good friend Ruta Sepetys for teaching me this one!)
I chose a half-eaten doughnut (yes, I do the stuff I ask you to do; it's only fair). Most of the class chose an American flag in the corner of the room. (I suspect I was hungrier.)
The responses were terrific, especially when we turned the description around (I knew it was coming; they didn't). That change launched whole new approaches, ranging from seeing the American flag as a modern-day enemy might view it, to the viewpoint of a British officer surrendering to Washington in the Revolutionary War. Wow, these young writers are good!
But perhaps the greatest lesson of the workshop was a little less obvious— the lesson of giving up your fear and sharing what you write. Six young writers had to each swallow their nervousness and read what they had just written out loud. Yikes! But in the end, they learned that they could share it— that there was something of value in what they wrote, and that others could appreciate it. And that's an important lesson to learn, whether you're just writing for a group of friends, a library workshop, or who knows whom on the Internet.
Give it a try! Sure, start with your grandmother (she'll love everything you write), but then take that risk; read it to a friend, a teacher, a writing club... not only will you become more comfortable with sharing, you'll become more comfortable with writing. And that's a great feeling to have.
--- Howard Shirley