Leading a Writing Group - Session 3

A writing prompt can be anything, since anything can be in a story. Truly, everything has a story, since life is a story. But, there is a little bit of an art in selecting writing prompts. This last week I went with "door." That's it. It's wide open, but it's powerful. Doors are thresholds, they are mysteries, they are the point where something changes, barriers that open.

As it turns out, Lexi had already been drawing a door before I gave the prompt. Funny how that works sometimes.

I think the prompt might have been a little too open. There were too many options and the kids didn't naturally add any detail to the door. It probably would have been good to have pictures of doors that they selected, or something like that. This next session I'm probably going to go with letters, and see if anyone is up for trying a little epistolary. That's where you write the story in letters, or some other documents like that. Then, I think I might start getting wilder with the prompts for a little while. We'll see.

We talked about how doors are thresholds a little bit, and then dove into writing. Xavier and Lexi both had a bit of a tendency to get stuck on this one. Bella, on the other hand, was writing like crazy. She has improved in several aspects in just the last few sessions. She's reading her own writing better. Her spelling may be improving just slightly too. She's kind of finding her rhythm. She drew pictures to go along with this one, and I think that helps her quite a bit.

Xavier had some trouble with focusing and paying attention. I think it may be that a solid idea didn't come to him easily, and when he encountered some of that resistance his attention tended to disengage rather than engage. Something to pay attention to moving forward, and in that case it's extra important to emphasize that the valuable thing is not the result, but the effort. (See the psychological work from Carol Dweck for more on that.)

I could see that Lexi was stuck a bit and offered the suggestion to write about the writing. I like doing that, and it works great for having the blog. Other people also like that I write about writing while I'm writing, I think it's a cool way to reveal as much of the writing process as possible, and I wish some of my favorite authors did it. Another great thing to do when you're stuck writing, is to write something else. Just start a different story, change something. I'm not sure any of my suggestions helped her. She did get a decent amount down though, and she had quite a long story worked out in her head. She already writes in a way that I find odd and don't really understand, where she writes different parts that aren't in chronological order. Some authors write like that, it's a thing, it just seems crazy to me. That means that her brain already works in a bit of an odd way, which is a good thing for writing, but I lack some insight into parts of her thinking process.

Bella was enthusiastic about her story. It was a door that led to another dimension of sorts. The three pages she wrote, with pictures, was the complete chapter 1 of a book.

Lexi wrote about a door at the top of a set of stairs that a dreamer was climbing too, which is a cool scene.

Xavier wrote about the entrance to a virtual reality video game where the people enter into the game, but when they walk forward they actually walk into a real environment. He used different voices.

There are five other interesting things that happened, but I'll put those after my story.

- - - - - - -

Hannah wondered what would happen if she did it anyway.

The door was large, she wasn't even sure if she could push it. She decided to try anyway.

There were gold edges inlaid into the wood, she grabbed hold of these and leaned into the door. It didn't budge. She put her back against the door and pushed with her legs. No use.

Hannah thought about Bob, maybe he could help. Bob didn't move very much, but when he did nothing got in his way. Things don't usually stop a twelve foot tall ogre.

Hannah ran out of the house and across the yard, the tall soft grass brushing against the hem of her skirt.

The big barn door was always open, Bob liked it that way. He slept in the hay.

Hannah slowly walked over to where he was sleeping and poked him. Bob slept a lot now, ever since his injury. And, he seemed to struggle with understanding things. He would get angry sometimes, and that was dangerous, so most of the family gave him his distance. But he had always liked Hannah, and she liked him. So sometimes she would ride on his shoulders while he walked through the fields.

Bob opened his eyes and looked at Hannah without moving any other muscle. His eyes were bright sparkly green and always seemed to twinkle. He slowly began to stand and the hay started to slide off of him.

After he shook and groaned, something he did every time he woke up, Hannah reached up, grabbed his pinky finger, and led him across the yard to the house.

- - - - - - -

I wasn't really feeling it that day, but there it is.

Alright, five other interesting things.

One, Bella drew a monster on a page of my notebook. (I write in a sketch pad because I don't like lines, and she was drawing in a lined notepad. Lexi mentioned that she liked the lines because she was drawing stairs leading up to her door. (This is only lightly related, but I just watched the "Stranger Things" pilot today with my cousin Cody.))

Two, at one point Lexi was the only one paying attention so I said she got an A, and everyone else got a T. That confused them a bit. What is a T grade? It's nothing, I just made it up to throw them off and pattern interrupt them. Then I told them that the grades don't matter, which they don't. We aren't trying to get a grade for anything, we're working on developing a skill, and a soft skill at that.

Three, after we read our stories Bella asked, "Aren't you going to tell us what kind of stories they are?" I had done something similar in the other sessions, but I explained that this time they were all fairly similar in that the main feature was that they were stories about crossing thresholds.

Four, somehow we ended up talking about Hannibal before we started, Hannibal the ancient Carthage General. I explained how Hannibal means Grace of Ba'al, which was the patron god of Carthage. Ba'al is an old time word that meant Lord in one of the Semitic languages. Bella said that Ba'al was kind of an odd name and it would be easier if it was Bob. Which led us to postulating that a god named Bob would be cool, along with a General named Hannibob, which means Grace of Bob. I had those ideas in my head when I started writing, that's why the story is about Hannah and Bob.

Five, this might be the best one. After the session Lexi and I were talking about how the eagles in "The Lord of the Rings" ruin the whole story. There's an epic journey that takes a couple of books to complete, to go to this horrible place to destroy this ring. Then, to get out of that place, some eagles just fly in and pick them up. Well, why couldn't the eagles have just flown over and dropped the ring in the first place? Lexi and I came up with the solution - the eagles were fat when the story started and couldn't fly. But, they realized when the war was breaking out that they needed to be in shape and started working out. By the end of the story they could fly again. It all makes sense now. Lexi drew up some fat eagles running on treadmills. I mentioned that treadmills might not have been around, maybe the workout would be one fat eagle rolling another one around, or lifting rocks, but Lexi thought the treadmill was the best idea. And, in a humorous way, she might be right.

Last thing before I take off. The kids are too familiar with each other for the group to be as useful as it could be. I think I will seek to avoid single family groups if possible when I expand the writing program, integrating a couple might be ideal. We need a collision of ideas and perspectives that are different from what they've encountered before to stimulate the creative juices to their maximum potential.

Another good session, as they've all been.


You can find more of what I'm doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com


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