Monday, June 28, 2010

Creative Write & Playshop #3 School Years

Write what should not be forgotten!

Good morning, writers!It was nice to hear from so many of you about the writing workshop. Some of you may still be madly scribbling down memories of those early years. As one of you wrote, some of us have a longer way to travel back. Some of you wrote that you were checking out the assignments and planned to work on them once school was out. I hope that you have been having a good journey so far.

School brings me to the subject of your next assignment, but first be sure to keep the memories you’ve already written from your first five years in a safe place, because I’ll be asking you to go back to them to hunt for treasure in a future assignment.

Assignment #3. School years. For this assignment you’ll be writing about your elementary through Junior High school years. You may want to refer to the list I gave you in the last assignment, because what we’re digging for in our memories are our emotional experiences. So it won’t just be remembering that special dress for the first day of school, for example, but your whole experience of shopping, how you felt about your new outfit–what did you like or dislike about it? Did it seem perfectly beautiful at home but sort of plain when you saw the amazing dresses the other girls were wearing?

Another great topic for school years are friendships. Friendships can change overnight or over the summer or over a holiday. Do you remember how heartbreaking it was to suddenly be the odd girl/boy out or to lose your best friend or to move and suddenly have no friends? One of my favorite books about the loss of friendship is, All Alone in the Universe by Newbery author Lynne Rae Perkins. My own Secrets of Greymoor (click on jacket cover top left for more) and Hattie on Her Way show a lot about how not to make friends. Poor Hattie desperately wants friends, but then she keeps going about it all wrong. You get the idea. Look for experiences in your school years that are charged with emotion, and you'll never lack for story ideas.

These assignments are about you and about finding your stories, so keep that in mind as you start to set down your school days stories. This time, I want you to write down memories of as many of your first days of school as you can remember. Then move on from there and write down your most evocative memories of special holidays throughout the year–Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. Go through the school year drawing out the most vivid memories you have of each holiday and each season. Recapture the smells and sounds of school along with the everyday sights. You may want to write some character sketches for some of your teachers and close friends or bullies. Again, be sure to use as many of the senses–touch, sight, sound, smell, taste as you can to make your experience spring to life on the page. Once you have recaptured these special times, I think you’ll begin to see how some of them might be material for a short story, a picture book, a poem or a chapter book.

Take a trip to the library and search out books that involve school. There’s a wonderful picture book by Rosemary Well’s called Timothy’s First Day of School that’s about Timothy’s first few days of school and how things go wrong and how he finally gets it right and makes a new friend. Patricia Reilly Giff’s Polk Street Gang series is perfect for those of you who want to write for younger readers. I especially love the first one in the series, The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room. Of course, there are all the wonderful Ramona books by Beverly Cleary that you’ll want to check out. I’m sure every library has well-worn copies of those. Please feel free to send titles of your own favorites to share with the rest of us--please! Have a fun week writing down your school memories. Write from the heart!


  1. One perk of having a long way to travel back is that we can revisit and appreciate all the junctures and landmarks along the way that resulted from those early experiences. We are always exactly where we are meant to be.

    Good writing exercise. I have some books for you to sign....

  2. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Toby. I love the line, "We are always exactly where we are meant to be." Thrilled about the books!!!!!
    August beckons.

  3. This sounds good. Hopefully, I'll be surprised at what I can remember. That's been a long time ago :)

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Janet! School years can be painful to dig into, but that's where the heart of story lies, isn't it? My next blog post has a surprise guest and a writing prompt for those special memories of school days.