I have an imaginative student who is a reluctant writer. It doesn’t matter how sparkly the writing prompt is, the song and dance hype I give it, or the rewards I dangle in front of her nose, we always end up at the same impasse after the assignment is given.
Fifteen minutes into it, student shows me an empty page.
Me trying the teasing tactic: Really? Really? You can’t think of one word to write? I gave you a princess, with a sword, and a handsome prince.
Student: I tried! Nothing comes to me.
Me – (who is honestly sympathizing, thinking of my own work in progress sitting on my desk) “Did you try my writer’s block tips to add to your word count?”
Student – “Maybe.”
Me – “Maybe. Huh. Did you try to describe your setting? Is it a stone castle? Is there a drawbridge? What kind of princess is she? A ninja princess who saves the prince? Or a damsel in distress in sparkly pink clothes.”
Student sighs. “I just don’t know.”
Me – “Okay. Start with senses then. What do you see? What do you hear? The roar of a dragon or the sweet singing of some birds? Do you smell the moat? The prince? His horse?”
Student taps pencil on the table, not even remotely amused.
Me – “Well, you can add anything you like to your story, you know. A giraffe. A lemonade rainstorm. The principal in a clown wig. A zombie.”
Several boys start scribbling madly, but she just sighs again.
So I pitch my lots-of-famous-writers-do-this-warm-up-exercise-on-a-daily-basis speech. I even drop some well known names! It doesn’t help in the least. The class ends and I hope I’ve given her food for thought as her assignment is now homework over the long weekend.
Fast forward to Sunday. I’m sitting down, faced with the next- to-the-last chapter in my own first draft. This chapter isn’t coming easily. It’s the climax, and an exciting, dangerous one it is too! There’s lots of characters, all come together, and the battle against right and wrong has begun.
I’ve written my character so his back is against a wall. Literally. And I’m having a hard time getting him out so he can personally save the day. I sigh. I tap my pencil on my notebook. I watch the San Fran-Atlanta football game. I pour over my plot ideas. I’m thinking, “I’ll work on this tomorrow,” when my in-box dings.
There’s a school Edmodo e-mail from the student. To summarize her paragraph, she was letting Shannon and I know she was still stuck. “It takes me awhile to think of something” She didn’t think she could turn in her writing prompt of 400 words by Tuesday.
I wrote her right back. I re-told her all the tips for adding to your word count. “Plow forward,” I said. Then I paused and remembered that I was just about to give up too. “I’m at home, writing too! Let’s write together!” I suggested.
I didn’t hear back from that student. I wrote though. And I hoped she was, maybe, writing too. Imagining it, kept me writing for awhile.
This morning, I ran into the student. “Hey!” I said, “Did you get my message?”
Student shyly: “Uh, huh”
Me: “Did it help?”
Student beams: “I wrote 600 words! How many did you write?”
Me: “About the same.”
And once again, a student has taught me something. Sometimes, it’s more fun, and more inspiring to know someone is writing right alongside you. And that they find it hard too.