This is my 5th year leading NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program in my own community. I began leading a Young Writer’s Group at my home with my daughter and her awesome friends, back in Lyndhurst, OH.
I began this group with two intentions:
One: To see if I would be any good at motivating young kids to write (those who already showed an interest in writing, even a mild interest).
and Two: To encourage my daughter and her friends to get together on a more regular basis. The writing part was a common interest they shared, so it just kind of happened that this group of friends ended up as a writing group that met at my house monthly (yes, National Novel Writing Month turned into an ongoing program for us).
This small group ended up most of the time as a rime to socialize and play, but I was surprised as the years went by that the girls continued their focus on writing. Even after five years, they like to collaborate on Google Docs to create stories. November was always the month to focus back on the writing and challenge ourselves once again.
This year we moved an hour away from where we used to live (from Lyndhurst, OH to Amherst, OH), and my daughter has been forced to try making new friends. A tall order for any introvert. All her best friends were the writing buds back home, so I thought maybe I should try launching an after-school writing program here in Amherst to make it a bit easier to find some kindred spirits, or “peeps.”
I ended up bringing the idea of leading an after-school Young Writers Program for the month of November at Amherst Junior High School (as a volunteer). I met with the Assistant Superintendent in Amherst who brought up the idea at the next board meeting. Thankfully it passed, and I was sent over to have my background check run (insert joke here). I ended up deciding to run two groups – one at the Junior High and one at Nord, the Middle School. Why Nord? Well, I couldn’t help but remember that the 3rd-6th grade ages are actually very fun to work with when it comes to a group like this, because the imagination is so free. The inner critic hasn’t completely been unleashed yet at that age.
Ironically, the Nord group ended up growing to about 25 kids and the Junior High group is at 6, including my daughter. It’s been an interesting learning experience, handling two very different group sizes. The large group can be fun, and I’m glad to be able to engage that many kids, but I can’t get as close to the kids in the group as I would like to because there are so many of them! I feel like I’m getting a little taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, in charge of such a large group of kids. Plus, when my head is turned, that’s when a paper airplane goes flying into the next room, onto the desk of a teacher I didn’t even know was behind the wall next door (facepalm)!
The small group at the Junior High has been more what I imagined. With this group, I have more time to get to know the individual kids. I know what type of genre they each like to write, and I get to share my own work with them at the same time. I get to share my worst book ideas with them and they challenge me to work on those very bad ideas to see if it’s possible to make something good out of them (I’ll share that bit later). There aren’t as many kids in this group as I originally hoped for, but I’m realizing the group size is perfect the way it is. PLUS, some of them want to continue to make the group a monthly meetup – which makes me very happy! And the 8th graders are insisting I continue it at the High School next year – which I am happy to do, even if they end up as the only two participants!
Launching the Young Writers Program in a community that is brand new to me (we have only lived here four months now) has been a true fear-facing challenge for me. The whole fear of rejection thing was very real while meeting with the Assistant Superintendent and waiting for the decision from the board meeting. This is something brand new to me, taking the writing club out of my living room and reaching out to involve more kids.
I keep asking myself, “WHY?” Why am I doing this, really? At first it was just to see if I could help my daughter find more friends. But maybe it was more for myself. I get such satisfaction from getting groups together. I like to see what happens when you get a group of people together and encourage them to be creative, handing them the permission slip to let loose their creative selves – no grades, no pressure, just giving them the freedom and encouragement to write. Writing can be one of the loneliest creative endeavors, and I want these young writers to know they’re not alone.
I guess that’s really what it’s all about for me.