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Observations from Summer Camp, August 2016 – Lighthouse Writers Workshop

Day One

  • Hooray for name tags!
  • One Larabar (cashew cookie flavor) does not make for a satisfying lunch, especially when you eat it at 11 a.m.
  • These kids are smart and outspoken. Also compassionate and humble. And talented. Were you any of those things as a teenager?
  • How early is too early to eat supper?

Day Two

  • Where are the name tags?!?
  • In a class of eight students, you manage to remember six names. Because you don’t want to make a mistake or make anyone feel bad, you rarely address anyone by name. You feel like a jerk.
  • notes-514998_640You ask the students to choose a character and have that character make a list.  Any sort of list will do: shopping list, song list, to-do list, list of grievances.
  • Someone asks if she has to include the list in her story. No, you say. It’s your story; do what feels right.
  • The post-lunch slump is real.
  • In every class, you fear no one will share anything they’ve written. You imagine them sitting there, staring at their notebooks, twirling their hair, and closing their eyes against your gaze. You can’t breathe until one of them raises a tentative hand and says, “I’ll go.”

Day Three

  • Someone writes from the perspective of a sock. Everyone agrees it is great.
  • Some students write funny. Some students write dark. Everyone agrees it is all great.
  • Someone says she doesn’t believe her character is the type of character who makes lists. She is glad to discover this. It seems like an important thing to know, she says. You are weirdly overjoyed by this observation.
  • Everyone has something to share and the class goes long and no one minds. You are happy.
  • Someone offers you an ice cream sandwich at 2:45 in the afternoon, you eat that ice cream sandwich.
  • You need exercise. It is too hot to run outside. You hit the gym. A belly full of chocolate ice cream does not improve your pace on the treadmill. You slow to a jog. You take a lot of walk breaks. Do you regret the ice cream sandwich? You do not.
  • At home, you read through notes from your agent and tackle revisions to your current manuscript. You need to focus, but you keep thinking about the stories from camp. These kids are fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-years old, and they are full of good ideas. They are imaginative. They are clear-thinkers. They are funny and self-aware. Were you any of those things at that age? Are you any of those things now?

Day Four

  • It is cooler outside and students wear sleeves. They are more alert. You are more alert.
  • A student recommends a book she thinks you’ll enjoy, based on the books you talk about in class. It looks like a really good book.
  • A student hangs back after your last class and tells you he’s been working on a novel forever. He says he was stuck, but now he envisions a new structure for his story. He is excited to keep writing. He thanks you.
  • You go home to tackle the vexing structure issues in your own manuscript.
  • Teaching is learning.
  • This is worth remembering.

Published in Teaching Writing

One Comment

  1. Thanks for this sweet, funny, insightful post on the young writers summer camp, Tiffany. It gave me a smile as it reminded me of my week with the Lighthouse 3rd to 5th graders just two weeks before. Though they were a lot younger than your kids, I think I could have easily written almost the same post – even down to one of them working on a novel! The only big differences were that I ate a 50-50 bar (which tasted pretty gross) and I never go to a gym.

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