In June and July, The Porch had the great pleasure of teaming up with Time to Rise, a long-established Nashville nonprofit whose program provides academic enrichment and summertime structure to at-risk youth. Over the course of several weeks, we ventured into the Time to Rise classrooms to facilitate creative writing workshops. Rising fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were challenged to think of themselves as writers for the morning as they were guided through the process of crafting a short story and several poems. In the end, we worked with approximately one hundred and twenty Time to Rise students, who, if their enthusiasm and smiles were any measure, each experienced the spirit of adventure, surprise, creativity, and satisfaction that comes with imaginative writing.
In coordinating these workshops, The Porch’s objectives were, one, for the students to have fun. We wanted to put a friendly face on the experience of writing (which unfortunately, doesn’t always happen in school.) Two, we wanted the students to feel successful in producing creative work and further, to experience pride in sharing their stories and poems with their peers. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we hoped to plant within the students a paradigm shift in how they view writing and to impress upon them that writing is not only important but maybe even magic.
Magic? Indeed. After all, as we explained in our introduction, writing can last forever. Have a good idea, a cool story, and artful turn of phrase, and most likely, if it doesn’t leave the walls of one’s brain, it’s forgotten, lost in the clutter of living. Write it down, and it’s locked in place, permanent. Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and it will become a part of that person’s mind too. Maybe, just maybe, that person is someone far away, someone the writer will never meet, someone who lives in the future, and through the words on a page, the writer can speak to that reader, tell him or her a story, impact, inspire, or entertain him. Think of Shakespeare, speaking to us from five centuries ago. That, my friends, is magic.
Furthermore, through writing, we can make characters and worlds that don’t otherwise exist come to life. When asked at the beginning of the fiction workshop how it was possible that within the hour, instead of eight people sitting in a circle of desks, there would be sixteen, students replied, “Not possible.” No? In an hour, we countered, they would each create a character, breathe life into that character though physical details as well as as the character’s strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, and through each young writer’s description, the rest of us would come to believe in the newly-imagined character. Magic? Absolutely.
Why should this creative writing business even matter to a kid in middle school? Ask a group of fifth graders to raise their hands if they like books, and a good number will lift a wary arm. TV? Most hands go up. Movies? Songs? All hands fly high. Ask what these things have in common, the students will eventually answer: “Words?” Yep, and where do those words come from? The students may for a moment be stumped until one small voice will venture: “Writers?”
Writers. You bet. And only the day before, these kids thought writing was just this thing their teachers made them do for homework.