Inspiring the next generation of writers

A character study of a misunderstood tween demi-goddess living among normies. A comedy sketch mining laughs from an inept villain who is verrrrry bad at being bad. A lyrical ode to birth, decay and renewal in the natural world. A multigenerational saga about clashing dragon clans.

These are just a few examples of the imaginative output from young participants in the Writer’s Circle for Middle Grade Students. Since mid-January, I’ve had the privilege of leading this new program designed to encourage creativity in writers grades 5-8. Each self-contained lesson covers a different aspect of craft such as Unputdownable Plots, Compelling Characters, Dynamic Dialogue and Sensory-Rich Settings. Meeting every other week for six sessions, students hone their unique powers of observation with free-writing exercises inspired by passages from popular Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. These mentor texts are sourced by the youth themselves and lead to lively discussions about characterization in “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan or the inciting moment in “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio.

Sharing drafts can be daunting at all ages and stages of one’s writing journey. Over time, students in the Writer’s Circle build a sense of trust in each other. Once shy and quiet scribes gain confidence to read their work aloud, knowing that they are in supportive company. As workshop leader, I take part in the same 15-20 minute free-writing exercises as the participants. Without fail, their spontaneous scribblings are far more interesting and inventive than anything I could produce at their age–and now! Whether it’s answering 30 questions to complete a detailed Character Biography or choosing from a set of prompts to practice two characters in conversation, I am consistently impressed by the level of artistry on display. 

The Middle Grade Writer’s Circle concludes this week. However, another opportunity is slated for aspiring authors who want to develop their craft with peers who love creating as much as they do. For Local Author Day on April 29, I’ll lead Prepping for Publication, a workshop for more experienced writers in grades 5-8 focused on sharing works-in-progress and getting constructive feedback from each other. Registration is open now.

If these young Princeton-area writers are any indication, the future of American literature is alive and thriving. 

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