Why every writer should hang out with kids

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My freshmen are writing short stories right now–flash fiction, actually, which has been quite an interesting challenge for them.  But what has been the best part of teaching them how to do this, is hearing their ideas.

Man, they can come up with ideas that make me what to kick myself for not thinking of them first!  This is why it hit me today that every writer should find a writing group of kids.  It would be pretty easy even if you weren’t a teacher–just pull up at a park and offer pizza to the ones you find there.  It would be a great session until the police showed up.

Yesterday a student told me that she wanted to write a story about a girl at school who kills other girls and wears their skin (we read a lot of Poe, don’t judge).  Her original idea was that this Carrie-like outcast would one by one pick off the popular group of girls, but they wouldn’t know what was happening although the outcast would be showing up to school in these skin clothes. I knew that would be a lot to deal with in 500 words, let alone suspending disbelief long enough to make it work. But we starting talking about building to tension peaks before the ultimate climax, and we came up with the idea that the outcast comes to school with strange bandages every day, meanwhile the girls in the popular girl group are having attendance problems. Ultimately the climax is that the final girl is left at school and the outcast pulls off the bandages to reveal that the girl’s friends’ skin has been slowly added to the face/body of the outcast.

The student got a mischievous grin at the end of this conference and my skin crawled. It was a great idea for a story and we both walked away knowing it. I couldn’t wait to see what she did with it, but I found my fingers itching to write it myself. This phenomenon happened conference after conference. They had unbelievable ideas that just needed a bit of tweaking, questioning, or guidance. Ideas that could turn into stories that Stephen King himself would be pissed he missed.

I guess the muse speaks louder to kids. All of my “experience” that I’m using to help them is nothing without that raw idea that they sit down so jazzed to tell me about. I miss those raw ideas. I don’t get them as much as I used to, but like I’ve said before, I’m grateful that I get to hang out with young writers long enough to find them where I can. I can only hope the muse whispers loud enough while I sit beside them, and every writer should be lucky enough to do the same.


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