We Are All Writers
Mr. Shaw

This year's Grade 9 English class is chock full of young, imaginative writers with plenty to say. It was my privilege to coach them through an intensive narrative writing unit. The resulting stories have made me laugh, cry, and raise my eyebrows in envy at their energetic prose. I probably learned more about writing than they did!

Before I share a few student testimonials, here is the sequence of steps we took:

  1. Lots of free write time to prime the pump. We talked about piling up 'lumber' before building our house. The key to the free writes is no pressure: don't worry about grammar, spelling, or anything else. That comes later. Some students used writing prompts, while others found their own path.
  1. The first draft. We used Hemingway's mantra for this. "The first draft of anything is (not good)." I paraphrase. After sketching out a plan to create a character, conflict, and resolution, students went for it without turning back. We tried to "silence the inner critic" and just pile up word count.
  1. The self edit with optional teacher comment. Students faced their work and looked for ways to make it better. We talked a lot about "leaving the boring bits out."
  1. The second draft. Some students completely re-worked their stories.
  1. The peer conference. After a little bit of coaching, I was blown away at how generous, direct, and constructively critical students were. Many helpful comments came out of this exercise.
  1. The published draft. That was an exciting day. Most students were happy to hit the finish line; others wished they could create more drafts.
  1. The optional public reading. A number of students read their work aloud and received hearty applause and supportive comments. This was my favourite part.

Here are a few noteworthy comments from our unit exit survey:

Which tip(s) had the greatest impact on your writing?

"Just write, don't look back."

"People telling me to cut out boring, pointless scenes."

"I found out you should imagine your story as a movie scene and take a step in your character's shoes."

"The guest speaker inspired me to never give up on my story."

"Show, don't tell."

"Stop criticizing and editing as you write, just write."

This year, I was reminded that we are all writers. Thanks to the Grade 9 class for poring so much into the process. And thank you for reading!

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