We wrapped up the group exercise, and moved into the individual exercise. I explained that this exercise worked the same as the group exercise (except solo), and the story would be generated by a story seed. I’ve seen other workshop teachers use the contents of their purse (KD Wentworth/Tim Powers at the Writers of the Future workshop use this method); some use story seeds generated by earlier sessions in the workshop (Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp has an almost traumatizing exercise in which participants leave the classroom with the specific purpose of going and talking to strangers to pick up story seeds for use later)
I don’t own a purse, and even if I did, I doubt I could find enough items to distribute to the number of kids that were in my workshop. And while I’m sure the kids would enjoy being released from school at my request, I think school administrators would have a conniption. I came up with the idea of using fortune cookies as seeds; I was able to get a good deal on them from a local Chinese take-out place (~250 for $10.00).
Here’s how it worked: I passed out the cookies along with a 3x5 index card and explained that they were going to use the cookie to come up with a story. They’d plot the story out on the index card. There was a time limit on the exercise; I gave them 15 minutes.
I explained that the time limit was meant to get them working quickly, and to instill a sense of urgency in their creative process. It’s been my experience that urgency tends to force the mind to be more productive. The index card, I explained, was to help them restrict their outline to the important high-level details. (I did not realize, however, that 6th graders can write incredibly teeny script. I believe some of those kids could cram the Encyclopedia Britanica into a couple 3x5s…)
The cookies were a tremendous hit. I’m not really sure if the enthusiasm had more to do with the story creation process, or if it was just the opportunity to eat in class that got them fired up, but everyone seemed happy, and they all worked pretty diligently at plotting their stories. A couple kids needed some help figuring out how to move from the seed to a story idea, but on the whole, they got it.
That took us to the last five minutes of class where I talked about work ethic and the Muse. I’m not a fan of the Muse, or inspiration; I think too often, young writers wait until the lightning bolt moment to put pen to paper. For me, writing is a discipline. Like distance running—you don’t wait to feel like it in order to start training to run a marathon. You go out there in the heat or rain, or whatever, and you get those muscles working. Eventually, you train enough, and you can run 30 miles all at once. Same with writing—don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Inspiration is a crutch that weakens writers who become dependent on it, because they feel they can’t write without it.
And that was pretty much it for the workshop. I repeated this workshop three times during the day that I was at the middle school; and it was pretty successful. And for those of you keeping score: I did not, in fact, embarrass my daughter in front of all her friends.
I call that a win.