I couldn’t live without books. I collect a ridiculous number in many formats. Stacked all around my house, queuing up on Kindle, downloaded in iTunes, or residing on my hard drive in the form of PDFs, books surround me. I have three on hold at the local library right now. And I manage to read some of them.
The books range in genre, although I am reading mostly nonfiction lately as I try to find my way as a soon to be full-time writer. Books on marketing, creativity, and self-discipline as a freelancer. I’ve also been plowing through some of the old masters to learn more about the craft.
But with that said, I’ve picked my favorite book from the summer. It is a young adult novel titled The Wild Girls, by Pat Murphy. It eerily arrived one day from paperbackswap.com. I love paperback swap and use it as a cheap source for some of my books, but I hadn’t ordered this one. Weird. Though it sounded interesting I laid it aside. Too many other demands on my time.
Then in talking with my friend Linda who recently moved to another state, I found out she sent me the book through the swap site because it sounded like something I could use. She was along for the journey when I decided to leave my day job to write full-time , so I knew I had to give the book another look.
I read it. I loved it. Two 12-year-old girls meet one summer in California. Both outcasts, one lives with her writer dad in an isolated ramshackle house in the woods and the other one’s just been transported across the country with her family due to her dad’s job transfer. The girls create a haven in the woods where they hang out, tell stories, and eventually begin to write their stories. School begins and they enter a writing contest without telling parents or teacher. Because they win the contest, they’re invited to attend a summer writing workshop with Miss Verla Volante at the University of California at Berkeley.
I wish I’d had a teacher like Verla to teach me about writing when I was 12. She gives each student in the workshop a spiral-bound notebook to fill with writing assignments. “Pay attention,” Verla tells them. “Tell the truth,” she says. “To be a writer, you have to learn to tell the truth.”
Verla wasn’t so concerned with proper sentence structure and grammar. She wasn’t interested in making their stories hers rather than theirs. She was more interested in showing kids how to go deep into writing.
When I taught first grade, we opened each day with journal writing. Put together by me or my assistant, the journals were simple: unlined newsprint stapled together between covers made from an old wallpaper sample book. Inventive spelling and drawings were both encouraged. Exciting stuff to serve witness to the developing independent writing of six-year-olds!
I mention that to say that schools do a better job today teaching writing than when I was a child. Writing is becoming a mainstay of early learning.
But that’s not to say that we can’t do more. Here’s a site to check out if you’re interested in getting kids to write more: ilovetowriteday.org
November 15, 2011 will mark the tenth year of I Love To Write Day, a grassroots effort to have people of all ages practice their writing skills. Created by Delaware author John Riddle, I Love To Write Day is an opportunity for people of all ages to write something: a poem, an essay, a letter to the editor, a short story, start a novel, finish a novel the possibilities are endless! On the first I Love To Write Day, 11,328 schools all across the country held special writing events and activities. Last year, over 20,000 schools participated.
John Riddle, who regularly goes into schools to further the craft of writing for youth, can be contacted through the website.