This week Johanna Baker-Dowdell focuses on a creative writing endeavour with primary students undertaken with with the expertise of Tasmanian author, Lian Tanner. It is wonderful that this program has been extended for a further year - if you missed the first post, follow the link provided for some background insights.
For those who have been long-term readers of this blog, you may remember I was a creative writing mentor for a group of grade 5 and 6 students who participated in The Write Road in 2016.
This year the format was slightly different to last in that instead of 10 weekly prompts the groups had five fortnightly prompts, which gave them an extra week to plan, write and edit their pieces. They will soon be seeing the fruits of their labour when their favourite two pieces are published in an anthology.
It was great to see some of the grade 5 students from last year’s cohort joining again this time, as well as some excited new faces (including my 11-year-old son). One of the treats for this year’s Write Road groups was a creative writing session with The Keepers trilogy and the Hidden series author Lian Tanner, who gave these aspiring writers an invaluable insight into her planning process when first presented with an idea, or prompt.
Using the picture of a person on a bike and the question: “What does it mean to escape?” Ms Tanner showed how she would start a story.
To get the eager minds started on the creative road, Ms Tanner handed each a sheet of A2 paper and a handful of coloured markers telling them to write down the first thing that came to mind when thinking of the question above. She explained: “It might be a sentence, it might be a word, it might be a phrase. What’s the first thing that strikes you when it comes to that prompt?”
They had permission to make grammatical and spelling mistakes, and even to write nonsensical things, because order “gets in the way of imagination”. “This is fun. It’s our way of playing,” Ms Tanner said.
After an initial flurry of scribbling she asked the students if they came up with anything unexpected or surprising. “I’m encouraging them to explore and do the things I do when I write,” she said.
And explore they did. More than 20 students in that room saw the same prompt and each created a story around it that was completely different. Some were running from something that scared them, others were escaping to a peaceful oasis and others still described the feeling of riding their bike freely, with the wind in their hair and the wind rushing past their ears.
It’s a fascinating process to watch – and do – and it set these eager creative writers on a path that I hope will have them writing their own prose and poetry for years to come.
I know I certainly approach brainstorming in a much less ordered way as a result of Lian’s masterclass.
Johanna is a journalist, author of the book Business & Baby on Board and a PhD candidate.