I’ve returned from my first time teaching writing to adults, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! My workshop, where I paired up the attendees and asked each of them to give tours of their fictional world to their partners, was a resounding success. They enjoyed living in the imaginary worlds — theirs and others — and their partners’ questions allowed them to see the gaps in their world as well as the aspects that most engaged the “visitors.” One of my workshop participants writing a contemporary YA novel decided to draw a detailed map based on the map of the Highlights Foundation property.
My keynote, sprinkled with photos from my LEGO town Little Brick Township, was also a hit. I’ve emptied out middle school cafeterias when showing my town to children in the library, as the sixth grades crowded among the shelves to catch a glimpse. I’ve received standing ovations from middle school assemblies for my building prowess. (Trust me, there are far more accomplished builders out there, if one goes to sites like The Brothers Brick or checks out the LEGO Ideas candidates.) But my parting words on how I select pieces for my town due to limitations of money and space comforted writers who often have to cut beloved elements of their world from their novels because those elements slowed the pace and added too much to the word count.
I also met one-on-one with four talented writers working in a variety of categories and genres. Two of them write for adults as well as children, and they have unique, powerful stories to tell. I look forward to seeing these stories out in the world!
Unlike middle school where teachers ate separately from students — also the case in many writing retreats — we joined tables with our “students.” And this is where a lot of the magic happened. The majority of the attendees are educators and librarians, current and retired, and others have worked as journalists. Listening to them, I felt as if I were the student, because they are so dedicated and accomplished in their fields. These educators and librarians have taught and guided young people for 2 1/2 years through a deadly pandemic, pivoting to remote instruction and back and putting their lives on the line every day through the chaos and fear that has been a part of Covid-era schooling. They are heroes, the constants in their students’ and library visitors’ lives, their teaching a powerful statement of faith in their students’ futures. To have the energy and creativity to write during this time is incredible.
I told one of my one-on-one students how much I’ve learned from them. “You are the real experts, the people out there doing the work,” I said. “I just sit in my room and write.” I felt so humbled by them. It made me think of all the times I attended these workshops as a student, more than a dozen over the years not including my MFA program. I remembered listening to the authors, agents, and editors with awe, wanting to create a good impression, taking in every pearl of wisdom they offered. I worked as a magazine editor for much of that time — one of those journalists — but I was star-struck. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have been. I was trying to get into a field, and they were either the people who’d already made it, the gatekeepers, or both. However, I think those workshops that create a separation between faculty members and participants miss an opportunity for interaction that enriches everyone’s experience.