Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Power of Creativity

A few weeks a go I was asked to give a series of workshops to a local classroom. These were kids whose parents thought they were hungry for writing and would really enjoy this type of experience. So, armed with my books and my short lecture and my writing exercises, I arrived for the first workshop, full of enthusiasm and energy.

It was an unmitigated disaster. For many reasons, but primarily because these kids basically wanted no part of it. They were restless and silly and approached the writing exercises with little enthusiasm and talked almost non-stop. Truly, the worst workshop I’ve ever experienced.

But writers are nothing if not flexible. At the end of the workshop, I finally got them all to sit still and listen for a moment, then acknowledged that this clearly wasn’t working, and we needed to rethink this. “What,” I asked, “would your ideal workshop look like? How would you design it?”

There was stunned silence for a few moments, as if they’d never been consulted about how they wanted to learn something, then hands began to pop into the air.

Turns out they were HUNGRY for free writing time. Starved for it, in fact. They wanted free writing time and a chance to have their work critiqued by their peers.

Later that day, I had some conversations with some of the parents and quickly realized that with these kids, my job was to re-connect them with their enthusiasm for writing and their love of the creative writing process, which had been workshopped and tested clean out of them. Mind you, I’m not faulting the teachers—or anyone—on this. It is just the shape education takes in the classroom today.

So the next week I showed up with a quick lecture on the creative aspects of writing, showed them some collages I’d used for some of my stories, gave them some writing prompts for scene ideas in case they didn’t have any of their own, then turned them loose on the paper. We also talked about how they owned this process now. We were going to do exactly as they voted for, but that they needed to make it work.

And boy did they.

When there is intense, focused creativity going on in a room, you can feel it; it hums in the air, a quiet, contented crackling, and that’s how it was in that room. They completely lost themselves in their writing, then did a great job of breaking up into critique groups and critiqued each others work. After that we had a quick wrap up where I asked if people had any problems they’d run into. A couple of really great craft discussions ensued from the questions, and we were all totally satisfied. It was a complete 180 degree turn around from the previous week.

And I learned three important lessons:
  1. Always have a few alternative workshop angles you can use in case one approach isn’t working.
  2. Kids like to have some say in how they’re taught. They want a chance to own the process, and when they do, they commit to it in an impressive manner.
  3. Kids are hungry for structured creativity, which may sound like an oxymoron but what I mean by that is they want a chance to exercise their creativity but within a structured environment that gives them validation and takes that creativity seriously.


Anonymous said...

Robin - What a great story about empowerment of kids -- and planning -- and regrouping when Plan A doesn't work. Thanks for sharing this!

Barbara Bietz said...


I love this post! It's so reassuring to know that there are times we all need to adjust the plan -it is inspiring to hear how you turned things around without getting flustered. I agree that kids love creative time. There is something so refreshing about endeavors that don't have a "right" answer or defined outcome!