(This is Part Two in a series on teaching a fanfiction workshop. Part One is here.)
When planning the fanfiction workshop, I had the benefit of experience to look back on. The MFA program at the University of Washington offered an internship called “Writers in the Schools.” I worked with a classroom teacher at a local school to teach short story writing to a class of 7th graders. That was a challenging job and although we all made it through, with some great short stories, I never quite felt I was up for the task. I was pretty shy and had absolutely no idea how to keep the attention of thirty teenagers! They were awestruck for the first few weeks, but when my “author glamour” wore off, it was a struggle to keep them quiet enough so that I could give my lessons.
On top of that, after the class was over I felt that I had taught them the wrong things. I spent so much time explaining the conventions of the short story form, the mystery genre, the adventure genre, and so forth, when many of these conventions are already imprinted on our brains. I spent much less time with confidence-building and tips and tricks for getting unstuck. And when their stories were finished I critiqued them in the same way adult writers critique each other’s stories, not understanding that I was sending a message that a Professional Stamp of Approval would be required for their art.
I gave it my best, and I did a good job, but still . . . . I wanted a do-over!
Since then, I’ve had a lot more experience with teaching and public speaking. I now know that teaching is as much performance art as it is transmission of information. It’s about knowing when kids’ attention is lagging and how to get it back.
I’ve also had a lot of time to think about what kinds of help young writers actually do and don’t need. In general, it’s helpful if it’s about how to get ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. It’s not helpful if it’s about how to do it correctly. It’s helpful if it’s about practice. It’s not helpful if the initial focus is on final product.
Above all, it’s helpful if it’s fun.
Enter the fanfiction component.
Next up: Day One