The Experience

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Day One

On Monday morning, Matt met with the students and began with an introductory exercise in which he asked the students: “When you are looking back at your life, what two words stand out?” Responses ranged from “loud reckless,” “flashing lights,” “fake smiles,” “picket fence,” and “bolted tombs.” Matt explained that these words could be used as titles, but also could be developed into a personal narrative.

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In the afternoon, Matt discussed the importance of exposition through “showing” instead of “telling.” “Just telling your readers facts are boring!” he told the writers. “Show them the characters instead.” He gave the students two beginning lines and told them to write the rest of the story however they chose. Writers then shared their works.

Matt emphasized the importance of creating a “community that supports each other.” The students realized that they were not only developing their own voice, but hearing the voices of others. “We need to support and respect each others’ voices and bravery,” Matt said. “Writing is brave.”

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Day Two

On Tuesday, the writers explored dialogue. Matt first discussed why authors use dialogue and introduced the various ways authors designate text as dialogue. For example, sometimes authors will use tags such as “He said” or “She shouted” to indicate that the characters are speaking. Other times the author will use italics, like Matt did in Ball Don’t Lie, for dialogue.  He explained that authors choose different ways to depict dialogue depending on their purpose.

Matt then provided the students with a sheet of dialogue.  Their task – to build a story around it.  This was one of the toughest assignments yet, and the results were amazing as the students created characters, settings, and plots that incorporated the lines of dialogue Matt provided.

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Day Three

On Wednesday, the writers took a break for Career Day. Matt met with all of the students in the school in small groups to talk about writing as a career.

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While on this day Matt met with students based on their homeroom classes, nearly every group contained one or two of the writers. Matt identified the writers by name in front of their classmates and noted that he was here specifically to work with them. “You have some amazing writers in your school, did you know that?” Matt told classes.

Day Four

On Thursday, the writers worked on revision. They were shocked when Matt told them that he revised The Living over one hundred times! Matt asked the students to write a piece that incorporated three random words that were chosen by their fellow students. After the students read their produced pieces, Matt discussed the idea of “kill your darlings,” in which writers must sometimes get rid of the facets of their work that produced the work in the first place. “If something no longer makes sense in a piece or if it’s confusing, we have to get rid of it,” he told them.

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With the 8th graders, Matt read “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros and asked them to write about a time when the students felt younger than they were.

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Day Five

On Friday, the writers met with Matt for one last writing workshop and a party celebrating their work throughout the week. Matt asked the students what they thought he was going to be like and how their week was going to go, before the met him. “I thought you would be cool, but cocky,” one student said. “But know I know that you’re just cool.”

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“I thought you were just going to talk about your books!” another student said.

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Matt also took pictures with the students and signed their books. “It’s nice to just sit and chill with you, now that the week is over,” a student remarked. All students agreed that they were sad the week was over and they thought Matt should work at Mt. Vernon indefinitely.

Matt's final advice to the writers-- inscribed on the library wall

Matt’s final advice to the writers– inscribed on the library wall

Follow along with the students’ preparation, experience, and ongoing Writers Community at #mdlPwriters