Thursday, 2 April 2009
Write? What now? Without talking? Meg Harper
‘I don’t know what to write!’
The heart sink moment. I am being employed by The Landmark Trust as writer/drama practitioner on a wonderful project with five schools in Bedfordshire which gives them access to the restoration process at Queen Anne’s Summerhouse on the Shuttleworth Estate and then three days back in their schools, one day with me and two with visual artists. We’re aiming for a book of the children’s writings and a display of their artwork.
And it is wonderful! I love it! I could wax lyrical and go on and on – but I won’t because I am a) tired b) too busy c) I would bore the pants off you. Let’s cut to the chase.
We have done every possible explorational and preparatory activity I can think of in the morning – we have had huge fun – and then the big moment comes. We have to write.
Ouch! And, oh my goodness, after a few minutes of chat and settling I’m saying that we are all going to write for ten minutes in complete silence – because that’s what I do at home, for hours on end sometimes (OK Mary H – I know you listen to the radio but I can’t!) and we’re not going to put up our hands for help, we are just going to get on with it – just for ten minutes. Some kids love it – they are away, heads down, instant beavers. Others will go along with it. So this mad woman wants us to stop talking – well, she’s all right – we like her – let’s humour her. And then there are the others.
Victoria: I don’t feel very well.
Reece: I’ve got a poorly wrist.
Five minutes later, Corie in tears: I just want to go to the toilet.
I am not unaware of this problem. I have talked about how it can feel like jumping off a cliff – and I have drawn a pretty parachute on the board because we do have a parachute to help us on the way down – it’s full of word banks and the similes we made up and our plays that we created this morning and our brains! And I’ve suggested that we only have to take one step at a time down the cliff – one word and then another word and they don’t even have to be the right words because we can change them later if we want to – and even if English is a new language for us (there are 13 EAL kids in this group), we can do it – we really can!
But oh it’s still hard for a few! And the teacher does not help, interrupting with:
‘Weronika, if you don’t write half a page you’ll be doing it tomorrow!’
Given a rope, I would have hung the woman! A shame – I like her. She has been great to work with.
We stop after the ten minutes. I talk about writer’s block and thinking time and say that sometimes all I do is think for ten minutes - and comfort myself that slightly undermining the teacher is less of a crime than hanging her would be. And in the end, we have some fantastic pieces of writing, considering this is year 4 and even Maksims (who never writes – there were no lions at Queen Anne’s Summerhouse but what the hell?) has written half a page and the teacher is cock-a-hoop. But that bit where the minority panics – oh, how I would like to avoid that! Am thinking I might try to develop a workshop called ‘Writing for the Terrified’. Got any suggestions anybody?