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Young Writers’ Workshops (What’s New Wednesday)

I went to my first ever writing workshop last week, and it was my own workshop. (Meaning that I had to stand at the front of the room rather than slouch in the back row.) I kept expecting the writing police to arrive at any moment and charge me with “workshopping without a clue.” But that didn’t happen. Because I actually knew what I was doing! (I just didn’t know I knew.)

For three days in April, I was a guest author at the MASC (Multicultural Arts for Schools and Communities) Young Authors and Young Illustrators Conference in Ottawa. I led six groups of talented writers aged 9-14 in developing characters and plots and bringing them to life through well chosen words. It was so inspiring! All those bright young heads bent toward their desks, all those pencils scratching the paper.

And the work they produced? I was so impressed! Tender and beautiful descriptions, funny and clever dialogue, vivid and thrilling action, crisp and moving poetry that caused spontaneous applause. And all of it done on the spot in a few minutes of time. Amazing.

It was an honour to be part of that. For the children who came to the Conference – they are handpicked from eastern Ontario and western Quebec schools, chosen by teachers for their interest and talent – the workshops are an opportunity to learn techniques from established authors and illustrators and, perhaps more importantly, to just sit and write or draw for an entire day and share their work with a group of kids who all love to do the same thing.

It was such a pleasure to meet those young writers and hear their work. (They inspired me to update the Tips for Young Writers Page on my website.)

So I had my very first writing workshop as an award-winning 46-year-old author. I should have started sooner, huh? If you’re wondering why I avoided workshops for so long…

Sad to say, most of the writers I met as a teenager had shoulder chips and cruel streaks and lousy interpersonal skills, so I thought learning through humiliation was the norm for the field. In six years of university, I only took one class that involved writing in a group setting – and I can still picture the prof cutting down a student (the sweetest one, of course), calling him a one-dimensional man. In my limited experience, writing teachers did not attack bad writing. They attacked other writers. (And they weren’t very interesting, either – while the biologists at school were all talking about how fascinating the world was, the writers were all talking about themselves. Yawn.) I didn’t want to sit through their classes.

Why oh why didn’t I recall Donny Osmond’s sage advice: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl”? Even three bad apples don’t spoil a bushel. Oh well.

Fortunately, my prejudices against writing classes have since been shattered by reality – better late than never. One of the best things that has happened to me since publishing my first children’s novel is that I’ve met so many writers who are bright and talented and humble and strong and deeply supportive of each other, including many writing teachers who are committed to bringing out the very best in their students, instilling a love of writing along with a dedication to the craft.

Now that I’ve been to a writing workshop and found it so much fun, I might even be ready to take one as a student.

I’m too old for next year’s MASC Conference. But if you know young writers or illustrators who will be in grades 4-8 next spring, in eastern Ontario or western Quebec, inquire with their school principal about getting them involved in the 2013 MASC Young Authors and Young Illustrators Conference. It will be one of the best days of their school year.

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