Writing Under the Influence

Peri­od­i­cal­ly I tire of the finan­cial ups and downs of life as a work­ing writer, and I explore careers that might gen­er­ate a larg­er and more sta­ble income. One of the last times I pur­sued this notion I used an aid: a job-hunt­ing guide for cre­ative peo­ple. My under­stand­ing of the book was that it would steer me towards work that suits my artis­tic bent but also allows a life of com­fort and secu­ri­ty. I read the intro­duc­tion and filled out the self-inter­est tests. I iden­ti­fied my cre­ative “type” and eager­ly locat­ed that sec­tion, sure that a career that com­bined cre­ative ful­fill­ment and the abil­i­ty to pay the VISA bill with­out whim­per­ing was a mere page-turn away.

So — what two careers did the book encour­age me to pur­sue? 1) Pup­peteer, and 2) Mime.

Any pro­fes­sion­al mimes who read this, feel free to cor­rect me, but I’m guess­ing that you occa­sion­al­ly strug­gle with errat­ic and insuf­fi­cient income too.

But if the answer isn’t as easy as learn­ing how to climb an imag­i­nary rope, what will get me through those lean times when my income is unpre­dictable? I think it’s the fact that I was raised under the influ­ence of my prac­ti­cal and mon­ey-wise father. How­ev­er much mon­ey man­age­ment might not be my nat­ur­al apti­tude, repeat­ed expo­sure to his exam­ple allowed me to learn skills I like­ly would nev­er have oth­er­wise devel­oped.

Not every stu­dent in your class­room is going to have a nat­ur­al apti­tude for writ­ing. But plac­ing them under the influ­ence of amaz­ing writ­ers can go a long way towards teach­ing them skills they might nev­er have oth­er­wise devel­oped.

To me, this means more than just putting great books into their hands; it requires think­ing and talk­ing about books from a writer’s per­spec­tive. Here’s an exam­ple. When I’m strug­gling with plot­ting, I’ll choose to read a book that I’ve heard has a strong plot. As I read, I con­tin­ue to ask myself what tricks the writer is using to make the action of the sto­ry seem both sur­pris­ing and inevitable.

You can make a game of it to cre­ate this expe­ri­ence in your class­room. Stop the class at the end of each chap­ter and review what’s hap­pened so far in the sto­ry. Then ask stu­dents to antic­i­pate and write down what they think will be the key action in the next chap­ter (but have them keep their pre­dic­tions a secret). When that next chap­ter is fin­ished, stop again and ask stu­dents how many of them guessed cor­rect­ly — and what they antic­i­pate for the fol­low­ing chap­ter.

I can almost guar­an­tee that after sev­er­al rounds of this, your stu­dents will bring stronger plot­ting skills to the next sto­ry they write. Read­ing like a writer inevitably leads to writ­ing under the influ­ence.

4 Responses to Writing Under the Influence

  1. karenhenryclark March 23, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Inge­nious way to engage chil­dren in crit­i­cal think­ing, which sure­ly spot­lights imag­i­na­tion. Thanks so much for shar­ing this idea.

    • Lisa Bullard March 23, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

      You’re wel­come, Karen! I find that kids real­ly open up to me when I start ask­ing them about the books they’re read­ing!

  2. Soni Cido October 27, 2018 at 9:07 am #

    I love this thank you!
    I am always look­ing for ideas to engage kids in con­ver­sa­tion and when my book final­ly comes out, I will use this often.

    • Lisa Bullard October 27, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

      So glad you found it help­ful, Soni! Con­grat­u­la­tions on your book!

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