ABC’s of Fiction Writing: G is for Grade School

Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

KristinRoseheadshotKindergarten was one of my happiest times as a child. There were naps, there were Capri Sun juice pouches, there was fingerpainting. In my spare time, I ran around naked on a beach in San Diego, CA fashioning seaweed belts and skirts which I sometimes adorned around my waist. I was planning how I was going to be a mermaid when I grew up. I wrote and directed my own mini-plays mainly based on the Shirley Temple movies I watched over and over. I dressed my poor little brother and his friends in frocks and makeup and choreographed dances they had to perform, which mainly involved kitchen utensils and bouncing around the kitchen to “Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”  My parents were hippies, and we rolled around in a yellow VW bus, taking trips to Baha, Oregon, and driving cross country — so that probably explains a lot.

And if I think long and hard about it, I was totally without self-awareness. I realize for the most part I was just myself. Oscar Wilde wrote, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” I realize that if I now, as a 33-year-old woman, I ran around in a seaweed skirt claiming to be a mermaid I would probably be locked up in a padded room. But, what I’m talking about here is creativity and taking risks and being playful with our writing. I usually sit down to my computer and think I must write something “literary.” I must write something “nuanced” and “complex,” and this usually keeps me from writing anything at all or anything authentic and accessible to my would-be reader. What I think is important to remember from grade school is I was just myself. I had to put on clothes for school but then it was usually a tutu and a my little pony tshirt and tap shoes. I didn’t care what other people thought because I hadn’t learned how to care. I hadn’t graduated to eighth grade where we re-enacted Mean Girls on a daily basis, but in a much less entertaining manner than Tina Fey’s script. So why do I go on and on about my days of bliss in Kindergarten and grade school? It is this sort of freedom and permission I need to allow myself with my own writing and my own drafting.

I teach Freshman Composition at a local university, and I always give my students 10 minutes to free write. I usually give a prompt like “If you were a kitchen you utensil what sort of kitchen utensil would you be?” Then I ask them to write prose poem from the perspective of that utensil. This is an amazing exercise for shifting your perspective, using the five sense when you write: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. It also shifts your perspective with the precision of language. My students initially look at me like I’m a loon but then most come back to me at the end of the semester and say this was their favorite assignment. Try it!

Sometimes I just ask my students to garbage write. This is a writing technique I learned from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Moumen. You just take a blank sheet of paper and write whatever is floating around in your mind. It doesn’t have to make sense, you can free associate, you can write down your worries, you can write anything at all. There is no judgement. This has been one of the most helpful techniques I have learned. I use to generate ideas for poems and short stories. If I can access my thoughts without judgment, I usually get to the best thoughts that are just swimming under the surface. Yes, there is a lot of muck, but then I’ll find that prize sunfish of an idea. I can grab onto it and build a coherent draft from there. I use the quote in my class from Joan Didion, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” And this is true, but sometimes, for me, in order to write it down or get at what I really think about a character or setting I have to remove expectations and my own judgement.

Remembering our favorite activities from childhood and times when we were most creative and at play is a great way to tap into a level of creativity that we don’t always have access to as an adult. So, don, your metaphorical mermaid seaweed skirt, turn the music up in the kitchen and dance around in the kitchen singing into a wooden spoon or kitchen utensil of your choice, and then sit down to write.

Kristin Rose attended Stanford University and received a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing; she has a love of contemporary fiction and nineteenth century poetry. At Stanford, Kristin was a reporter and photographer at The Stanford Daily. She has worked in science publishing at Pearson Education, The New York Times Digital, and at the Hartford Courant and FoxCT. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing and English Literature at Fairfield University and was the Poetry Editor of Mason’s Road Literary Magazine for two semesters. She has experience in freelance journalism, travel writing, and science writing. Kristin now teaches Freshman English at Fairfield University and is working on a book of atrocious poetry and an even more appalling book of linked short stories. You can read more of her work here.

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