When students share that they used to write stories as a child, I am delighted to learn about what they did. Little else is as charming to hear an adolescent describe the book he wrote several years ago. Will started out his conference with a similar story, but then shifted to a story he is writing right now on his own.
What hooks me about Will--beyond the fact that he literally unplugs and goes outdoors to compose--is how he acts as a writer on his own outside of the class. Thankfully, writing is more than just something Will does in school.
Will is a writer.
After playing a video game (Slenderman) which Will admits is scary, he began to imagine the game turned into a book. He composes--thinking--while shooting baskets outside. As you listen to the podcast, note how a video game is, for Will, the source of an idea.
Before writing anything down on paper, Will constantly tells himself the story in his imagination while physically engaged in an activity outdoors. I think of writers who share that they go for a walk in order to stimulate their thinking.
Soon, Will abandons the Slenderman story for a new idea for a story. To use Will's word, he "remodeled" the story.
What is beautiful here is that Will's unique process continues to evolve. He went from a video game, to imagining fan fiction, to imagining an original story, to the next stage: he verbalized the story to his mother and brother in the car. And they encouraged him to keep working on it. They said that it was good, but keep going...
Will presents one example of the constant state of composition outside of the classroom that some adolescents do on their own. When pressed to tell me how and when he would write the story down, Will did not leap to that action. His response is patient and makes the point that his writing process is very much a mental rehearsal. When he finishes shooting baskets he tells himself, literally, "to be continued" and conjures a mental placeholder.
When Will eventually returns to shooting hoops another day, he summarizes the story to himself and picks up from the mental placeholder. This is very real, recursive act of revision for Will.
The depth and believability of Will's story astonish me. He comments on characters' decisions ("it is kind of sad") and articulates the setting and family history so clearly that capture a sense of Will's imagined community quite well. I especially love, as he is summarizing his story, that he says he doesn't want to tell me anymore because he does not want to spoil it.
This is a writer who believes in his thinking. This is real. The writing is real. The story is real.
Once Will moves to put the ideas down on a document, he verbalizes the story aloud to himself. He says he is listening to hear well he wrote the suspense, details, and description. When asked why that act is different than just reading your work silently, Will says, "Well, I can't hear myself when I read silently."
Will reports that a fluency exists between what he writes at home and what he writes at school. This stream of composing is never severed. It is strengthened. Will points to a class lesson that directly impacted his personal writing. He goes right into a specific example from his story; yet, he still knows what he wants to work on next (details during the most suspenseful moments) and points to James Dashner's The Kill Order as a mentor text. He knew the book influencing his style right away. He notes that Dashner's details make the moments sound real. Will states that reading Dashner taught him how important those kinds of details were.
I wish I could take credit for any of Will's discoveries and revelations. But I can't. Will came to me as a writer. He is a writer. And when one writer is in the presence of another writer, we listen and encourage, we share and mentor.