Volunteer Journal #60 - Writing Coach

I love that number 60 was in my wheelhouse. Teaching a writing workshop. That’s it. Pretty simple. Class – 6 High school kids. Who should be worried about going to college and picking up classmates. Unfortunately these kids, as KIDSAVE ambassadors, had to worry about finding families and convincing others to look beyond blood and do the same. How to convince aka seduce someone with the written word? In two words - “Yes, and…” “Yes, and…” is my writing motto. It keeps a story moving forward, fills it with interesting details, but is also appropriate to use in life. For Example: “Raegan, would you like a cookie?” Yes, and milk. “Do you write plays?” Yes, and screenplays, short stories, a blog, and teleplays. “Would you like to have your own TV show?” Yes, and I’d like to win a Pulitzer, speak at TED, and… can I please have that bag of cookies? Try it everywhere, like in the dark with a significant other. You can thank me later.

Back to the kiddos… I started the class by handing out the guidelines below. If anything these little rules, principles, guidelines help me unstick myself. It’s how I avoid writers block, which I fortunately don’t get (knock on wood). After I explained the rules (yes - juxtaposition is a real word) I had them do some improv writing exercises and then we talked about what they produced. The kids wrote quality 1st draft work about their lives in two hours.

One kid wrote the most beautiful personal statement. It was honest, brutal, and bitter. He captured the emotions of a boy who was forgotten. Passed from shelter, to group home, to the street. A life in limbo. I loved it. I knew the organization would never let him read his story at an event but I told him several times how much I loved his statement. To that kid I want to say – keep that story, give me details, tell me what you learned in all this screwed up madness, and remember what Oscar Wilde would say, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."

Raegan’s Writing Guidelines

1) Yes, and… (AKA No Censoring - nothing is stupid till it proves to be so…)

Always advance a story. Saying yes to a suggestion will give you more to work with than no. “Yes, and…” is also an improv game.

For example: An elephant walked into a bar. Yes he did, and he ordered lemonade. Yes and…

2) Juxtaposition – You wouldn’t know it was dark without the light.

This rule keeps things interesting.

A good guy is more interesting if he has to struggle to be good – Dexter. A bad guy is always more interesting if he makes you laugh – The Joker. Know that the darkest moments can be funny and it's okay to laugh at them.

3) Don't ever try to be funny. Real is funny. Forced is not.

For example: An elephant walks into a bar and buys lemonade. Vs. An elephant walks into a bar and buys a purple slurpy glurp (WHAT?!?!?). Forced is children’s lit – i.e. Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are

4) Don’t ever be too proud.

Always be okay with editing. Be ready to cut out an idea completely.

5) Try to take out words you don’t need.

Examples: like, that, I think, is, my, mine. I think you should try to like take out words that you totally don’t need.

6) Truth, beauty, funny = details.

What’s the worst place you’ve ever slept? Why? – The bed smelled like feet, there were bugs on the floor, and the person in the next room recited the star spangled banner in their sleep.

7) Commit to an idea.

Once an elephant walks into a bar he’s there. Tell me the story. What happens?

8.) Writers write.

Don’t tell me what you’re working on – tell me what you’ve written.