Friday, May 24, 2013

Writers helping writers

In my last post, I talked about giving your work away. To reach that end, I discussed my experiences in the early days of the internet when people didn't have the social networking sites to air their opinions, express their emotions, or keep in touch with friends, relatives and peers.

I'm remembering one particular incident that occurred in an AOL chat room for writers. A young girl, a high school student, asked the group for help. She'd been assigned a writing project for her English class. Her requirement? To write a poem expressing her feelings.

She'd already finished a draft and asked the group if they would help her figure out how to iron out some of the rough edges.

At that time, about two dozen people were typing messages back and forth and to my surprise, the conversations began to get nasty. Overall, the consensus was (in summary): Get lost, kid. Go to the homework chat room.

I was mortified! Here, in a room full of aspiring writers who wanted feedback on their work, participants were refusing to help a budding writer merely because she was working on a school assignment.

While I didn't engage in the one-sided debate, I did offer to help. Having taught high school English for a couple of years, I figured that would be an added plus. (Is that redundant? Added plus?)

 The young lady and I exchanged to "meet" in a private room. Here she sent a copy of her work. It was really very good but it struggled at the end. I made a couple of comments about her choice of words and let her suggest more powerful ones.

The poem was about walking through a cemetery where a friend was buried. For the ending, I encouraged her to put herself in the scene, to visualize the marker on the grave, to mentally talk to her friend, and then reconstruct the last two lines according to how she felt.

She was gone for a while. I thought she'd given up but soon, she sent a final proof that was so improved it moved me to comment that I'd be giving her an A if she were in my class.

The next evening, I received an email from her, full of thanks, the message merely said she'd received an A and was now determined to continue writing.

The memory makes me smile, makes me wonder if that young person might now be on the best-seller list.

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