CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Anyone can write a book. You just need some inspiration.
A group of 23 Clintondale High School students recently did just that, at the direction of their teacher, Julie Shier.
Shier is in her 22nd year in the district, and in her sixth year of teaching English to seniors. This, however, is the school’s first year offering a creative writing class.
She said she went through the curriculum and bounced the idea of starting a course with the school’s assistant principal. A proposal was eventually offered and approved by the district board of education, and now 24 students are enrolled in creative writing.
As part of the course — which is offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors — Shier said they participated in National Novel Writing Month in November. Known more commonly in writing circles as NaNoWriMo, the endeavor consists of adults writing their own 50,000-word novels in the span of one month.
Her students, though, participated in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, which supports under-18 writers and encourages them to write 10,000 words.
She said the program lays out a series of steps for the young writers to take, including a workbook available to them that “walks them through every step of the way,” including crafting a plot, characters, developing a conflict, dialogue and a protagonist and antagonist.
“Anything you can do for students to remove obstacles is going to help,” she acknowledged.
This was an undertaking that several students over the years had approached her about, due to seeking more creative outlets.
“Having heard that from students enough times, that was kind of where the conversations came from. … This was something that I always wanted to try myself,” she said.
When students were told in October that they would be participating in the Young Writers Program, there was an “initial freak-out stage” before they opened themselves up to their own ideas.
Shier said that four of the 23 students reached the 10,000-word plateau, although devising a story with half that word count made her “happy.” She expects to read them all by January and grade based on effort.
Students approached her throughout the month, asking questions about characters or how a certain plot should flow from one part to another. Some students even wanted to give up.
“I had to talk them off the proverbial edge,” Shier said. “I was a guide; I was a cheerleader. But the writing is all theirs.”
Some stories were based on the students’ own lives, of being high schoolers and teenagers and traversing life events. Others were more imaginative, in the realms of science fiction, horror and fantasy.
The enthusiasm was palpable. And the creative outlet was further proof that no matter what age, every mind works differently.
“Kids this age have an amazing capacity for imagination,” Shier said. “They know more than you think they do, and they think more than you think they do. It really didn’t take all that much prodding for most of them to find a story that they wanted to tell.”