Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud.

– By Claudia Felske

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud. Anyone who reads my blog with regularity will know that this is worlds away from my previous post: Worry. Lose Sleep. Be AnxiousThe simple reason for this 360? We’re done with our collaborative novels. Done!

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Our 4th hour novelists: Epoch

So, how does it feel, this collective exhale? How does it feel to be click-ready published authors on Amazon.com? First, a glance inside, a peek behind the curtains. As you’d expect, we didn’t go directly from bile-inducing anxiety to euphoric celebration.  There were more than a few bumps along the way.

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Our 1st Hour Novelists: First Draft

Mantra time. I opened the next class period by scrawling my favorite writing mantra on my board as students watched: “An author is a writer who didn’t give up,” a sentence which remained on front board for the duration of the project. I then openly shared my anxiety with them, I shared my sleeplessness with them, I shared my own publishing experiences with them. I explained the level of precision required for publication. I told them that we could get there, but it wouldn’t be easy.Our first sizable hurdle was a sobering reality check after first drafts were turned in. Student writing was not at the caliber I had hoped; rather, it was at a caliber, to be truthful, that terrified me. The prospect of getting these chapters from their current state—underdeveloped and error-laden, in other words, fiction written by freshmen in high school—to publication seemed inconceivable. That night, sleep eluded me. Getting from point A to point Z would require much more than wishful thinking.

After our heart-to-heart, I gave them a survey, asking for their honest feedback. The result (see graphs) is what pushed us ahead. Ninety percent said they felt like with the help of their teacher and editors they could do this. Only three students said they weren’t sure (but they’d try); and only one person said they weren’t interested. Buy-in was apparent. I knew that if we had the mindset and the work ethic (which we clearly did) we could do this. I could pull in the naysayer and provide a structure that would support my writers and get us across the publication finish line.

1 graph graph 2b

Then came the delegation of work. This was a critical step. Yes, I’d be editing each story, but many rounds of editing would have to happen before publication.  I needed help. Recruiting student editors would also give my strongest writers a challenge worthy of their skills. However, it would, of course, mean more work for already busy students. Would students be interested in being editors? cover artists? organizers? Again, the stars seemed aligned: my strong writers seemed to naturally self-identify and volunteer to be editors, my artistically-inclined students started working on cover art they’d submit for a class vote. And the momentum began.

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Blanket-wrapped editors on a late-night editing session (the heat was turned off).

What happened in the two months that followed was writing, revising, mini-lessons, pep talks, Saturday and Spring Break work sessions, and did I mention writing? What did not happen was “point mongering.” Not a single student asked “What’s my grade?” They were, as educational researcher Alphie Kohn calls it, intrinsically motivated learners. Remarkably, as freshman in high school, they were determined to write stories worthy of publication, to achieve a degree of excellence that transcended grades. And that, I’m deciding right now as I type these words, is the true indicator of authentic learning, the mark that what we’re doing is truly worthy of my time and theirs. That is the new standard I will hold myself to.

 

boardNow, instead of subjecting you to all of the sordid details of our writing and editing process, I will pass the ball to my students, in their own words. Here’s what they wrote in their blogs the day after our book signing event. I asked them to reflect on the unit and offer advice to next year’s novelists: 

  • I’m a published author! It’s so worth it so look at the experience as a lesson that sometimes you need to do what you find uncomfortable and make it into something fun and worth it in the end. 
  • The biggest thing I learned was I have a vivid imagination that I am really good at putting it on paper. I couldn’t stop writing and I won’t.
  • It was amazing to see people reading and buying OUR book. Just seeing it on Amazon was really cool.
  • I was an editor for my classmate’s chapters and I think I learned more editing than I did writing. I already knew how to write decently, however, I had never critiqued and changed other’s fictional works before. I learned about writing in different voices than what I write in and how to give positive feedback mixed with critiques.
  • Here’s my advice: Treasure and appreciate extraordinary experiences. This really just sunk in for me. I collaborated with a number of very creative and intelligent people and in the midst of that collaboration we created something awesome. 
  • Some people are really bull-headed, others shy, some just don’t like to work with others. People can be difficult. They are difficult because everyone is different. But when making the book we somehow made the book happen. I gained knowledge on how to work with other people and how to deal with things that I really don’t agree with.
  • I am a published novelist! That’s right, you read that correctly! Our English class decided to do something a little different. You might have read books, but we wrote one.
  • It sure was a ton of stress and lots of hard work and many hours spent on this project. I remember how crazy our English teacher sounded when she told our first hour class that WE were going to be writing and publishing a book. A legit, freaking, book!

And my reluctant novelists? The ones who weren’t sure they could do it? Here’s what they wrote:

  • Writing a chapter allowed you to stretch your creative muscles and learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. 
  • All I can tell you is that it takes work to get there, but it’s worth it.

My “not interested” student?

  • The writing process wasn’t my favorite but seeing the connection between stories of completely different people in completely different places in the world was amazing. Overall, I learned a lot from the experience, about myself and about writing. I usually hate the idea of short stories but this story is something I am sort of proud of. Writing is not my dream, but it is definitely be a good skill to have.
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Students proudly signing copies of their novels

Finally, what about me, their “fearless” (a.k.a “fearful”) leader? As one of my students duly noted: I think that this novel really took a toll on our teacher, but it all worked out in the end.” Yes, and yes—a worthwhile toll, I would add. None of it was easy, all of it was worth it.

And now, through it all, we are bound together for 70 years past my death (copyright law, the great uniter).

 

Clearly, it’s time to celebrate, get sleep, and be proud.

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