December 5, 2012
By Erica Orloff
When Barbara Bingham approached me about teaching creative writing as part of a Partners in the Arts grant, I was intrigued. After publishing 25 novels, and maintaining a blog on writing for years that regularly received tens of thousands of visitors, the craft of writing was important to me. The idea of going into the classroom and working with high school seniors on the project sounded both fun and exciting—and it would be about giving back to the community, something important to me as well.
Little did I know how much I would love it. I mean really love it.
As I walk around the class seeing what they are working on in their journals, it’s a window into their lives. I get to see the good and bad—and I don’t mean spelling errors and sentence construction. Remember what it’s like to be a teen? We think we do. But it wasn’t until I was there with the kids in the class that I really and truly remembered. Your heart bleeds over unrequited love. There are kids whose families are fractured. Who struggle with eating disorders or low self-esteem. Kids who have been bullied, and kids who don’t know what they want to do when they graduate. There are students helping to raise siblings and caretaking grandparents. And there are the ones who don’t even realize—not yet—their power, and how utterly wonderful and brilliant and beautiful and handsome they are. But their writing lets me see their vulnerabilities.
It’s why I write, I suppose. I write because it’s how I process the world and everything in it. There is something about writing, that tool, that connects us with our audience. They are learning tools about communicating that they don’t even realize they are learning.
I thought I was going into the classroom to teach writing. Commas and dangling participles. I would teach them not to overuse ellipses . . . because I am an ellipses addict . . . I love those three little dots . . . and want the students to learn from the error of my ellipses ways. I would teach them how to consistently stay in present or past tense. I would teach them, in short, mechanics.
But instead, I watch them blossom as writers. I watch smiles steal across their faces as I tell them that they are good. That they really can write. And I realize adolescence is all about finding your voice in a sea of the voices of your peers. Finding a voice that is uniquely your own—your own point of view. And the lessons learned here in the classroom—whether they yet realize it or not—will last a lifetime. They are finding their voices. And those voices are extraordinary.
Erica Orloff is the published author of 25 novels over a variety of pen names and genres. She is the author of the young adult novel Illuminated (Penguin), as well as the Magickeepers middle-grade fantasy trilogy (Jabberwocky), and novels for grown-ups, such as Freudian Slip (Mira). A native New Yorker with a passion for the Yankees, she is a graduate of the University of Richmond and currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with her family.