It's been awhile since we've shared our students' work, but that certainly doesn't mean they haven't been writing!
Below is the final draft of a personal narrative essay by Kayla F., who just completed our Essay Rock Star Personal Statement short course. This short course gives students training in personal narrative writing (writing about themselves), as they're required to do for college applications. In school and other educational programs, this is the one type of writing that teens aren't often asked to do, so when it's time to write essays for college, they tend to struggle even if they're strong writers overall.
Who Am I
by Kayla F.
From the time I was very young, I loved creating stories. One of my earliest memories is of my imaginary friends, Toovay and Guspashaw. Where the names came from, I don’t remember. My mom would pull me down the street in a red wagon through a nearby neighborhood.
“Is this Toovay’s house?” she would ask.
Solemnly, I would shake my head. “No, this isn’t Toovay’s house.”
We’d move onto the next house, and the questions would start over. “Is this Toovay’s house?”
Whether it was the brick house on the corner or the white house with the porch, Toovay’s house would change every time. When we’d finally reached the house of my “friend,” I would nod and say, “Yes, this is Toovay’s house.”
“Should we knock on the door?” my mom would ask.
“No, he’s not home,” was my reply every time.
Then the search would continue, Toovay’s house changing once again, as our walk went on. Occasionally we searched for Pooh Bear and Tigger even though we didn’t live anywhere near the Hundred Acre Wood. Sometimes I’d stop looking for their houses and invite them over to mine. Clifford the Big Red Dog was invited over for dinner many times, though he never came. I’d sit out in the driveway waiting for him, but that big red dog never showed up. As I grew older, my interests changed, though my love of creating stories and imagining didn’t. Instead of searching for characters’ houses, I now wanted to be them, pretending I was characters straight out of my favorite movies, shows, and books. I’d drag my mom into my games, since playing an entire movie cast by myself wasn’t easy! I created complex plots for these characters, keeping their stories going in my head. It was my favorite way to pass the time, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The authors and their characters inspired me to tell my own stories, and it was something that I one day wanted to become: an author whose characters inspired others.
I remember taking a glittery, pink notebook and scribbling down a story. I was only two or three, so my writing was more like swirls on a page. When I finished the story, I flipped back to the beginning, eager to read it. To my disappointment, I couldn’t remember what I had written nor read my scribbles! That’s when I realized it was important to write my stories down if I wanted to remember any of them. It was years later, however, when I actually tried writing stories down. I had various notebooks filled with beginnings of stories everywhere. Some were attempts at historical fiction, some were fantasy, but I never finished any of them, usually deeming them not good enough to continue writing. When I finally had my own computer, I started typing out story ideas. The first story I ever finished was a historical fiction story set in Roman occupied Britain. It was nineteen pages long, a record for me at that time. I printed it out and put it in a binder that substituted as a book cover. It was several months later when I attempted to write another story, this time a fantasy story inspired heavily by one of my favorite book series, Redwall by Brian Jacques. My cast of talking squirrels, foxes, rabbits, and raccoons, saved their home of Rosewood from the evil white squirrel warlord. It took me several months of writing to finally finish the story. As I became older, my focus changed from fantasy squirrels to the darker, dystopian stories, working on and off on a novel I’d titled The Last Four. Though I never finished The Last Four, that novel taught me some valuable lessons about writing that prepared me to write my first full length novel, Homeland.
On November 1st, 2013, I started writing Homeland for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it’s sometimes shortened to, is the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. It’s a community event as writers of all-ages band together to support one another in what can be the trying and crazy challenge of writing a novel in one month. There’s no judges and one of the promises is that no one has to read your draft. At the end, you’re left with a rough draft of a novel, that still needs a lot of editing, but it’s a finished story! A finished story was my goal when I signed up for the Young Writer’s Program NaNoWriMo, the teen version of the challenge, allowing the participant to choose their own word count goal. Since it was my first go-round, I chose to write 35,000 words. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I’d never finished one “real” novel with no deadline, how could I possibly write one in a month? That November was the month I learned the secret to finishing a novel. The secret? Just write. For the first time, the idea of writing a bad first draft and to never give up writing finally clicked. I couldn’t remember a month where I had more fun. On November 25th I had a 40,000 word novel saved on my hard drive, completed several days early. To “win” NaNoWriMo, the only requirement is that you copy and paste your novel into a word counter to make sure you’ve gotten the right word count. It was a little scary copy and pasting my novel into the counter. Despite the fact that my computer had recorded the word count, I was still worried that I wouldn’t have enough words. In fact, it counted 40,001 instead of 40,000. I had won! I finally felt like a “real” writer. I had a real novel. Homeland still needed a lot of work to be finished though. It was a mess of a rough drafts with more plot holes then I could count, but it was a finished story and I was proud of it. Now that I knew the secret to writing a novel, I couldn’t wait to start another one.
My novel writing didn’t stop there. On Christmas Eve, 2013, I started working on another project that would become Snow. In the crazy whirlwind that was writing that rough draft, I learned even more about writing, learning that I, personally, didn’t need an outline to write. Snow turned into my favorite novel, and now, I’m currently editing it. I fell in love with the story in a way that I haven’t with any of my other projects. The story wrote itself in a way, and I was just along for the ride! After finishing Snow, I signed up for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. As I had the (foolish) hope of having enough time to write a novel and edit, I signed up for 45,000 words. I finished my third novel, God Save the Queen, with 48,000 words. July’s Camp NaNo was coming up and yet I still hadn’t written one 50,000 word novel. The middle of summer seemed the best time to take the plunge. At the end of the month, I had a 55,000 word novel titled Fences. So far, I’ve only had time to work on editing Snow.
As a writer, I know there are lots of things I still have to learn. I know it’s important to write every day, which is why I have weekly word count goals that help keep me writing. My local library system also hosts writing workshops, and I attend every one I can find. I’ve also attended a NaNoWriMo workshop while during my first NaNoWriMo. I’ve learned a lot about setting and showing, not telling from them, and I’m thankful I got to go! I also read blogs and books on writing, trying to learn as much as I can. My favorite blog is called Go Teen Writers, and I regularly comment on their posts as well as just read them. I also started my own blog, called Concerning Writing, mainly so others can read it. So far, I’ve been able to post several fan fictions and the first chapters of two of my novels. I’ve enjoyed the chance to share my work with others and to hear their thoughts and feelings about a world and story I’ve had in my head for so long.
Moving forward, I want to continue to write every day. I plan to participate in this November’s NaNoWriMo and for the second time, write a 50,000 word novel. At some point soon I hope to submit one of my novels to a publisher to gain experience actually submitting a manuscript. In the more distant future, I hope to eventually publish a novel and become a successful, professional author. Another dream of mine is to see a movie made of one of my books. I catch myself daydreaming about which actors will play which roles, who will write the soundtrack, and what the script will be like. I still have a lot of work to do to get to that point, but I believe with discipline and hard work I can become one of those authors whose characters will inspire someone else just as I was inspired when I was young.