Hats off to Champlain College

Every year I get the pleasure of doing a workshop or two at Champlain College's Young Writers' Conference, a gaggle of 200+ teens from all over who spend the weekend writing, revising, performing, critiquing and writing some more. The conference is led by poet and fiddler Jim Ellefson. What's most exhilarating about that one hour session is that you have the undivided attention of 35+ souls eager to write, explore, push themselves. They get so much done.

And what they do with what you give them is so refreshingly new, different, imaginative. Makes you understand what life could be like if 100 percent of the students in a classroom were motivated and eager and focused. Learning would rule the world.

I gave them one of my favorite prompts as a warm up:

You are stranded on an elevator between floors with the Most Annoying Person(s) in the World. Tell the story.

Photo by Robert Frank, 1959

Their responses are buried in their notebooks, sadly, though I hope I was successful in coaxing some of them to post on youngwritersproject.org. First we brainstormed annoying people. Not a problem for a bunch of teens; we filled a chalk board. First response: Someone who is homophobic and racist. Or is fixated with her hair. Or who twitches....

Then they wrote for seven minutes. One created four characters and began what certainly could be a play; one character she described as having a fold, a veritable 'cesspool' of flesh. Another had this delightful interchange between the narrator and a kid who loved transformers. "I DON'T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRANSFORMERS!"

It's a fun exercise because you have setting and conflict established. Characters come easily. Freedom in a box. It's fun. Try it out.

And I hope Robert Frank doesn't mind me using his wonderful photo.