I was thrilled to be invited to Westbrook High School this past week, to meet with students who are developing a writing center there. The director of the center, Gifted and Talented teacher Julie McCabe, had asked me to talk to them about Room to Write. She also hoped I would offer inspiration about writing, and about therapeutic writing in particular.
The students have been busy putting together programs – including peer advising – and learning about how writing centers function. In the meantime, they told me about their individual writing habits. We sat around a table in a conference room in the beautiful school library, and each talked about how old they were when they began to write, as well as what types of writing they most enjoy.
Several mentioned that they have kept journals since they were quite young. Some write poetry, some write short stories, and one especially relishes creating persuasive essays. It was delightful to listen to these bright students as they articulated what writing means to them.
Turning to the topic of emotional benefits, I asked them about how they felt before and after they did a piece of writing. We discussed the common experience of writing when one is feeling confused or distressed, and how getting it all out on paper can provide great relief.
I hoped to inspire them to think deeply about themselves, and then to write about their insights. To that end, I provided each student with a deck of “InnerActive Cards,” to help them identify parts of their personality, or “inner characters.” I asked them to write about these characters, giving them names and trying to understand what situations made the characters emerge. We set a timer and wrote quietly for ten minutes.
Afterward, the students laughed and nodded in recognition as each displayed the cards they chose and described what they wrote about the different parts of themselves.
Their teacher, Ms. McCabe, also participated. She commented that she thought this was a valuable exercise for students. She pointed out that teens are often spread very thin, and don’t necessarily have a lot of time to reflect on what makes them who they are.
I have to agree. And it was a great honor to help facilitate this process for them.