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What does your dad do?
The kids are a bit shy, but they answer.
“My dad helps people cross the road more safely. He repairs bumpy roads.” OK, fair enough.
Another one says: “He uses a computer and looks out of the windows. And he writes and goes to other countries, and he brings us presents.” Yep. Definitely true.
“He sits at his computer and writes emails. And sits in meetings.” True too.
A few other kids mumble something about money.
Then two girls come onto the screen, and when the red-haired of the two starts to speak, the dynamic changes.
What does your mom do?
“Let me tell you about our mom. Our mum is very beautiful, smart and pretty. And she has a very good job. Her job, so, my mom, like, if a country needs money to build a building, my mom’s job is to give money to the country to build the building, or a bridge. I think my mom’s job is very important, and very special.” You go girl!
And then she goes on:
“And I kind of feel bad for my mum. She can’t join dinner. My dad makes this good food and then she texts my dad, another country needs another building. My mum just misses out on all the fun.” Homerun.
What would my daughter answer if I’d ask her the question?
“You are a writer!”, she would say. And I love her for that!
Today I got to be both: A writer and an economist, spending an hour doing creative writing with my colleagues’ older kids.
Freewriting and a magic wand
15 children from all over the world, from eight to 16 years old, in a room.
“Who likes to write?”, I ask. 2 hands go up.
“Who likes to read?”. About half.
I ask them what they think freewriting means.
“Don’t look back”, a boy says. What a wonderful answer! Exactly, you keep your hand moving, you don’t stop writing. You don’t look back and cross out or edit.
“You are ok with what you write.” There she is, the red-haired girl who had spoken so passionately about her mom. She is eight years old. She totally nails it! Be ok with what you write. Don’t criticize yourself and don’t censor your own writing. With freewriting we give ourselves the permission to write whatever comes to our mind, and we trust that something will come.
The first writing prompt is just to start experiencing the feeling of getting into the writing flow. I ask the kids to imagine that on the way to their parents work today they found a magic wand. What happens next?
I set the timer to four minutes and sit down to write myself. Two kids at my table start to whisper.
“Ah. I forgot to add on our freewriting list: No talking.”
I turn back to my story and probably miss their rolling eyes.
“How was that?”, I ask after the time is up.
“Great!” Two boys look at me with big smiles.
“Can I read?”, one of them asks.
“Sure! These first shitty drafts are not meant to be read to others, but you are more than welcome to do so!”
The boy reads his story with a strong accent. He reads about a man who helps him out, and as thank you the boy doubles the magic wand and gives one of them to a man. Love it!
I ask the others what they did with their wand.
Reading and a green crocodile
I will not let this lack of magic stop me. Moving on the next prompt: Imagine you look out of the window, and your neighbor walks out of his house with a green crocodile on a leash. Seven minutes, go. Whispers at my table. Then it is quiet.
Time is up and the little red head asks: “Can I read?”
Oh my. The story is amazing. She steals the crocodile named Bob and renames him Bobby, so that the theft is not being noticed. There is police, the magic wand appears, but Bobby dies a mysterious death after two weeks.
The boy at the neighbor table who read before also wants to read aloud. His crocodile gets shot.
More kids read, and interestingly the magic wand shows up for kids who before said that it was broken or was ignored.
OK, now I start to feel the magic happening. I offer the whispering kids at my table the option to leave.
“No. no”, they assure me.
“Do you want to continue?”, I ask. Smiles in the faces of the younger kids. Less emotion in the older kids, but nodding. Even at my table.
Understanding and leaves fighting with ears
The next writing exercise is only three minutes and then we get to listen to several phantastic stories. At the very end the oldest girl in the room reads. It is October, leaves fall onto a woman on her bike. Leaves fighting with her ears.
I see the leaves, the colors, the bike. I see the scene. This is a perfect ending for this very different and wonderful workday.
As we say good-bye I speak to the two kids at my table, they are siblings. And then I understand. The kids at my table are all from Ukraine. The English of the two older boys, 14 and 15, is pretty good. But the younger girl, the sister of one of the boys, was probably whispering because she didn’t understand all I said, all the words I used. I feel bad. I had been so amazed by the command of English of all these kids that it hadn’t occurred to me that one of them was struggling.
Her mom comes up to me, she had been at the back of the room the entire time: “Thank you so much, Stefanie. That was great! And I also wrote a story about the crocodile!” She laughs and waves her piece of paper. I am sure that family has a lot to talk about at dinner tonight.
Thank you, dear kids, for your courage to share your inspiring stories! You made my day!
Starter Guide Freewriting ABC: How to get started with Freewriting so you can discover what is truly important to you in this present moment!
Do you sometimes feel an impulse to run away from it all? To escape from your stressful job? From the endless demands of your family?
I know from my own experience as a working mom that we don’t spend enough time nurturing our own minds and souls. We tend to prioritize everyone else’s need above our own.
I am so glad that you are willing to say Stop! Take a deep breath and get ready for this wonderful experience.
I have prepared this Starter Guide with 3 simple steps for you to experience freewriting. There is no pressure to write well, it is all about letting go of thoughts, clearing your mind, and discovering what is truly important to you in this present moment.