Jessie Janowitz, author of the newly released The Doughnut Fix, did a writing workshop with Bishop’s sixth-graders on Monday, May 14.
She first engaged the students with a game, Two Truths and a Lie. There were three statements about her visible on the screen; students guessed which two were true, and which one was not. Jessie then explained how she became a published author and how imagination is critical – not just to writing stories but can be applied to anything they want to accomplish. She walked her audience through the three steps she uses in creating a good story: spark, “what ifs,” and revision.
She shared a photo of the spark for The Doughnut Fix: a sign in a shop window that reads, “Yes, we do have Chocolate Cream Doughnuts!” But the shop itself doesn’t seem like one that would offer doughnuts, based on the inventory visible through the window.
The “what ifs” are where imagination comes in, what Jessie calls “the secret ingredient for a good story,” and she asked her audience to take a moment and brainstorm some examples of “what ifs.”
Among the responses: “What if the primary colors disappeared?” “What if animals and people changed places?”
One of her own “what ifs” after seeing the doughnut sign was, “What if that sign is a lie?”
Throughout the interactive presentation, she engaged students in discussing the writing process, asking and answering questions. Together, they covered the elements of story, talking about characters, plot and structure; the need for tension or conflict in a story – some kind of obstacle that must be overcome.
Then there’s the revision process – does the story work better if you use a different tense, or a different voice? Can you build suspense better with present or past tense? How do you help a reader remember all the characters? Do you have to start at the beginning, or can you start with the middle or the end?
Students were astonished to discover that the entire process from spark through revision to publish The Doughnut Fix took three years. Additional post-workshop insights came from sixth-graders Lila, Lucy, Sophia, Garrett and Rohan. Rohan noted, “You don’t have to have the perfect idea beforehand—you can follow these steps and go with the flow.” Lucy said, “She was really smart and funny. I expected a published author to be more strict and serious.” Garrett enjoyed the interactivity of the session, describing how the students were “invited to participate. It wasn’t a boring lecture. She even answered questions about the business side of publishing.” Sophia was intrigued by Two Truths and a Lie, trying the activity with her own family as a way to share the happenings of the day. Lila appreciated the message, “You don’t have to know what you want to be or do yet,” and Lila and Lucy shared that when Jessie signed their books, she didn’t just autograph the book, she asked each student for their name, how it’s spelled, and wrote an encouraging message before signing her own name.
All agreed her “good writing tips” have application beyond creating a great story, whether writing poetry or essays, or even approaching life. Rohan said it reminded him of a Chinese proverb they heard recently in another class: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
This group of students expressed their gratitude to the family of an incoming student who will join their class next fall; they arranged for Jessie’s visit and for students to receive individual copies of the book. They’re all reading the book now, and Rohan remarked that it is hard to put down. They predict this is the first of a series. (Spoiler alert! It is.)
Of course, the workshop had a fitting – and tasty – ending: the students enjoyed a variety of doughnuts!
View photos from the workshop here