Visiting writer: Kathleen Veslany

The third, fourth and fifth-graders had to write until their hands hurt on Tuesday as part of a creative writing workshop taught by local writer Kathleen Veslany.  Veslany is the first of several writers we plan to bring into our classrooms this year to get our kids excited about writing.

Veslany, who has an MFA in creative writing, had them practice timed free-writing, an exercise in which the writer starts writing, recording stream-of-consciousness ideas, and doesn’t stop until the set time is up.  The idea is to stir up the writer’s creativity and get past his or her internal critic.

The students were soon scribbling away, occasionally calling out to teacher Susan Guidi, “I need more paper.”

Later Veslany helped the students understand how to make their writing come alive through specific rather than abstract terms.  She threw out some terms and asked the students to give specifics.

For instance, the abstract term “food” was narrowed down to dessert and then to candy corn. The abstract term “beauty” was narrowed to the sunset.

The students also came up with specifics for the five senses. Two favorites were “the smell after the rain” and “the smell of grapefruit with sugar on it.”

After that the students went back to writing, trying to make their descriptions more specific and precise. Once finished, they were eager to share their work, reading aloud passages to one another.

At the end of the workshop, they asked Veslany about her favorite childhood books (Charlotte’s Web, various titles by Judy Blume), and they told her about some of their favorites (Harry Potter) and about the book they are reading as a group “The Mysterious Benedict Society.”

All in all, it was a great workshop. We are grateful that Veslany took time out of her busy schedule to join us (we hope to have her back later in the year to work with the eighth-graders) and we hope you enjoying talking about this with your child.

If your child is interested in more of these kinds of experiences, Kathleen teaches a writing workshop for grades 3–5 at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

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