Homeschool High School: Creative Writing and Creative Connections

Syd is studying and practicing creative writing more intensely this year, and we are having a LOT of fun with it. Creative writing with a high school student is now officially one of my Top Five subjects from our entire homeschool history together.

In keeping with my tradition of using one textbook as a spine, supplemented heavily, this is our Creative Writing spine:

Syd completes the daily 10-minute freewrite taught in this book each school day, although she likes to use it for different purposes than the "automatic writing" that Gertrude Stein devised. Currently, I think she's writing a serialized story in her daily 10-minute bursts, a high-interest, low-stakes challenge that's perfect for this study.

Weekly, Syd reads, records, and writes a few sentences of review of at least one novel, one short story, and one poem. I'd originally had high hopes that I could steer her towards some canonical works of my own choosing (will I never have a child who finishes a MENSA reading list?!?), but Syd prefers to make her own choices, which is, of course, better since her choices can fit her interests and aid her engagement and interest. Since she happily completes these assignments every week, I will not protest!

Syd is also working her way through Wordly Wise Book 12 this year, because an extensive vocabulary is the best tool you can have in your creative writing toolbox. This is the last book in the Wordly Wise series, gasp!, so I'll have to think of something new for spelling/vocabulary next year, because I simply cannot have a homeschool that does not include spelling/vocabulary acquisition.

My favorite parts of this Creative Writing study, though, are when we come together to write, play, and make creative connections. While I don't do formal, "school"-style lessons, I like each of our meet-ups to have a warm-up activity, a writing activity that we do together, and a writing activity, ideally inspired by our lesson, that Syd can work on in her own time and turn in later.

Six Degrees of Wikipedia is an uninspired title for a super-fun game that we sometimes play for a warm-up activity. It comes from Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which Matt and I like to play, and of course from Six Degrees of Separation. 

To play Six Degrees of Wikipedia, you pick your starting point and your ending point, both as random as possible. The other day, Syd and I started with "Walt Disney," and wanted to end with "apricot." So we both went to the Wikipedia page for Walt Disney, then using only the blue links, we tried to get to "apricot." As we went, we wrote down every link we clicked on so we could follow our path later.

We both got from Walt Disney to apricots, but the path that each of us took was completely different. I went from the link to California, then through California's produce exports, then through types of fruit. Syd went through some animation links to get to colors to apricot the color to apricot the fruit.

The lesson, of course, is that there is more than one path from A to B, and the practice is in opening your mind to making creative connections to get you down that path. 

Another creative thinking warm-up activity that we like is Dictionary Definitions (titling is not my strong suit). We each take a dictionary (every home needs multiple dictionaries!), and put five or so abstract terms on index cards, one term per card. Next, we lay them all face-up so we can both see them, and we spend a few minutes writing vividly imagined non-definitions for some of the terms. The "definition" should be a vivid image that defines the term without literally defining the term--think along the lines of "tell me the definition without telling me the definition."

When we've both got a few definitions, we trade cards, and the other person has to try to match our definitions to the correct terms. It's almost always possible! Here are some of my recent favorites:

Syd's definitions are always the funniest.

Our "lesson" the first day we did the Dictionary Definitions warm-up was actually a comparison/contrast of vivid imagery vs. concrete details. We traded these picture books that have vivid imagery back and forth (pro tip: picture books are SO GREAT for illustrating key literary terms and writing concepts without having to devote a ton of time to reading!):

In each of these books, the author uses vivid imagery in place of concrete details. The Black Book of Colors is particularly interesting because it actually does use concrete details, but it uses them AS vivid imagery to explain an abstract concept.

Next, we read Dreamers, which uses vivid imagery to tell a story. The imagery works well to signal sensory overwhelm and to make scenarios that might ordinarily feel familiar instead feel abstract and foreign. 

The special thing about Dreamers, however, is that there's an author's note afterwards in which the author tells the same story plainly, with concrete details. She couldn't have created a better contrast if she was writing this book solely to my specifications for this lesson!

The activity lent itself perfectly to an assignment asking Syd to write a story two ways, one with primarily vivid, abstract imagery rather than concrete details, and one with primarily concrete details rather than vivid, abstract imagery.

On another day, we talked about writing prompts and how to use them creatively. There are tons of books whose primary purpose is to provide writing prompts and creative writing exercises. Good academic choices are 59 Reasons to Write and What If?, but there are so many highly accessible, open-and-go choices, as well:

Of these, Syd and I have had the most fun using the Amazing Story Generator for timed writing exercises. We each generate a story prompt, then spend ten or so minutes just riffing on it. Then we trade and read each other's brilliant pieces!

Inspired by the Amazing Story Generator, Syd made her own writing prompt creator. Here are a couple of my favorite randomly-generated prompts:

I mean, don't you want to read both of those stories?!?

So far, we're happily invested in all kinds of short story writing, but my goal is to drop everything for NaNoWriMo, and then perhaps try our hands at some poetry. Syd doesn't like either of these ideas nearly as much as I do, though, so if I can't convince her, there's nothing wrong with a full year of short stories!