My students sort baggies of M&Ms and count each color. Groans and exclamations spread across the classroom as they glance up at the board.
“EIGHT orange ones? I have to add EIGHT lines of dialogue to my story?”
“I’m lucky, I only have two red ones,” another student crows. And then suddenly realizes how many blue M&Ms he has, “Ah, man, I have SIX blue ones! What’s a sensory image, Mrs. Ojeda, I forgot.”
“Well, I have to remove FOUR uses of the verb ‘to be’,” another student moans. “How will I ever do that?”
“Wonderful question,” I jump in and flash my work in progress on the overhead projector for all to see. My naked baby in the bassinet. “I wrote this 14 years ago, and I’ve let it sit for a very long time.”
“How come we only got to let our stories sit for two weeks?” a cheeky student interrupts. “You got to let yours sit for 14 years!” Leave it to a student to point out the injustice of adult inequality.
“If I let you not work on your stories for as long as I didn’t work on mine,” I assure them, “you’d never graduate form high school.” I highlight four uses of the verb ‘to be’ on the document and ask, “how would you rewrite this sentence to make it active instead of passive?”
Blank stares meet my eyes. I almost give up hope that everything I’ve tried to teach them about dynamic writing has fallen on deaf ears when a hand shoots up and a student gives an alternative. “Excellent!” I type in her suggestion in all caps. “Now read the section using the new sentence, doesn’t it sound better?” Nods and grins and bent heads greet my gaze.
“Ok, it’s your turn. Remember, don’t eat your M&M until you make the change—it’s your reward for revision.”
Between answering questions, I return to my manuscript and revise along with my students. I need this community—this safe place of teenagers who bravely revise their first stories and good-naturedly chide me for letting my work sit too long. In my disappointment at rejection so many years ago, I had forgotten the joy of writing, revising and sharing with a community. Life, parenting, cancer in the family, new careers and a host of other excuses have gotten in the way.
It’s times to breathe some life into this baby. I need to practice what I teach. I am a writer.