I don’t blog on weekends, but today’s activity has to be recorded. This afternoon, I loaded the van with the same girls who participated in Monique Polak‘s writing class at Marianopolis and took them to her home in Montreal for what Zahra and I are calling a “creative writing jam session”.

Monique taught them how to use “trouble” to fire up their stories and led them through a writing exercise where they had to recall a memory using their five senses. She asked them to write down as many words as they could think of that start with the letter j. She read them two chapters of her children’s book-in-progress, and the girls gave her their suggestions. She showed them the link between using real memories and jumping into fiction.

Monique talks quickly, and I strain to listen and soak up as much as I can. Maybe that’s a teacher tactic; I could tell Zahra was mesmerized. And though I’ve been writing for much of my life and have taken several creative writing classes, Monique gave a tip to these kids that took me by surprise; but once she said it, I knew she was right, and I think it will make a difference in my writing: go easy on the adverbs. If you’re using the right verbs, you don’t need them.

I can’t stop thinking about this for two reasons: 1. Like I wrote above, in all the writing classes I’ve taken, no one has ever said that to me before; and 2. It’s as much a slap in the face as the death of the five-point essay was for me. You spend years in school learning the five-point essay, and then you spend years at university and in your professional career unlearning it. The same just happened, for me, with adverbs. In middle school, teachers assigned me several papers whose sole purpose was to prove to them that I could drown my writing in singsong-y adverbs. And while simple intuition may have led me to tone that down, now I will notice it and think first of the choice of verb before modifying it with an adverb.

All that to say, it pays to learn from the best. When Zahra got home, she immediately took to the kitchen counter to continue her writing prompt while I made dinner. And now that she’s in her pyjamas, teeth brushed and in bed, she’s toiling away under her reading lamp. She asked me if she could come back downstairs if she needs to sharpen her pencil. She’s inspired—and that, to me, is the point of seeking out the experts.

writing