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Draper Journal

Author encourages Channing Hall students to use creativity in writing

Mar 07, 2023 04:04PM ● By Julie Slama

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen poses with two students after talking to and signing her books for Channing Hall students. (Heather Fehrenbach/Channing Hall)

About 150 Channing Hall middle school students had the opportunity not only to listen to a local author, but to have a writing workshop with her.

In early January, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen shared her journey into becoming published with students. She is known for the Ascendance series, beginning with “The False Prince,” many students have read the Traitor’s Game series and historical novels such as “A Night Divided” and “Resistance.”

“She just was really engaging and was able to relate to the students,” said English teacher Anda Pearson, who said Nielsen told students these years are when they’re the most creative. “She told them that now is when they have these great ideas and are really imaginative, but that changes when they get to high school. She was challenging them to realize now while they like writing is the time to start and to hold on to that.”

Nielsen told the students how she would get rejection slip after rejection slip when she began.  She even kept a binder full of them.

“She told them how hard she tried writing and editing for months and months before she submitted her novels and how many rejections she’d get. Before she got published, her sister-in-law wrote a manuscript and called her, saying it would be published,” Pearson said.

 It was her sister-in-law’s first time submitting a manuscript—and it was on Nielsen’s birthday.

“Nielsen still hadn’t gotten published, and she felt defeated. But she told the students that even though she was heartbroken, it was the best lesson. She rededicated herself to keep trying and eventually got published,” Pearson said. “It was a good message for my students to hear.”

Before Nielsen came to the school, Pearson’s eighth-graders had read the novel, “The Outsiders,” written by then 15-year-old S.E. Hinton. Nielsen said it was that book that inspired her to become an author.

Nielsen also answered their questions. While she replied her favorite book is the next book she will write, she did tell them she likes reading all genres, and encouraged them to do so as well.

When asked where she got her ideas, she told them ideas basically come from everywhere and what is interesting to them.

On her website, she said, “Everyone comes up with a fabulous story idea. The only difference is in who decides to act on the idea and get it written down.”

Nielsen asked students to point to something in the hallway that stood out to them. One of the students pointed at a locker. 

Right then and there, they created a story of a back-to-school night where the student forgot to do his homework and was fighting with his parents, when suddenly, the locker sucked his mom into this void. 

“She said that maybe the whole story will be surrounding this journey they take. She told the students their story they came up with is one she would want to read and it would have some very cool visuals,” Pearson said.

In the workshops, she expanded on developing stories. With the students, they created characters and picked five different scenarios the characters could do. They then picked one of those scenarios and decide what would happen and started building a story together.

“She talked to them about her writing process in her historical fiction writing and the research she’s doing about the Titanic and about it when writing about the Berlin Wall in ‘A Night Divided,’” Pearson said. “For example, with ‘A Night Divided,’ she got interested in what happens in the zone between the walls when someone was crossing from one side to the other. With her research on the Titanic, she is looking into three people who all could have stopped or changed the fate that night. A story she discovered was the Titanic telegraph guy was rude to someone on board another boat who saw the iceberg and tried to call the Titanic. But the volume was really loud in his ear, and he thought the guy was yelling at him. It ended up that the person calling ended up not telling him because the telegraph guy hung up on him. It’s through her research on these people that she’s able to tell stories.”

Pearson’s students write four book reports every year and one of those genres is historical fiction. Many of her students have picked a book of Nielsen’s to share. 

“They write an essay where they look at the historical time period and fictionalized time period to compare and contrast differences and similarities,” Pearson said.

Nielsen, who also signed her books for students, encouraged those students who have started writing their own stories to continue with them. Every year, Pearson encourages students to write their own novel through NaNoWriMo during national novel writing month in November.

“A lot of them are now excited saying, ‘I’m going to go back to work on my novel’ and it was really cool that she inspired them,” she said. “This was a good opportunity for students, even if they don’t want to be an author, to see someone who has created success out of following a passion or a dream of theirs. It’s also important for them to see the hard work that goes into getting the things you want out of life. It can be really easy to give up on something, but she was able to show them that hard work pays off.”