Teachers Write! 6/12 Tuesday Quick-Write

On Tuesdays & Thursdays during Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, I’ll be sharing quick-write prompts, designed to get you free-writing for a few minutes in response to a question or idea. These can be used as a simple free-write, brainstorming, warm-up activity OR as a way to deepen your thinking about a work-in-progress.   Got your keyboard or pencil ready?

Today’s writing prompt is courtesy of guest author Jeannine Atkins, whose most recent book is Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt).  She teaches Children’s Literature at UMass-Amherst and a graduate course in writing for children at Simmons College. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com

Advice from a writing teacher my freshman year in college has stuck with me all these years. She took a look at my labored prose and suggested I take a break to write some letters home describing life around me. My family was glad for some details, and I got the point that writing can be best when begun with a very particular audience in mind, rather than the vague judge I’d been used to writing papers for, backing up opinions and providing citations.

I suggest taking the main character of the piece you’re working on, or want to start, and write about her or him as if to your mom or a trusted friend. Or begin a poem or story as a letter to your main character, or if you’re already on your way, take a break to ask your character the sort of sincere, casual questions we often reserve for friends. These questions might include: Do you have a favorite place to be alone?  A favorite toy, piece of clothing, pet, tree, tool, or book?  Did someone encourage you to do what you love?  How? Did anyone try to stop you?  What did they do or say? What parts of your work are hard or boring?  What mistakes did you make?  What did you learn from them? Who or what do you love?

What starts as a letter may turn into more of a conversation, and if your character seems chatty, please, just let her speak, even when it seems off topic.

You might move into writing dialog between two characters. Or you can write a poem based on questions and responses, and edit out the questions if you want. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is an excellent example of a narrative composed of a boy’s letters to his teacher, which makes it clear we don’t need her replies to get a sense of her character.

Thanks, Jeannine!

Lots of options for today’s quick-write. Ready? Get writing! And if you’d like, stop back later on to share a paragraph or two in comments.

154 Replies on “Teachers Write! 6/12 Tuesday Quick-Write

    1. agreed. I love this prompt and will be taking some time to think about it and work on it before posting tomorrow. What a fabulous way to explore a character without the pressure of everything needing to fit INTO the story. Instead, it’s just… getting to know him or her.

  1. My dear Katniss,
    By the time you read this, my time will no doubt be over. President Snow will see to that. I am smuggling this note inside of your Mockingjay dress in hopes that you find it. I know you always see beyond the surface of things, and I have no doubts that you will find this letter in my last masterpiece inspired by all that you are.
    I want you to know that I don’t regret the things that I did to save you. Some of those things you know; others, you may someday find out about, but maybe not. I have worked as hard as I could to keep you safe. From the first time I saw you in the outfit that earned you the name of the “girl on fire,” and heard the talk and chatter in the hallways of the Capitol buildings and on the streets of the city, I knew that you could the One we have been looking for. So, I have done my part to help you survive, and help you along, so that you can help others break free from the grip of government.
    Know in your heart that I am there with you every single time you put on this Mockingjay clothes, and that the future is still unfolding along uncertain lines. I have no regrets for the decisions I made, and I hope you think of me fondly, in those moments when I tried to comfort you before the Games, and helped you to believe in yourself. Katniss, you are more than the girl on fire; You are the spark of change. Just be yourself. That’s all that we need in Panem. Just be yourself. The rest will follow.
    Your friend, always,

    1. Kevin,
      I predicted that Cinna was writing the note before I scrolled down to the end. I believe in my heart that if he could have/would have written a note, this is just exactly how it would be written- you nailed his voice!
      This could be a cool character/voice mentor text exercise to do with students…
      What do you think?

    2. I *heart* Cinna – and you’ve captured his voice beautifully here. This activity (write a letter from one character to another) is one I used to use in my classroom (and then I’d have the kids deliver the letter to someone else, who had to answer in the second character’s voice!)

    3. Kevin, Thank you for writing this. I don’t have a fictional piece as a work in progress so this was a great model for me of how I could do this quick write and learn from it with an existing piece of literature. I appreciate you teaching me!

  2. I am researching & planning out a re-telling of the Iliad for my middle school students. I think I want to tell it in different voices, and I have been surprised by the candidness of Helen’s voice in the Iliad. She is self-deprecating and hates herself almost as much as the Trojans and Greeks do by the end of the war. I am finding her to be the most complicated of characters, and the most difficult to formulate. This is a letter from her–it is weak–but by the end, I feel like I am finding her.

    Dear Angie,

    My days of walking through the compounds are beginning to tire me. Troy–with its promise of passion and entertainment–is nothing but a place of war now. Red dust, rations of food, and the women in nothing but sacrifice and prayer. My knees are sore with wear from how often I am required to lay in subservience to Zeus with the other women, pleading with Him to bring an end to these days.

    And while I once marveled at the way Paris’s hands felt against my body, I am now sickened by his cowardness. His skin feels pasty weak as I remember the way he scuttled away from battle like a crab who has been cornered on shore. How silly we women can be when men of wide shoulders and elegant flourish promise us only what Gods can give. We forget the difference between love and seduction and so willingly turn ourselves into whores.

    I left my daughter and my country. I left the man who has shown up on the plains of Troy almost daily to fight for me. Such passion Menaelus carries after nine long years for his harlot of a wife whose beauty runs rampant on the surface. But cut me, and you will see I bleed the same loathing that the Trojans feel for me.


    1. Honey, if this is your version of “weak,” I’m pretty sure you ought to be the one teaching this camp. I hope this is a project you’ll keep working on this summer.

    2. This gives such great body and voice to Helen: I really feel the ache. I found every paragraph powerful, but you mentioned feeling closer to what you wanted toward the end, something I often find in writing. It starts in fits, and needs some time to get flowing.

      What a wonderful way of responding to an ancient tale!

    3. If you are fascinated by versions of this tale, I highly recommend Gate to Women’s Country. It’s not a retelling of the Illiad, per se, but it ties in the ancient tales in a post-apocalyptic society. (It’s meant for adults, so it’s not really a middle school tale, but I think you’d like it)

      I used a reader’s theater version of the Illiad with students this year, and they were constantly surprised by the women’s roles.

      1. You should! I’m reading two versions simultaneously right now–one in prose, one in verse, and it is really fascinating. The prose one is easier to follow and pick up on nuances, but the verse one is…well, just stunning.

    1. And that wisdom seeking voice is very clear in this letter. Enjoyable to read.
      “My mind flits like a moth around a flame tonight.” For me, this line toward the end really captured the discontent that your character is feeling.

    2. I love the way this community is evolving – and I love that Sally, who offered such an amazing outlining lesson yesterday, came back to respond to Jeannine’s prompt today and share. Learning together is the absolute best.

  3. So I started writing a letter to a student, potential inspiration for a main character. I’m excerpting a piece of the letter below and rearranging it as free verse because that’s what it increasingly feels like. Thanks for the shape-shifting prompt, Jeannine.

    Third time this week
    I’ve asked for your short story.
    Each time you take out your binder,
    crumpled papers leaking out the partially zippered sides,
    your mouth tightens into a line of steely determination.
    You open to the front,
    flip through each section from the very beginning.
    The papers sift by–
    history notes and math problems,
    part of a science lab, what looks like a Spanish worksheet,
    English work from last semester.
    The metal rings hang on to some of these pages
    while most have ripped away at crazy angles.
    You stare intently, expecting the story
    to be the next sheet that you touch.
    I can already see water
    filling the rims of your eyes.

    1. This is so powerful, a character I already care about, and I agree it works wonderfully as free verse. I have a friend who built a whole novel around letters like these, and it seems as if it really makes sense for your voice, and the way you let details speak.

    2. My heart bleeds for this child, Brian. I think the way you wrote this is so powerful, and I agree that he (or she) would make a fascinating character.

    3. Thank you for showing a glimpse into all of our worlds. With computers last year, I didn’t have much experience with the empty notebook. I had more experience with no emails or shared documents from my students. They are quick to say, “Ms. Jenkins, I shared that document with you and know they didn’t do it. [some of them].”

    4. I read this and reread it several times. Each time I enjoyed it and had questions. I found myself wondering over and over about the word “expecting”. I also wanted to know: were the papers (math, Spanish) complete, or incomplete?

      When I wonder this much and reread you know you have something good there…

  4. To Steven (From Life)
    Sometimes the lowest point
    is only a plateau till you fall again
    I wish I could tell you why
    or to set your watch for when
    But for now you will only see
    not only the darkness of night
    But the corners of the human heart
    that will only cause you fright
    Because when you have lost it all
    there is more I can take from you
    So take this moment to relax and watch the stars
    feel free, feel hungry, for I will be there soon
    To take you on the road of redemption
    there is a price to pay though
    It takes a broken heart to be able to fix one
    for your life is not lived alone

    1. Beautiful! My favorite lines are: “for I will be there soon
      To take you on the road of redemption
      there is a price to pay though
      It takes a broken heart to be able to fix one
      for your life is not lived alone”

      I definitely wanted to hear more!

      1. Thanks for reading. It was interesting writing a poem about a novel that I am working on… actually got me thinking about what Steven might be thinking as he was sitting in the park (a scene from the story).

      2. Love it! Love it! Love it! I had the same experience when I wrote a poem for my novel. It confirmed for me that I need to include more in the beginning. I truly did enjoy reading your poem … “I will be there soon to take you on a the road of redemption.”

    2. It is so great to see someone stop from within a novel to write a poem, and learn something, and call us in. Some of us need to get out of a character’s head more (that would be me) and some need to get in (which you imply). You sure succeeded!

      If you were to leave this as a poem, I’d suggest playing around with where you break the lines, trying to end on words that get more weight. Like Jaana, I loved those last lines, and think they might be powerful after a line break, getting a stanza all their own.

      1. I think I will look at working on this as it’s own work… I usually write in free verse. I’m taking the opportunities of the workshop to stretch my ideas and writing. Thanks for reading and the input. The last lines were meant to spark just a hint of hope…

  5. Megan,

    Favorite toys? I stopped having a favorite toy about 4 years ago, that’s when my Dad left. My mom kept saying “Toys aren’t on our radar anymore,” so I just stopped asking for them. I was a real crybaby for about a year. Before that, I was a real softy. That’s probably why I understand kids like Melvin. But something happened after that first year. I’m kind of proud how I toughened up. I started figuring out how to entertain myself without much. Yeah we had our computer, but I don’t use it like other kids. I’m not a giant game person. I pretend I’m a detective and figure things out. I saw how good I was at this when we were on our last dome, and couldn’t buy anything to eat, not even a gumball out of one of those machines. Mom always calls me “Little Sherlock” now, on account of how good I was at getting us food. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get stuff if you just use a little creativity. Not to mention I can look like a real angel if I want to. People are always giving me things.

    1. I love the brave little voice that emerged here. I could see her pouty eyes asking for bread by the end, she has a story to tell.

    2. You sure have a voice and a story, putting so much in here, with both Megan and her mom, and even the missing dad. What a heartbreaking line “Toys aren’t on our radar,” and you may even consider playing with a toy as an image as you continue to write — to see a girl that young have to be a little Sherlock — it might be poignant to know what she left behind.

  6. I don’t know where this came from. The whole thing
    is made up from soup to nuts and I envisioned a
    reader (probably young teen) writing to an imaginary
    author about an imaginary book, but I had fun. I see
    how daunting this must be for the kids!

    Dear Toby,
    I want to introduce myself, as I’m a big fan. I often stare at the dust jacket flap photo, and wonder about the picture, who took it (sometimes you can tell from the reference whether it’s a relative of some sort, or other things like whether a pet is held closely, but I haven’t ever tried to write to an author until now-this minute.
    My connection with Jenna, your character creation in “When We Believe” is what prompted me to write. She is going through so much,like me, and honestly, if there were a program that could compare thoughts, the way my sister compares prospective colleges against a set of criteria, we’d be one eerie match. And that’s not all. Another really big coincidence is that on the day Ralphie, Jenna’s dog got hit by the truck, my dog Lennie died. ON THE DAY! 
    I just realized something. It wasn’t on the day Ralphie died-it was on the day I read that Ralphie died-but it’s still powerful. Something my little brother Eddie would call. psych.

  7. I love these writing prompts! I’m going to work on this one a little later, but I just wanted to share some thoughts about writing and wondering if anyone else has had the same experience. If anyone has, how have you motivated accomplish your goals? Thanks again!

  8. Portion of a letter from Bucky Fuller to Henry Ford

    …However, I wonder what your thoughts are about making this exhibit thought-provoking? I would find it a waste to restore the Wichita house and not have any further developments come of it. As you well know, the 4D design was not put into production because of high material costs. I imagine that in a city where material innovation would be key to the auto industry, local engineers and innovators would be sensitive to a shifting paradigm and would be well-equipped to continue research into a mast-based house….

    See all my thoughts here: http://www.mshoughtonsclass.com/2012/06/12/what-would-bucky-say/

  9. I can’t wait to try this prompt! First, I just wrote a blog post with some thoughts on writing this summer. I’m wondering if anyone else has shared the same experience, and if so, how did you keep yourself on track to accomplish your writing goals?

  10. I’ve been trying to comment, but they don’t seem to be going through. Anyway, I love this prompt and can’t wait to try it. I’ve posted some thoughts on how I’m hoping to keep myself motivated to write this summer. I’m wondering how others keep themselves on track to meet their writing goals.

    1. Linda,
      I related to your anxiety as well as the “do everything but write” sequence. I’m also a worroer and a procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing. My advice is, Just do it! Write every day, follow this regimen that has been set up for us, and it will happen. This is the first time I have ever gone public with my writing and I have left my fear at the door. I don’t even care if no one reads what I have written. It is the process and practice of writing daily that is teaching me. It is rather liberating!

  11. Sorry this is so long. I just loved this prompt. It’s really given me some reflection on Joey after the fact, and I discovered a lot about Marlon and the characters that surround him. This would be a great small group activity for writing workshop when they write narratives. They could interview each others’ characters, then interview them themselves after a little practice.

    I ended up doing an interview with two of my main characters: Joey Tate from The Secret Order of Extraordinary Outcastz and Marlon Grunt from The Rude Awakening of Marlon Grunt. Joey’s story is complete, but still in revisions. Marlon’s story is still being written. It seemed to work best if I let them both speak, and they kind of ended up interviewing each other.

    Me: Thanks for coming today.

    Joey: No problem. I like your laptop.

    Me: Thanks.

    Marlon: Yeah, I want to get one of those before I go to college.

    Me: Is that where you see yourself going? Got a particular school in mind?

    Marlon: I want to go, I just don’t know if there will be money. I’d like to be in a music program. I’ve been thinking about Illinois State. It’s close, so I could live at home and stuff. I’d love to go to Wesleyan, but there’s no way that’s happening. Private school? Too expensive.

    Me: Have you looked into scholarships? I mean, didn’t your dad work there?

    Marlon: Yeah, he worked at ISU, not Wesleyan. But he’d take me to Wesleyan all the time to hear their concerts.

    Joey: Are you a singer?

    Marlon: No, I play drums.

    Joey: Cool! I totally can’t carry a tune, not even if you put it in a bucket for me. I can’t hold a beat either. I’m musically challenged.

    Me: Do you like to listen to music, Joey?

    Joey: I’m into it a little. I like old musicals, showtunes and stuff. But just for a few shows. Like Grease. And High School Musical. And Chicago. And Oklahoma. And Moulin Rouge.

    Me: I wanted to ask you both a few kind of personal questions, do you mind?

    Joey: Sure.

    Marlon: I guess so.

    Me: What, if you had to pick one, is the biggest regret you have?

    Joey: Do you mean, like, things you wish you could go back and do over?

    Me: Yes.

    Joey: Ummm…that’s kind of a tough question. Can Marlon go first?

    Marlon: I’m ready. It’s pretty easy for me. I wouldn’t take those pills.

    Joey: You took pills? Holy crap! What kind of pills?

    Marlon: Some of my mom’s meds for anxiety. Might’ve been valium or something. I’m okay, though. I’m just sorry that I put my family through that, you know? My grandma and Mom and Phoebe and Blue and everybody were scared I was going to die. It really hurt them to think that I’d try to end it all. Blue, especially. She was pissed for a good long time after that. I never want to hurt her like that again.

    Joey: Why’d you do it?

    Marlon: Oh, you know..stuff. It just all kind of builds up, and you don’t feel like you have any control over anything that’s going on, people are crappy to you, shi- stuff doesn’t go your way, you don’t feel like anyone can help you out because they all have their own crap to deal with…until finally, one day, a really, REALLY bad day comes along and it just sends you off the edge. You feel like you’d be better off not even here.

    Joey: You don’t still feel like that, do you? ‘Cause I don’t know you that well, but I already think you’re pretty cool. You’re cute. You’re a drummer. You’re funny…

    Marlon: Naw, no it’s better now. I – uh – I had some help figuring out that it was a pretty stupid move. And I know it was stupid. I learned a lot, so I guess I just regret not finding a better way to learn all that stuff about myself or talking to somebody earlier, you know? You think I’m cute?

    Joey: (blushing) Well, yeah. You’re cute. Don’t let it go to your head, though. Geez.

    Marlon: That’s sweet. You’re what, like…twelve?

    Joey: Thirteen, Drummer Boy. Get over yourself.

    Marlon: Sorry, it’s just that I’m seventeen and taken.

    Joey: Well, I’m taken, too. So…like I said, get over yourself. I didn’t ask you to prom or anything. God!

    Me: You’re taken?

    Joey: (blushing again) Umm…sort of. I kind of have a sort of boyfriend. We’re not completely boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s complicated.

    Marlon: You’re thirteen, how complicated could it be?

    Joey: (rolling eyes) Yeah, okay. Whatever. You’re, of course, the expert because you’re in high school and the rest of us babies can’t POSSIBLY understand, right? You’re SO old at seventeen that you can’t even remember what it was like to be thirteen?

    Marlon: Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.

    Joey: Yeah, you did, but I’ll overlook it.

    Marlon: You still haven’t answered the regret question.

    Joey: Okay, okay. I got this. I guess if I had to go back and change something, I wouldn’t have been so down on myself all the time. And I would’ve kept up with my homework rather than let it get so out of control. I felt like I wasted a bunch of time being this awful, pitiful version of me.

    Marlon: You’re not pitiful. I think you’re funny. And smart. And not afraid to speak up for yourself. What did you have to be down on yourself for? The homework thing I totally get, though.

    Joey: I know, right? But I was pretty pathetic. I was one big pity party for, like, six months or something. Although, if it hadn’t been like that, then I never would have met my friends. So, I guess I regret that it took so long to happen, but I’m not unhappy that it did.

    Me: Next question. Who has had the biggest impact on who you are today?

    Marlon: Jesus, that’s a tough one. Can I only pick one?

    Me: You can answer however you want.

    Joey: That’s easy for me. My mom. She’s always finding ways for us to do extra stuff and she always is really supportive. She wants me and Gordo to be who we really are, not somebody else’s version of what we SHOULD be. I mean, Gordo is never going to be normal, he’s too smart. She accepts that he has to have his operation to run, and she accepts that I have to draw comics.

    Marlon: Gordo’s your brother?

    Joey: Yep. He’s eleven.

    Marlon: And he runs an…operation? What do you mean?

    Joey: It’s kind of like this company of little kids that he runs to get rid of bullies and help kids out.

    Marlon: That’s crazy. In a good way. Hey, you draw comics?

    Joey: Yeah. I like to copy the greats like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Neal Adams. I like Manga, too. But I write my own, too. It’s called The Secret Order of Extraordinary Outcastz.

    Marlon: That’s cool. Well, I guess if I had to narrow it down, the most influential people in my life would be: My dad, Big John Secor, my girlfriend – Blue Bennet, my little sister – Phoebe, and Tre Cool.

    Joey: That’s a huge list. You couldn’t narrow it down? And your mom or grandma’s not on there. And everybody has such bizarre names…Blue? Big John? Tre Cool? Are they all musicians or something?

    Marlon: You’re a girl named Joey, and you’re making fun of someone else’s name?

    Joey: Fair point. I’m just sayin’.

    Marlon: Anyways, no, they’re not all musicians. Tre Cool is though. He’s the drummer for Green Day.

    Joey: Green Day…Green Day…nope. I got nothin’.

    Marlon: What!? Jesus, kids these days…you have so much to learn, young padawan.

    Joey: Are you done?

    Marlon: Yeah. Green Day is the best band that ever walked the earth. And Tre Cool is their drummer. His is a god.

    Joey: Oookay. And he personally influenced you how?

    Marlon: Aside from being a drumming god, he also was my spiritual advisor. Sort of. Well, he was in spirit form when he advised me.

    Joey: So, he’s a dead god of drumming?

    Marlon: Nope. No, he’s alive and well. Still drumming.

    Joey: I’m confused.

    Marlon: It’s okay. I don’t really understand it either. Anyway, my dad is sort of the person that I always measure myself against. I’m always stopping and asking myself what he would want me to do. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give me advice from the grave.

    Joey: Wait, does that mean your dad IS dead?

    Marlon: Yeah.

    Joey: God, I’m really sorry, Marlon. That sucks. A lot.

    Marlon: Yeah.

    Joey: But wait, so you get advice from the spirit world from a guy who ISN’T dead, and DON’T get advice from the spirit world from your dad, who IS dead?

    Marlon: Yeah. Don’t try too hard to understand it. It makes MY brain hurt just to think about it too long.

    Joey: So, what about the others? Are any of them ghosts?

    Marlon: No. Blue is my best friend and girlfriend. She has been since I was twelve. Well, she was my best friend since I was twelve. The girlfriend thing happened later.

    Joey: How sweet! I’ll bet she’s really nice. And cool.

    Marlon: You’d like her. She’s totally into anime.

    Joey: Awesome!

    Marlon: And you’d probably like my baby sister, Phoebe, too. Everybody does. She changed everything for me. I’d take a bullet for her.

    Joey: Awww…that’s so sweet! How old is she?

    Marlon: Five. She’s my half-sister, but she’s just the cutest kid. So spunky and smart. You kind of remind me of her.

    Joey: Thanks! What about Big John?

    Marlon: Yeah, he’s just this guy who took me in and made sure I had what I needed after my dad died. He didn’t know me from Adam, and he just opened up the door to his life and said, “Come on in.” You can’t buy that sort of kindness, you know?

    Joey: He sounds awesome. I wish my dad was like your dad or Big John. He’s not all bad, but he kind of left us behind when my parents got a divorce.

    Marlon: Keep at him. You can’t replace people. Even if he’s kind of a d-bag sometimes, he’s still your dad.

    Joey: I guess.

    Me: I’m sorry guys, we have to wrap this up. We went way over our allotted time. Maybe we can pick up this conversation later in private?

    Joey: Yeah, that’d be fun.

    Marlon: Sure, yeah. I could swing that.

    Me: Thanks.

    1. I love the idea about having students interview characters of their peers’ narratives. I love how the characters being interviewed took over the interview. Your story made me want to write another one in a similar format. Kate, I hope that you don’t mind.

  12. Okay, you may have noticed that I tend to go rogue on the prompts. I found my mind diverting into many different directions w/ this prompt and its myriad possibilities. I decided to write a letter, one that fits w/ the plot I’m fleshing out. Here’s the idea: A young man’s former girlfriend gets pregnant after a forced sexual encounter. There’s a twist, which the letter will reveal. Here’s the letter: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Aryfoz6jB2I_uD3k_rMiYSlPs2B1ncGSJzPAojluhFY/edit

    BTW, this will work into my “Super Senior” post. I also answered most of the questions you posed, Jeannine, about the main character.

    Thanks for reading and for mentoring.

    1. Glenda, I’m heading to your blog to read, but going rogue is usually great. When I gave prompts to my writing grad students last semester, I encouraged “cheating.” One of them taught students with disabilities so came from being used to giving very clear guidelines, and at first had some difficulty with my: “Do this… or not” approach, though she understood the point was really just to get writing. But after a few weeks, I didn’t have to say, “R, do this. And everyone else can do it or not!”

      1. Okay. How “Super Senior” fits w/ the letter won’t be obvious; I imaging the two together will appear rather incongruous. I’m not worried about that as I don’t consider myself a creative writer, so if I fail to write this YA novel clamoring in my head and now materializing in fragments on paper, that’s okay. The idea has lain dormant for a long time (almost two years), so I’m pretty stoked that it’s coming to life, even if it bears more resemblance to Victor Frankenstien’s creature than to anything else at this point. I also imagine my idea of a male victim of female rape will be upsetting to many, and I’m okay w/ that, too. I just hope folks don’t think I’m trying to marginalize or diminish the seriousness of date rape or any other forms of abuse women suffer.

    2. Very intriguing, Glenda. This letter definitely piques my curiosity and makes me wonder what in the world happened between the characters in your story (as well as the direction they’re headed in now)! Also, the language and tone of your letter were quite effective–it sounds very official! Best of luck with this project!

  13. Dear Teachers Write,

    I have been struggling with figuring out what I want to write about. I feel like I need a WIP in order to grow as a writer this summer, so I have finally picked my character. I’m not exactly sure what her story is yet (I think she’s a girl), but I am starting to get to know her.

    She doesn’t have a name, but I know she is quiet. I know that she is either in 4th or 5th grade. She has two brothers, both older, and her dad is a truck driver. I really wanted her dad to be a tattoo artist, but I knew that I would end up with another tattoo if I went that route, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that, just yet. I chose truck driver, because growing up my father was a truck driver, often on the road between 5 and 14 days. It makes for an interesting family dynamic.

    Part of me wants to make this a story about her going on a trucking adventure with her father, but I’m not sure. I thought it would be interesting if her parents were divorced and she hadn’t seen much of her dad, and then she goes on a long trip with him on the open roads, but I’m not sure I want her parents to be divorced.

    I know she has one really really close friend and that she wouldn’t trade that for anything.

    She is really extremely talented at something, that most people don’t value as being important, but I can’t figure out what that is.

    I would really like to teach this young lady. I look forward to sharing more of her as I learn more about her.

    Thanks for listening,

    Mr. Colby Sharp

    1. It sounds as if you have great material, and I expect if you let her write a letter to you, you might learn even more. Even a name, which may tell you about her dad, or vice versa.

    2. Colby,

      I used to create characters for fun in middle and high school, and I’d often start with a seed like this. Let her slowly speak to you 🙂 Maybe go through a baby book (or a website that has baby names) and see what names jump out at you. Sometimes the name itself gives insights into the person.

    3. I like the idea of her not seeing her father and then going on a trip with him. There could be all sorts of conflicts and growth from a journey like that. Divorced parents would be good. I’m learning from querying agents that most tend to want “loud” stories, ones with lots of drama. So I say the more conflict you can create, the better! 🙂 Great idea!

      1. Picking a character has really helped. I’ve decided that my story must be set in the 80s. Truck Driving has changed so much with: sat. radio, cell phones, and the internet. I need my characters to be isolated in the big rig.

    4. Colby,
      I don’t have a WIP either so I really appreciate your candor and also your diving in and giving it a try. You are inspiring me to try this. I’m not sure where to go with it but I’m going to try!

    5. As a 4th grade teacher, I love this idea of creating a girl with a story so many of our students can relate to. Imagine the drama of her getting to know him after maybe he has been absent for many of her milestones.. Will he be protective suddenly as she joins him in his world? I can’t wait to her more from her!

  14. I love this prompt!

    I am a mom with a four month old at home. I have published my first book, but I am struggling to publish the second one. Oftentimes, I feel the weight of the scenario by which “Anyone can publish a first book, it is the second one that distinguishes our successes”. I believe this workshop may be the kick-start my brain and creative outlet needs to get going.

    I will be returning often. Time to brainstorm before nap time is over!

    Thank you!

  15. I wrote a short children’s poem (which I’m still working on) based on the changing relationship between my baby and dog as the baby grew into a toddler. Thank you for this quick write idea of writing a letter between characters. Here is a love letter from the dog to the toddler.

    Dear Meara,

    Do you know that you smell best when you’ve just arrived home from day care? All those tangled scents cling to your hair and clothes. I live to lick the granola crumbs and banana mush from your face.

    When you get home, I offer you my belly to scratch, but I’m ready to protect it if you take a false step. “Okay” is a beautiful word when it springs out of your mouth as I wait by my dinner bowl to eat. Before anyone else, you always notice when my water bowl is empty.

    It used to be that Mom’s lap was always free. Now I share it with you. There are days when I remember what it was like to have the power in the house – to command walks and treats and grandparents’ attention. But those days came without sticky hands and games of wild chase.

    Most days I am happy just to wait for you to come home.


    1. Aw, Baxter is great! Of course I’m predisposed, since our dog Leo helped raised our only child. She’s now 23, and other dogs have had to take the place of great Leo, including one she rescued from LA traffic. Anyway, writing a letter for material for a poem sounds perfect. When writing poems, I need to move back and forth between the freedom of gathering material and then choosing, honing, and tightening. Good luck!

      1. Thank you for the feedback. It’s amazing what a powerful connection a dog and a child can make. Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and instead of singing happy birthday to him, my daughter started with, “Happy birthday my dear friend Baxter.” We eventually got her to change that to “Daddy,” but it took some doing.
        I’m glad to have found out about your work through this writing camp. I learned about your new “Borrowed Names” book and read the excerpt about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I love the historical focus on mothers and daughters, and I look forward to sharing this book with my own daughter.

      1. Thank you for the inspirational words. I did write my piece in rhyming verses with a picture book in mind. The rhyming still needs a lot of work, though, since I’m not used to that style. I may do better, as you said, to continue the idea of writing it in letter form.

  16. Okay, I’m feeling pretty angry with my MC at the moment. I’m frustrated with the bits and pieces she’s doled out to me so far – while withholding the rest. I feel like I’m her new psychologist and she’s been forced to come see me. So she sits, sullen, on the couch just daring me to unravel her secrets.

    Anyway, here’s a bit of the letter I wrote to her today.

    Dear Meghan,
    Yes, I don’t feel I know you well enough to call you “Megs” like Cassie did. You are beginning to grow in my mind into a real person, but I’m still not there yet. I wish you’d become my penpal, and give me some of the things I need to know to capture you completely.

    You have never told me anything about your parents, either Meghan. Seriously? How can I really get to know you well if I don’t know anything about them? Cassie isn’t around anymore, so you’ll have to tell me about her parents too. I know this may put a lot of pressure on you, and make all that guilt you feel about Cassie resurface – but sometimes that’s what it takes to heal.

    Okay, and what exactly is up with Cassie? I know you have that deep seated guilt over what happened to her, but you still haven’t clearly explained to me how that all went down. Please, don’t make me have to struggle through to the ending myself.

    I think what’s really got me now, Meghan, is how to tell your story. I feel like you’ve given me bits and pieces – glimpses of events – but they are all out of sequence. I’m like a quilter who has been handed many lovely but unrelated squares. This just isn’t going to work for me! Think maybe you could sit down with me and help me plot that out, dear? I mean, I know this story is pretty important to you and I’d hate to tell it incorrectly. I think it could be powerful, but if you keep playing coy with me it’s never going to get there.

    1. And in reply to that (slightly angry) letter, Meghan says…. what? Writing her answer (especially if she’s a little put off by your tone in questioning) might tell you a lot.

      1. I’m going to sit down with Meghan and get her to write back to me… she’s started to be more communicative. Maybe she just wanted some attention. *grins*

    2. I agree with Kate. It would be great to write the letter from her point of view, and I can see her perhaps being equally angry, and maybe (hopefully) spilling something in the process — so, you really want to know….!

  17. This really was a help, Jeannine. Here is one letter, from a new character to the main one. I may have this main one write back. It’ll be interesting to see what she says.

    Dear Josie (I think that’s your name),
    Yes, I am the new girl in town & I wish you would stop trying to be my friend. You have a whole group and I guess you are close cause I see you all laughing together and going off to do things. I don’t need new friends, am just counting the days till my parents realize we don’t belong in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We’ve been here two weeks and nothing is good except maybe my father’s job. I liked the traveling we did, from farm to farm. I felt pretty when the boys gave shy smiles as they came by to leave their little brothers and sisters. I was the one in charge then, I was the one who was friendly.
    You smile all the time which makes me suspicious. No one can be that happy every day. The teachers like you, the principal says hello to you, and you even walk into math class looking like it was a party.
    That day you waited, last Friday I think, my first day, I was so tired from the day, from no one talking to me, from teachers acting like my name was from some other planet, and then you waiting. I didn’t want anyone then to be nice. If I had let go just a little bit, I would have burst into tears. I would have yelled. I might have screamed! You wouldn’t let me alone. Why do you have to be so nice? I know already that you just live with your abuella. There’s a story there, I know, but I hope I don’t live here long enough to hear it.
    Just leave me alone, no more smiles, no more friendliness. I don’t need you.

    Marta Marisol Ramirez

    1. I love the walls this character puts up and the way it says so much about whatever she’s trying to hide or protect herself from. Hope you’re learning more about her!

    2. Ah, “I don’t need you.” There’s a challenge. And lots of tension, with the anger under the smiles and silences. I do hope there’s a letter back. You might have a very busy, and maybe fraught, summer, Linda!

  18. Dear Michael:
    I remember when you were young – probably 2 years young. I was in my third year of Patience 101, a parenting course that started when the pregnancy test revealed a powder blue plus sign. We lived in a small city in the suburbs that had an active rail road careening through the center of town. As a childless couple, we loved to hear the distant drone of the train wheels clacking over the rails. It was an earmark of the quaintness that completed our vision of the hometown feel of our life here. However, we avoided the tracks as much as possible when traveling across town. It was such a hassle to wait for the 100 car coal trains to pass – knowing that to get stuck in the eternal line of vehicles would make us late to our destination. Resenting the inconvenience of the rails eating up our precious time. We prided ourselves in learning all of the overpasses and underpasses and sought those out on a regular basis. We joined the ranks of the local savvy travelers and thought ourselves very clever in planning our alternate routes. We couldn’t be bothered with the frustrations of halting our schedule to join the line of cars as the bells rang and the long black and white-striped arm descended, forcing us to put our lives on hold. This all changed when you became old enough to process your world and give voice to your opinions. At the sound of the train your eyes would get as big as emerald marbles, your fair cheeks would flush bright pink as your neck strained to see what was ahead. “Choo-choo! Choo-choo, momma! See?” Your little arm stretched out like the tail of a bird dog, pointing down the tracks. The delight of anticipation written across your sweet chubby face as we purposefully pulled into the ranks of vehicles and rolled the windows down to wait. There was no frustration, only joy as we watched the big colorful boxes clack and squeal on their enormous wheels. Your chest straining the belts on the car seat as you took it all in. “The wheels on the train go clackity-clack, clackity-clack, clackity-clack. The wheels on the train go clackity clack, all through the town!” We would sing over and over again. When we tired of the song we just listened to the soothing repetitive sound, trying to count each car as it passed, learning colors and numbers, letters, predicting and wondering. Graciously held back by the black and white-striped arm to enjoy a few moments of treasured time. No worries about being late. We could always say we got caught by the train. Disappointment washing over our faces as the caboose approached, knowing our games and songs were coming to an end. Secretly wishing the train was longer today. “Choo-choo gone. Bye Choo-choo! Bye!” We waved at the caboose, lessons of patience and wonder coming to a close until we were lucky enough to get stuck at the tracks again.

    1. The love in this voice is great – and I adore this line especially: “At the sound of the train your eyes would get as big as emerald marbles.”

    2. I really enjoyed reading this. I loved the line: “Your little arm stretched out like the tail of a bird dog, pointing down the tracks.”

  19. This is a new realm for me – I’m pretty comfortable with memoir type of writing, so pushing myself into fiction and developing characters is exciting, but nerve-wracking, especially being amongst such amazing writers here!
    …. I’m working on developing a main character, a 10 year old girl who writes as per classroom procedure writes a letter to her teacher to deal with an issue that happened on the playground.

    Dear Mrs. F.,
    Something happened with C.S. at recess, I’d like to have a meeting. – D.C.

    Dear D.C.,
    Thank you for your note about recess, we will set up a meeting with C.S. during break this afternoon. Make sure you think about your I-statement, tell C.S. how you feel and what you would like to happen to change it. See you at 2 o’clock. – Mrs. F

    Dear Mrs. F,

    How’s this?

    C.S., I feel frustrated when you tell the other kids that I have rabies and call me fugly when we’re all waiting for the bus after school. I get upset when you refuse to talk to me when the teacher asks us to turn and talk, and when you refuse to shake my hand after a game of dodgeball, making a face for all to see except the teacher. I feel sad when you talk about my family to your friends telling everyone what my brother did to me, I thought you were going to keep that a secret. I feel self-conscious when you point at my dirty clothes and giggle when I pull a soup can from my backpack at lunch. What I want is for you to realize that I know my world is different than yours, do you think I liked having my head shaved after I got lice? Don’t you think I know it’s embarrassing wearing rubber boots on the hottest day of the school year? What I want is you to see that despite how I look, there’s a person in here, and to know I never asked for any of this.


    Dear D.C.

  20. I love prompt. Just the exercise I need to create a character that will breathe life.

  21. I started responding to this prompt in the few moments when my kids were both napping. I think it’s something I’ll be returning to for a few days. I love it!

  22. Introspection… internal dialogue and monologue of a Pan, a Peter Pan

    No place to be alone. I hate to be alone. I’m scared of loneliness. Such a place makes me think, makes me realize, makes me be aware of everything and I don’t want it at all.
    I prefer to meet some buddies and play PS3 while drinking some beer and making silly jokes.
    I don’t need anybody to encourage me and nobody is going to stop me. I’m self-sufficient and independent. I only care about myself. I can’t deny it.
    I usually like my job and I’m not bored since I use my time chatting with women.
    Of course I learn from mistakes. I just love myself.

  23. “No, I haven’t always been so sad.”

    “What happened? I don’t know. No one thing, really. The bad things just kept raining down on me until one day I woke up and I could hardly breathe. I don’t want to be miserable, but the sadness is suffocating and I don’t know how to escape. So here I am, trapped in this life that I don’t want looking in the mirror at a girl I don’t even recognize.”

    “Well, what else is there to do? I can’t rescue my dad from unemployment. I can’t get my brother back to Indiana, where his heart belongs. I can’t go to Italy to find my sister who’s too ashamed to come home. And I can’t change the fact that everyone at school knows I found my boyfriend cheating on me at the end-of-school party and that my “friends” helped set it up. God certainly doesn’t seem to care, so the only hope I’m left with is the lottery.”

    “Yes, I know the odds are against me. But it’s not really about the odds, I guess. It’s about the hope. For a few hours each week I can see my life getting better, I have a dream that I can fix all the bad things that have happened to all the people I love. I have hope that I can be that happy girl again. So I play the lottery. I may not win, but at least for a moment I can believe in happiness again.”

    “May I ask you a question?”

    “Why did you make me run smack into that scary-looking kid from the other side of town that night I ran out of Kyle’s party? Did I really need to get scared on top of everything else?”

  24. Steven, who is the main character from the middle grade manuscript that I completed in November, is writing the letter. A little information about Steven: Steven is very unhappy that he is being shipped to Grandma Birdie’s house for a month because his father has always belittled his mother and Steven shares the same sentiments. While at Grandma Birdie’s house, Steven discovers himself while uncovering the truth about his father.

    Dear Mom,

    I needed to write this letter to you to tell you that I understand. This letter is too personal for email or a text message. My 7th grade English teacher spent the entire school year preaching that no one writes letters on paper anymore and that grammar is suffering because of technology. He’s one of those old guys that is stuck in the past. Christie, who sat in front of me this year, said that he is like almost 50 years old (“old as the hills” as Jamie refers to him). But I think he has a point. It seems more personal when you write it out on loose-leaf paper and send it through the mail. Grandma also says that it is nice to get a letter in the mail that isn’t a bill.

    I know that we never hang out anymore and I thought that it was something that I had done, but I am beginning to think that it is Dad. He just dropped me off at Grandma’s house and hasn’t returned any of my calls. When I do get him on the phone, he seems like he doesn’t want to talk with me. This is when I realized that he was treating me like he has treated you for years. I am sorry that I have never noticed. I think about the look on your face, a scared look, whenever Dad is around and I am worried. He treats Grandma so terribly and her friends say that he has always treated her this way (oh yeah, Grandma is not an agoraphobic, in fact, she is never home and she does some crazy stuff – in a good way). Does he treat you terribly when I’m not around? I am scared that he is treating you terribly now because I am away at Grandma’s house.

    I hope this letter doesn’t make you sad, and I wish that you would drive down here and stay with Grandma and me. I miss you so much! Dad is supposed to come and get me in a week, but I don’t want to go with him. Will you come and get me?

    I love you so much!
    Write me back soon (even if it’s an email)!

    PS – I met a girl and she is super pretty and I don’t get all red and quiet when she is around. Her name is Kalie. In fact, sometimes she calls me to hang out. Grandma calls her my “girlfriend”, which I pretend that I can’t stand. If you do come down and meet her, don’t say anything about me saying she is super pretty and Grandma calling her my “girlfriend”. We’re just friends. (I think)

    Jeannine, thanks for this writing prompt. It has helped me drag the complete manuscript out of the revision archives, where it has been since March. Since Teachers Write! has started, I have worked on the manuscript over a half dozen times. It was a great activity because I just started writing and didn’t get caught up in over thinking my character (and his relationships). Thank you again!

    1. Andy, I’m so happy to hear these exercises are helping you move forward. It’s true one really can think too much about the characters, and something else happens when we just let them speak. I’m in the middle of a big revision and find my characters still can surprise me this way. I hope you find more time as summer goes on to move ahead with Steven, his family, and Kalie!

  25. Loved this prompt. Wasn’t sure I could write tonight, but then it just came right out. I’ve been so kind to myself about letting shorter paragraphs come out slowly. It’ll piece together, right?

    Dear Alex,
    It’s been a while since I’ve written, but in your last letter you asked if I had met any new kids. I did. I was at the dock waiting for Aunt Lindsay to pick me up. I met this girl who was fishing for eels. Really. She had this big bucket and a net. You might be surprised to find out that her name is Fish? She was so nice, but for some reason I didn’t feel courageous enough to ask her why Fish. I wanted to know. Hopefully she will tell me one day. She is very tiny. She looked like she was 5 or 6, but she said she was 8 and in Second Grade. She had super dark brown hair that came right over her right eye. I spent most of the afternoon talking to her left eye. It wasn’t really annoying, just noticeable. She had on cut off jean shorts and a red and white striped t-shirt. Her barefeet looked like shoes. I kept thinking about Hobbit feet. They weren’t hairy or anything but super tan and dirty. She told me a lot of things about where she lived and where her brothers (she had two) and her father were (playing tennis), but she would talk and then stop suddenly like something better caught her interest. Then she would look all calm and start telling me about how to spot the eels. Her pockets came down in white triangles under the bottom of her shorts. I think she might have cut her jeans off a little too short. When I asked her about it, she laughed and said, “oh that’s just the quarters.” I must have looked confused because she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of quarters. “My dad leaves me for a long time sometimes. So I get bored. I steal quarters from this huge jar he has on his dresser. I ride my bike in town and go to the drugstore for ice cream or a magazine, sometimes I spend a lot of time looking at hair dye.” Right then, my Aunt honked and man did I want to stay and hear more, but I had to go. I want to go back and see if she wants to hang out. She lives in a place on the Island called Westmoreland Farms. I think I can find it.
    Miss you!!!!!!! Jessie

    1. Wonderful details and bits of dialog! When time is short, piecing together is the way to go. And for some of us, even with enough time, piecing together is the way to go. I have faith it will happen. Yay for being kind to yourself and also snatching that bit of time and putting it to good use.

  26. I created my piece before reading anyone else’s work. Donovan is one of the main characters in my upcoming novel The Cover Up Artists…


    People say you’re brave…
    People say you possess courage …
    Straight A’s and stellar athelete
    in a society where black young men
    allow themselves to be a statistic
    Caught up in the system
    Aspiring to be thug
    Denying intelligence in academics

    I see you standing strong, but
    little issues cause me to write this poem
    Questioning your cowardness
    When it comes to matters of the heart
    Why did you wait
    to embrace
    the love of your life
    Why didn’t you chase
    the only girl for you

    Now the time together
    Didn’t foresee
    Not your fault
    Could have been avoided
    If you didn’t wait …

    You say you gotta know
    for sure
    Before you even knock
    on the door
    You gotta know for sure
    She will be right behind
    the door
    Waiting, anticipating
    Your entrance
    If you don’t really voice interest…
    How do you expect her
    to pick up the signals
    Opportunity you finally grasped…
    Only to last a moment too short
    Longer it could have been
    If you had the courage
    then to say, “I love you.”

      1. Thanks Jeannine … Maybe through the coarse of this camp that you will learn more about Donavan.

  27. Here is my letter:
    Dear Maria,

    I am sitting in my car. The tank is full. Groceries are in the cooler (yes, in the trunk), and I have checked the weather. Everything is fine. I just don’t seem find the energy to start the car. It’s not even a long drive–just over 4 hours. I should be able to do that. Right?
    What was it that you used to tell me? “Visualize yourself where you want to be.” Okay, I will try that.
    The water is blue, cold, sparkling yet so inviting. The pile of wood is resting along the sauna’s wall. The deck is a little crooked, but I want to be sitting there when the sun comes up in the mornings. I want to welcome each new day as soon as it starts. I want to be ready for a new day. I want to experience each day. I want to receive the gift of each new day. I wish I could record the sounds that I hear, and then carry them with me to the real world to be played again and again.
    What else would I need?
    Coffee!!! I can almost hear your voice echo when I say that word aloud. Perfect morning absolutely requires a perfect cup of coffee–of two. So, I am imagining sitting on the deck with my blanket, coffee and of course a good book–or two–watching the sun raise. Do you know, I am so grateful to be alive! To be here at this time. Am I perfect? Am I content? Maybe not; but I believe I am on my way. Do I have some choices to make in my life? fences to mend? Absolutely! But they can wait a while.
    First, I want to welcome a new day. I want to count my blessings. You know, you are one of them. This place by the lake, is another. So, I guess it is time to start the car. The groceries don’t keep forever.
    I hope I will get to experience a sunrise with you soon!
    Your friend,


  28. this is just a sliver of writing—a short note from one character to another–the beauty of this assignment and this piece for me is that it gave me a breakthrough I’ve needed for some time…and now I’m feeling in the zone again! THANKS!!!

    You are really full of crap, you know that? I mean, seriously—who DOES that? I am so pissed at you right now and I’m really flippin’ tired of your crap. How DARE you tell Liv what I said…I thought I knew you. I thought we were friends.
    Did you really think by telling her that you could get in good with her little group? Have you seen the way they look at you? Girl, you really ARE stupid if you don’t even realize they.don’t.see.you.at.all. You are NOTHING to them.
    And now you are nothing to me.

  29. I wrote this as a response to what happened to Little Bo Peep in a voice that I hope sounds like a young child.

    Hi Bo Peep
    I’m glad that you finally found your sheep. You must have been so scared when you couldn’t find them. I know what that’s like as I almost lost my sister’s pet kitten Petal that I took to school for show and tell. I took it without permission so you can just imagine how scared I felt when it bit my finger, jumped from my arms and ran into the school yard. My friends and I ran after it, but we could not catch it. I nearly died! Did your heart beat so fast that it seemed like it was going to jump out of your chest? Mine did. Did you cry until you got the hiccups, a runny nose and a bad headache? I did. I just wanted to start the day over without that stupid cat. I thought my life was over, but luckily the school’s janitor found Petal hiding under some leaves when he was raking up the yard. I was so happy! I guessed that’s how you felt when you found your sheep and their tails. Animals can cause such problems. Anyway, I’m glad things turned out well for you.

    Your friend Daisy

  30. This was a hard one. I started out trying to tell about this boy, described below, writing in narrative form, but I wasn’t feeling it. So, after a while I gave up, frustrated, then came back and tried this as a poem. There’s no real form, mostly just feelings that I had to get out about a boy I’ve shed many tears over.


    Go ahead, kick the walls, shout and scream, pitch a fit.
    If anyone ought to it’s you.
    You who are just seven years old, who’s life has been shattered
    And repaired, only to be shattered and repaired again and again
    You who think no one loves you and who’s go to line is, “I can’t.”

    I listen on the other side of the wall, to spoiled brats who throw tantrums
    Because the teacher has told them they can’t do something,
    Or that they have to do something.
    You should be in there, you should be the only one allowed to sport that behavior.

    You came to us a tentative member of a family, trying to do their best by you,
    But they gave up
    So off you went to another, a single woman, an odd choice, but she taught you
    Manners, and how to control your temper, she supported you while you were
    Getting used to the medication that was now a part of your life

    You had some bad days, but they were getting less and less
    And even though “I can’t” remained in your vocabulary, you tried more and more
    And soon you saw that gap between you and the other first graders getting smaller.
    We were all so proud.

    The news of your parents’ divorce did not disturb us
    We knew it meant you would never be with them again and secretly rejoiced
    They were not good enough for you, B, they didn’t deserve you as a child
    Not if they treat you that way.

    But maybe you knew what was coming before we did,
    Maybe you knew not to expect too much, you’d been through this before
    We should have seen the signs, to know that in a foster kid’s life
    There are no constants, no always and forever.

    And so our hearts broke when we realized more change was in store,
    The single woman needed some time, so 4 days on, 3 days off was the arrangement,
    The three with the fifth grade teacher – a single man.
    We all prayed for a magical solution – someone to adopt sight unseen

    Soon 4 and 3 became 3 and 4 then 2 and 5 and now 0 and 7.
    And now, he shows the signs, we know what’s ahead
    And you probably do, too.
    There are no constants, no always and forever.

    Soon you are off to a new home, a new life
    And we don’t know where.
    So when I asked you this morning, “Are you excited
    That today’s the last day of school?
    I was glad your answer was positive, when you should have been kicking the walls.

    1. You made it clear why you’ve shed tears. And it seems like the free verse is working for you, with time and uncertainty passing between the stanzas. That last line has a well earned poignance .

  31. My letter is one that my character Chance will not give its intended recipient. They are characters in a novel I hope to revise called The Essential Guide to Supervillainy, which is largely about a class writing project.

    Dear Sadie,

    I don’t like the way my letters twist around when I write. Spell check has saved my hide more than once before and I hope it does tonight as well.

    Mom says it helps if I think things through before I do them. She seems to think getting my words out first is a way of thinking. We both know that my brain would rather use its words for unbelievable zombie story teasers that freak the squeamish out. Zombies don’t care how I read or spell.

    Honesty set to on? I love the look on your face when you read my more outlandish creations. It’s got nothing on what you look like when you see my zombie. It’s easy to scare you. Too easy sometimes. Most of the time.

    But I find I don’t want to scare you. It’s not because it’s too easy to do so. It’s not that you aren’t a challenge. It’s because I’d rather make you laugh. Make you smile. Make you take a chance (hah) and think of villainy to write. When you forget to be afraid, I love the way your brain works. You’ve a knack for mayhem even if you keep it all duct taped inside so nobody sees it.

    Mrs. Carlson was brilliant when she made us be editing partners in class. I thought she’d made a match that wouldn’t work. That she gave me to you because you’d be /nice/ about my messes even if you couldn’t stand them. There was no way you could like them. No way you’d help besides turning my words right side up and respelling them all. Didn’t think there was anything I could give you.

    I didn’t expect to find a guide for supervillains. I didn’t expect to laugh at your words, words you try so hard to hide. I WILL NOT let you hide them. So I’m letting you send them to the Quill without a name attached. Because that’s the only way you’ll send them. For now. Better the words get out. Let you see people like them. Then we’ll get your name out.

    Mom’s worried I like you. Thinks a loud lout like me won’t treat you right. Have to show her that’s not true. For where there are supervillains there can be zombies…really.

    No time to finish this or I’ll be late for the marching band field show. Not that you’ll know this isn’t finished because I’m not giving it to you. Not even going to hit save or Annie’ll find it. Kindergarten sisters who read are such a pain.


  32. I got the idea from Jessica Wisniewski to have two characters from two different works to interview each other. Both characters are from novels that I am currently working on. Monica James is from The Cover Up Artists and Tasha Taylor is from Rumors. The set of the interview is during a ROSES mentoring session, which mostly involves guest speakers. Again, ROSES is a mentoring group that I currently work with at my middle school. We mentor seventh and eighth grade girls, and the program is housed at three different middle schools. ROSES stands for Respecting OurSelves and Each other through Sisterhood.

    Me: I want to thank you both for meeting with my mentoring group, ROSES. It is important for my young ladies who meet young positive women.

    Tasha and Monica: Thanks for having us (in unison).

    Me: Both you of you had to deal with drama in the form of rumors or jealousy from other females. Do you want to share with the group on how you handled it.

    Tasha: I see you are getting straight to the nitty gritty.

    Me: These young ladies still struggle with that aspect of their social life. I want them to learn how to handle it without putting a mark on your permanent record.

    Monica: It is very possible to handle drama without putting a blemish on your permanent record. Getting suspended wasn’t an option for me. My mom didn’t care about defending myself. I remember when some girls who I thought was my friend wanted to fight me over me and my best friend, D deciding we were going to go out. Chicks had the nerve to get into my face and thank goodness my man, at the time, showed up and they backed down.

    Daijha (a ROSE) — I like that your man fought your battle, but I am not feeling how you hid behind him. I still would have beat that girl down.

    Monica: When you have to go home to my crazy mom who knock the mess out of me then put it back in me to knock it out again, you gotta do what you gotta do. My mother believes that you are at school to get your education and to make the teachers believe you are the best student ever. If you deviated from that expectation, conquences were to follow.

    Tierra (a ROSE) — My parents have the same expectations for me, but I am not going to let no chick punk me.

    Tasha: When you apply to colleges, there is no where on that application that asks how many girls you beat up. It asks about your grades. It checks your records for suspensions to look at character. It will ask how hours your volunteered and organizations you were apart of. You have to look at the big picture.

    Monica: I didn’t care that people would call me a punk because I know who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. When you have path set, you are not trying to let anyone push you off that path with matters. Now D put the flame out that morning, but girls kept igniting the flame. I had to stop my bff Nicole from beating those girls down. She was so tired of girls wanting to fight me over foolishness.

    Alexi (a ROSE): I don’t understand why they wanted to fight you.

    Monica: D, Donavan, was one of the hottest guys in our middle school. We had been best friends since the womb. Our moms were like each other’s aunts. Nevertheless, we go to the point that we couldn’t ignore our attraction for each other. Girls who I thought were my friends were just jealous because they wanted to be with him. They totally forgot that D didn’t want them; he wanted me. To make a long story short, I took the matter to my favorite teacher and she mediated with myself, Nicole and the girls who wanted to fight me. Then we squashed it.

    Tasha: Well, my story is a little different … somewhat. I am like Monica that I am very focused on the goals that I am trying to achieve. Matter fact, I commend you, Monica because it take a lot for a young lady, especially in middle school

    Monica: High School now … I am a freshman in high school, but thanks.

    Tasha: My mistake, but it is good to hear that a freshman won’t allow herself to be distracted from her goals. As a rising senior in high school, I have the same mindset. I am not trying to pay for college so I have to make sure that my record is squeaky clean. Not even a smudge. A situation that comes to mind involved drama and jealousy. I had someone, like Monica, who I thought was my friend. Come to find out … she was spreading rumors about me.

    Daijha: I CANNOT STAND FAKERS WHO ARE HATERS! You beat her down? Please tell me you beat her down?!?!

    Everyone laughs.

    Daijha: We all laughing, but I am serious.

    Alexi: I want to know what type of rumors she was spreading.

    Tasha: First, she lied to this dude who had a crush on me that I said that he and I were going out. You would think that he didn’t have a problem with that, but that messed up his game with three other chicks he was hollering at. This negro confronted me about it in front of everybody. I was mortified. Again, I am nonconfrontational so I didn’t say a word. Second, she had told the new girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend that I had a problem with her. At the time, I didn’t know it was her. I just knew somebody had some random chick trying to fight me over lies. When I finally connected the dots, which was about three or four rumors later …. I confronted her in front of the whole school during lunch. I went off and it caused her to cry. I went in … Talked about how she is back stabbing hoe who sleeps or lies about sleeping with guys to get attention. I brought up how she didn’t know who was the father of her child she aborted. I just went in. I had to humiliate her the way she sought to humiliate me.

    Daijha: See that is what I am talking about! Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.

    Alexi: Did you get suspended?

    Tasha: The coaches were the monitors at the time in the gym and they knew I wasn’t going to fight her so they just watched. They were tired of her mess so let it go.

    Me: Very interesting …

    Morgan: Would you do something like that, Ms. Jenkins? Let us go at it.

    Me: (laughing) I know y’all, well some of y’all, are going to fight so I can’t take the chance.

    Tasha: Let me emphasize that I was lucky. There are times that you need to stand up for yourself and you can do it without downgrading anyone, getting loud, or fighting. My mother found out and emphasized that I was wrong for stooping down to her level, but she was glad that I confronted the issue. She was tired of me crying about it. It was time for me grow up. She wishes that I handled it in a more mature matter. Your group talks about sisterhood and we have to learn to deal with females like sisters instead of allowing stupid stuff to tear us apart. No, we don’t all have to hang with each other due to differences. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t tear each other down. So I do wish my approach was a little different.

    Me: Well, ladies, I thank you for your time. Do the ROSES have any other questions before we eat lunch?

    1. That’s pretty cool to have these characters from different places meet. And they both have a great way of getting straight to the essence. (love the idea of Roses).

  33. These are the two main characters in my WIP, though I’m not sure yet when they meet. But this letter would be after they meet (obviously). They have a lot to say to each other that, for a number of reasons, they cannot afford to communicate. There’s a lot of revision I need to do to find his voice (though the story will probably be 3rd person). But here’s a short piece I put together.

    Dear Rena,

    Surely by now, you’ve seen what I had to do. It was unavoidable. It was my prophecy. While writing this letter, with shaking hand, I already regret what I will have done by the time you read this. I do not ask for your forgiveness, for there is none to be given. I just need you to know that what I did is not who I am. You know what it’s like when the Oracle plays Her role. And by the time you read this, so will I.

    While I do not seek forgiveness, I do apologize for what you saw. You have taught me so much in the ways of peace and love. Yet today, you saw blood run from my lips. The blood of your people. I’m sorry. I should have told you, but you know I couldn’t. I wanted to, Rena. I did. But I couldn’t make that sacrifice. I hope you understand. I did it because I had to, but I went through with it for us. I couldn’t risk giving up on a future with you

    If this is a future you still want, I hope you’ll meet me by the tree just after dusk. Our tree. I’ll be there, no more secrets to hide. Completely yours.


    1. There’s a lot that makes me curious here. (love, blood, Oracle). I’m glad you tried the exercise, as even if you go with third person, it’s good to try to tap into a voice.

  34. I really didn’t know what to write about. I don’t have a WIP or MC. But I got to thinking about a couple of my boys, ones I will continue to worry about in years to come. This is a letter from one to the other. Ryan or Carter would make an excellent MC.

    Dear Carter,

    You know I have to be bad, right? I don’t want to, but it’s the only way to make my parents notice me. My mom and her boyfriend, my dad and his girlfriend, my brother, my sister, they’re all caught up in themselves. The only way I get noticed is to shock my third grade teacher with my sexual comments, kick the soap dispenser off the wall in the boys’ bathroom, or drag you into trouble with me,

    Remember the time when the teacher said, “Regina,” and you and I both went crazy making jokes? Mrs. L. went nuts and told the teacher, and she told the principal and our parents. That was so funny! My mom just cussed out my teacher and my dad just laughed. What did your parents do?

    Carter, I know you really want to be good, but I don’t know why. What do you get out of it? No one really cares, you know. I don’t believe Mrs. C. when she says she wants us to do well, and that she is on our side. Do you? Carter, I need you. More than she does. More than your mom and dad do. Please let me know that I matter and you won’t quit on me. I have to be bad, right?

    Your friend,


    1. There’s certainly a lot of depth and conflict peeking out of here, so I agree you have two potential characters. Or you might try another letter or two, doing the exercise quickly. You want someone you’ll spend a long time with — and if one of these characters or another return, or really make you feel “Yes” then that’s a pretty good sign of a keeper.

  35. Almost midnight (for me)! Whew! Barely made it…

    I’ve decided to write my letter from my main character to her mother. I haven’t really decided on the ins and outs of their relationship yet, and I’m hoping that this medium will help me better define their roles. Please note that this is no reflection on my own relationship to my mother!

    I’m writing to let you know that I will not be spending the summer with you in New York. I’ve gotten a job at ArcCrest as a care assistant. I know that my tuition to U. of Penn is covered, between your payments and my scholarship award, but I also need to make some spending money of my own. You must understand that I need to do this for myself. Yes, that’s where Jimmy lives, and I’ll see him every day- that is part of it, too.
    More importantly, though, I need to do this for me. All of my life, people have said to me, “You look just like your mother,” “You have the same smile,” and “You’re like a minature version of Sandy!” I get it, we come from the same gene pool. I can see your face right now, like mine, with furrowed eyebrows and pinched lips as you read this. I do not want to disappoint you. I also do not want to be you. I want to be me. Spending the summer in New York as a shadow to the great and powerful Sandra Bell, partner at Dubner, Walker, and Bell is not for me. It’s not my future.
    My future is here, with Dad and Jimmy in Pennsylvania. I want to be a teacher, and work with kids just like my brother. You know, Jimmy comes from the same gene pool as me, too. He just got an extra one on his 21st chromosome. I know that his arrival was hard on you. Maybe that’s why you dove headfirst into your career. Maybe that is why you left.
    But I am not like you. I need to stay. I hope some part of you can understand.

    1. This was a poignant letter from a caring and mature, but realistic young woman. There is bound to be conflict between her and her mom, who my guess is shares her strength, and I hope you’ll dive into that (without fear that people will read your family into the fiction. This will evolve into its own shape.)

  36. Here’s my letter:
    Tuesday’s Quick Write
    For Teachers Write
    A letter from one character to another in my WIP

    Dear “Dusty”,
    I know that you are new to our school. So, I am writing this to ask you things I wonder about you. I understand if you don’t want to answer the questions I am wondering about in this letter. Please know that I really do want to be your friend and I hope that you know you can trust me. I am not a snitch. I am really good at keeping people’s secrets.
    Ok. So here goes! First of all, why are you always hoarding extra food that Miss Joyce and Miss Emily give you? Don’t you eat at home? Do you not have groceries in your house? Do you want to come to my house and have dinner sometime? My mom makes the most awesome Mac and cheese! The only thing is, if you do come to my house, you have to be extra, extra quiet-my dad sleeps during the day cuz he works nights!
    Second, I really need to know where it is you are hanging out that you are getting so dirty and dusty. Plus, I noticed you keep wearing the same clothes over and over. Do you need some new clothes? You can borrow my brother’s clothes. I think you look about the same size.
    Last of all, you keep checking out all of these Ohio History type books from the LRC. I looked up your account since i am a library helper during 3rd period. Are you studying or doing a research project? I could help you, if you need ideas or want to know more about it.

    I hope you write back! Please!
    Wanting to be your friend,
    Kylee Keuriosi

    1. The potential for a really dynamic relationship is right here. Kylee wants to approach but will “Dusty” respond or flee/hide? I’m already hooked!

    2. The characters and longing perhaps for closeness on the part of one, distance perhaps from another, intrigue. I wonder if you’ll write a letter from Dusty?

  37. Dear Lucy,

    Has it really been an entire year since you came to live at our house and in our hearts? At the shelter they said a lady had found you by the smelly dumpster behind the Schuks grocery store. Were you dumpster diving? They weighed you in at exactly five pounds two ounces. Your charocal fur was all covered with ticks and fleas and you needed a haircut in the worst way. To top it off, you were blind in both eyes.

    We asked the shelter lady if you barked much. We did not want a yip-yip dog! She sweetly assured us that they had never even heard you whimper. So we loaded all five pounds two ounces of you in our car to go home.

    You seems to like the dog food we picked up for you at Wally World. With everyone settled for the night, we went to bed. Within a few minutes, we heard a barking from your pen. We gathered you in our arms and off to our queen-size bed you went. And for the last 365 silent nights, you have allow us to share your bed.

    In all honesty, the barking has been very minimual. That is, except for last week A big bad truck brought a big bad man who carried a big bad sucking snake into our house. You were not a happy camper! Not when he moved your furniture or when his sucking snake tried to eat your carpet. You barked ferociously the entire time and was worn out by the time he left. Poor Lucy!

    We love you Lucy. Sleep tight and pleasant dreams tonight.

  38. Dear Uncle Gordon,

    I’ve been wanting to ask you all these years: “Why did you do it? Why?” It seems like you have everything going for you, being a well-respected teacher and author. You are so loved by your students, your friends and your family. Every since your death everyone just speculates all the time about why you did it. Of course, Grandma thinks it’s because you were an atheist. If only life were that simple. But is she right? Was it the existential vacuum you felt that prompted you to do it? Or was it just a brain chemistry imbalance.

    Other folks remember that you said that you probably wouldn’t live to your 40th birthday, and like a time bomb when you reached your 39th year, you just blew yourself up—figuratively.

    Most of all I wish you were alive, so you could answer these questions. Because this kind of mystery just makes us all feel like we didn’t know you. Most of all I wish I could have had at least one conversation with you where you talked about your feelings. I wouldn’t have cared if you were down or depressed. I would have just felt like I was close to you.
    I remember that day that you took me around Berkeley so vividly. Remember that? We drove around in your car, and having just come from India and being 18 and young and half a world away from my parents, I felt suspended between the children’s world and the adult world. I could do anything and no one was there to judge me.

    It felt so grown up to be driving around in your car up and down the street of San Francisco with you pointing out the sights to me. My memory says it was a convertible, but maybe that’s only my romanticized version of the day.

    We went to see the Barbara Streisand movie, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and whenever I hear any of those songs or see Streisand I think of that day. It was glorious!

    Then we ate at a little Greek restaurant. I’d never had grape leaves and the other elegant and exotic dishes. Then in the middle of dinner a siren went off, and we all had to evacuate the restaurant, because there was a fire upstairs. We stood on the sidewalk and watched the fire trucks and crews arrive. So much excitement on such a special day.

    You will never know (or maybe you do) what an impact you made on so many lives. I haven’t gotten through all of your letters and papers, but I have never wanted anyone to throw them away, because I want to go through all of them sometime to see if there are any clues as to your death lying buried in the memorabilia of your life.

    Then just this morning I woke up with a flash of insight that the book I should write should be about you, and just now that insight has deepened to be about a young girl seeking to understand the mystery of her uncle’s death by questing for answers. (Not sure that is the right use of the word “questing”)

    If there is a place which those who have passed on go to, or if the divide between the living and the dead is not as rigid as we think, I ask that you guide my writing, my insights and my investigation, so that I can be true to your life, your imagination and those contributions which you would have wanted to bring to the world and those you love, if you had not died in such an untimely and wasteful way. Guide me, please, dear Uncle Gordon.

    I love you!
    June (your niece)

    1. What a touching letter, that clearly comes from the heart. This is situation where you do want answers so badly, and writing such letters may be the best way to get as close as one can to answers. I hope some come.

  39. I love how everyone interprets the prompts differently. I am learning so much from writing to the prompt and from reading all the responses. I feel like I am growing as a writer personally, but gaining so much as a teacher as well. I can already see how this one prompt can lead to instruction in my classroom. LOVE IT!!!

    1. Peg, yes, it’s fun to see letters coming from all directions, and almost all beg at least another letter to come from the recipient. Glad you are inspired!

  40. I planned to write a letter from my main character’s older sister to her, but since this character has spent a lot of time in and out of therapist’s offices, I thought I’d do a “first meeting” session from the therapist’s point of view. I didn’t mean for it to be so long, though! 4 pages and I feel I’ve barely started. What an amazing exercise this is!!

    1. Sometimes the letter works, sometimes it turns into a conversation. When something small turns into four pages you know you’re on the right track. When I assign things like these, I remind writers that you can’t do them wrong, as long as you’re writing. The only point is to get started.

      1. I think I need “You can’t go wrong, as long as you’re writing!” on a t-shirt. Or very large coffee mug. 🙂

  41. This isn’t a serious question about writing, but I have noticed that some of you are able to post a pic online. How? I have looked on my profile and I don’t see an option that will allow me to post a pic.

    1. MsJenx, I believe my picture comes up because I have a wordpress blog and this is a wordpress press blog. You can go to wordpress and log in (you don’t have to start a blog); it’s free. Registering with wordpress, they’ll offer you a chance for I think what’s called an icon (it looks like the head silhoutte you have now) and you can insert a head shot or whatever you like instead. I did this some time ago so my directions may be spotty, but I hope this helps. (if it doesn’t, just try googling “registering with wordpress”) Probably blogger is at least as popular as wordpress, and the process is similar. It’s a one time step, and quite fast.

  42. Dear Teachers Write,

    I don’t plan to have a WIP (I’m proud of myself for figuring out what that means), but do plan to complete this adventure with you this summer. My goal is to get used to putting ideas on paper and maybe picking up some tips so I can help my students do the same.

    I’m playing catch up, starting a couple of weeks late, and feeling pressured to be caught up in a week, as I’ll be busy with Cub Scout Day Camp next week. Yet, I’m enjoying this experience more than I thought I would. I’ve written about my son who is in Middle School and finds the social scene stressful, and my niece who we lost at the age of 7 (hard to believe it’s been 9 years already). I can see myself writing for myself. I don’t have the focus, or desire to revise, edit, and keep working with a piece of writing. I do enjoy putting down my thoughts and giving myself a place to think.

    I think writing a letter about my plans for school next year would help me clarify my thinking, maybe this will be a letter that is written several times. At least once it should be written to my future students about what I expect from them and what I want to help them learn next year. I like the idea of having students write to themselves, their goals, thoughts, fears, and joys.

    If I just write, I can keep my thoughts going, but if I stop to think, reread, or adjust my writing, I often lose my momentum, as I just did. These quick writes are helping me to remember that I enjoyed when I had teachers who required us to free write, often without a prompt. I liked writing whatever thoughts came into my head and knowing that it wouldn’t be read, or if it was shared, it wasn’t graded. There was no right or wrong way to do it. Last year I had my kids do some free writing, many would write a lot, but others would write a little. I had to refrain myself from grading the amount of writing they did and let them go at their pace. I often wish we didn’t have grades at middle school, and we could focus more on the learning.

    Looking forward to more writing,

    My Summer Self

    1. I love that your wrote to your summer self. I think it’s good not to worry about catching up, but work without a timetable. Like you and I expect many, I find that keeping a pen, pencil, fingers on the keyboard moving produces so much more, including many surprises, than thinking, so I cheer you on with that. It sounds like you have important people/subjects to write about — if that’s the direction your words take. Thank you for sharing!