On the first day (Monday) the group of students is told that they will write a book in five days: often they don’t believe it. Some of them think that it is some sort of ‘trick’ and that they will be given an existing story to modify. But that is not the case. Participants are sometimes given a very rough concept, on half a page, with the genre, theme, or an idea. At other times they work up their ideas from scratch. Then they brainstorm ideas. Here some of the problems associated with teamwork become visible – sometimes certain plot lines are discounted in favour of others. While this is a group decision, it can be challenging for a writer when their idea is not chosen. The program leaders overcome this by ensuring that each writer has an area of responsibility such as a character whose fate they are responsible for.
Young writers tend to really enjoy the Monday, planning out all the exciting things which will happen in their story. On Tuesday they begin to write and they often feel a bit daunted. To overcome this, the program takes advantage of psychological research about learning and motivation. Each task is broken down into small sections and students are given several different activities to do. They are also motivated by the freedom to make all the decisions about plot and content within the framework provided by the program and are encouraged by how quickly their word counts move upwards. By Wednesday afternoon a full, but very rough draft of the book is complete.
Thursday is proofreading day and it is often the most challenging for the writers, who often have very little experience in doing this. However, on Friday when the book is nearly complete and has a title and cover the energy comes back up, and by 3:30 pm the book is complete. By the end of Friday evening, it is published and available for purchase online.
A key guiding principle is that no adult touches a key or offers ideas on the plot so the work really belongs to the writers themselves. The young writers are often really amazed at what they have achieved in a short space of time and make comments like, “I’m not taking a B in English anymore. I am practically JK Rowling!”
Several weeks later, they host a book signing, an event that allows students to celebrate their achievement and inspire them to think about their longer-term goals. The writers receive professionally printed copies of their novel which is when they really see that it is a ‘real book’. Their friends and family come to celebrate with them and local press is usually present doing interviews and taking pictures. Many of the writers and their families are amazed at how big the book is and how professional it appears. At a book signing at a special school, one of the parents commented that her son does not really enjoy school as he struggles with writing. However, every day of the White Water Writers Program he came home to tell her about the story and what he was writing, even though he generally did not discuss school work with her. She was so proud of how much he improved over the week and delighted to see how much he enjoyed the process.
When White Water Writers worked in a young offenders institute this typical positive experience of the book signing was even more important. Quite a few of the parents were crying and said that it was lovely to be called in to celebrate such an amazing achievement with their sons, rather than being called in for more negative reasons.