Doug's Blog

"Can you please write about ..."

When I visit middle schools that have worked with The Revealers and/or True Shoes, I try to open a window into the creative process. I do this partly by showing my notebook — and sometimes, young people respond by writing in it.

I carry around a little pocket Moleskine, without lines because I don’t like lines. I call it my ideas and observations notebook, I tell kids, because those are mostly what I put in it, especially on school visits. Writers keep notebooks in different ways, I’ll add. Some use them like journals or diaries, writing in them every day; I know one fine YA novelist who keep her notebook like a scrapbook, pasting in articles and magazine photos that might give her ideas for characters, or more.

Often, at the end of a session with middle schoolers, one or more will come up and ask if they can write in my little book. I hand it over happily!

And reading the entries that kids gave me this fall, I was struck by how many let me know two things that I think are really interesting. First, not surprisingly, they want honest stories about the tough things they’re often struggling with. But second, they want some redemption.

They want someone, like a friend, who can rescue or help the struggling character. Or they want that character to find rescue and redemption in herself.

Here are some recent examples, just as sixth, seventh and eighth graders wrote them in my notebook:

Please make a book with a girl who is overweight and doesn’t feel good about herself. Unlike most girls in her school she has short hair. She is picked on by everybody. People always say rude things about her weight and hair. She makes a friend, and her friend helps her through the hard times.

We think you should ... make a story that describes how people can have self-harm but can do things about it.

Can you write a book with a kid who is a bully change his way by helping the outcast of the school and can that kid be me? The book would be called “The Zero Hero.”

I think you should write a book about a girl in middle school who struggles with self-harm. She is afraid to tell anyone and she finally finds a friend who is a boy in her grade that she can open up to and he helps her through all of her struggles. He also helps her to non commit suicide.

This [with an arrow pointing to the above] is a really good idea. I know exactly what that feels like. No one writes about that, and it would be awesome to have a realistic story about self-harm. Please include someone to protect him/her.

For my whole life I was bullyed and whatever I do I couldn’t get away but now in middle school here because I accept who I am with autism people are OK. Never give up hope.

Hey I’m Samantha, can you please write about a high school student who is being pressured to do drugs and all sorts of stuff but finds these other students that are making this group to stay against drugs and tobacco. And when you write it can her name PLEASE! be Sam. Also do you have a pet and kids. Thanks for coming to our school.
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Doug Wilhelm's young-adult novel The Revealers, on bullying, may well be the most-used work of fiction in American middle schools today, having been the focus of reading and discussion projects in many more than 1,000 schools. His 2012 sequel True Shoes deals with cruelty and creativity online; his newest novel, The Prince of Denial, portrays the impacts of parental addiction on young teens.

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Tuesday, 11 May 2021

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