February 19, 2018

the writers write olympics

Last week I was once again invited to be an author mentor at Writers Write, a morning workshop for local eighth grade students sponsored by the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association. I participated in the program as an eighth grader, and it has been a particular honor to come back as a mentor the past three years.

Like countless others, I have Olympic Winter Games fever.

Lady Jane and I surfing the sofa and cheering on
the women's relay. Like. Bosses.

When I'm not watching the Olympics, I seem to be reading up on them. Even the book I just finished reading centered around the Olympics. When it came time to figure out the focus and theme for my break-out workshop, it hit me like Marai Nagasu landing her triple axel in the short program. I needed to celebrate the Olympics.

It was so. Much. Fun. The students--even the shy ones--seemed to get into the spirit of the whole thing. They broke out into their randomly appointed teams and seemed to create tight-knit units immediately. They brainstormed and shared and wrote some pretty spectacular pieces off the cuff.

I wanted to share the script I created as well as a few pictures from the day. (No photos of the students as I don't have their parents' permission to post them here.) I actually stuck to it pretty faithfully, because I was trying to kick a nasty cold, and it took most of my energy to stay upright and be peppy in intervals. I also had a slide show with gifs and videos, but I'll only include where necessary.

Here it is, the 2018 Writers Write Olympics . . .

[Play Olympics Theme Music]

Welcome to the inaugural Writers Write Olympics, where everyone is a fierce writer and everyone wins. I’m Laura Chapman, your master of ceremonies, coach, and biggest cheerleader. In today’s Olympic games, we’ll discuss what it takes to be a champion writer and chase writing gold for ourselves and our teams. Are you ready, writers?

You can practically see the cold medicine radiating from my pores.


Before we begin today’s games, we need to create some teams. Please select a slip of paper from the Olympic Cup and go to the table with that color of folder and star. Go ahead and introduce yourself to your team members. Share your name. Where you go to school. And the best book you’ve read this year.

[Pause for introductions]

Now it’s time to make your team stand out. Go ahead and select a name and write it down on that star. You’ll also need a motto. Write it on the Post-It note on your folder. And take that poster board and make a flag You have five minutes. Before we begin the Parade of Nations, open up your folder and pull out the single sheet of paper with word prompts. Fill those in quickly as a team, selecting nouns, adverbs, adjectives and so on. You’ll need those later.


Let’s meet our Olympic Teams. Bring everyone on up. One of you will be the flag bearer. One of you will share the name and motto.


Thank you all for representing your schools and teams. I officially declare the Writers Write Olympic Games Open. Let the games begin!


For our preliminary round, we’re going to do a team writing activity. Before we begin, let’s watch a brief clip from this year’s Olympics.

[PLAY: https://youtu.be/RvEFtNYVQVI]

That’s Mirai Nagasu, a 24-year-old from Team USA. This week she became the first American female figure skater to successfully land a triple axel at the Olympics. She’s only the third woman to do so at the games. Can you imagine what that’s like? With your teams, write what you think was gong through her mind and how she felt during these 30 seconds.

One of the slides I created under the influence of a fever and meds.

Work together to show and tell those thoughts and feelings in a short vignette. You can do this together as a team by discussing. Or you can do it Round Robin style where each team member writes one sentence and passes it on. The choice is yours, but you have five minutes. Are you ready? Begin.


Please select a member from your team to share what you’ve written.


Well done, teams. You’ve done a great job working together to fulfill your goals. Writing can often be a solitary experience, but it’s good to have a network of friends. They can help you brainstorm. They’ll keep you motivated. And sometimes you can work together to create a project. 


Now it’s time to move on to the next phase of our games, the individual competition. Please open up your folders again and remove the folded sheets of paper. When you sit down to write, you don’t need to have have an outline. But it’s beneficial to have an idea of what you will write about. It helps you be more productive and reduces stress and anxiety. Open your folded sheet of paper and look at your picture. Use it to inspire a scene or poem. You can write about the person or people it in it. Or perhaps you’re writing from the perspective of someone witnessing it. Or maybe it’s the setting or activity. It’s your choice. You’ll have two chunks of time to write. I’m going to set the time for the first one now. I’ll let you know when you have 30 seconds left. Are you ready? Go!



That’s time. We’ll get back to our writing, but first we’ll be back after a word from our sponsors. When writing, it’s a good idea to give yourself breaks. Not only is it good for your body and health to move around, but it helps stir the creative choices. Everyone stand up. Go ahead and shake it out a little. Now for our first stretches.

  • fingers 
  • wrists
  • arms (up, across, out) 
  • calf raises 

Now we’ll march in place, moving our arms like so. Does everyone feel a little more loose?

Great, let’s get back for Round 2. Again, think about what you’re writing. Think about how that person reacts to their setting. What are they feeling? How can you show it? I’ll set the timer again and let you know when we’re up to the final 30 seconds.


Okay, that’s it for this writing session. How did it feel writing in those two bits of time? Writing in short, timed writes like the ones we just did are called sprints. The idea is to set a timer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and take breaks between. It’s based on a productivity tool called the Pomodoro Technique. Setting out to accomplish a big goal, like writing a story or poem, can be daunting. But when you break it down into smaller chunks like that—and take breaks—it becomes more manageable. Now it’s time to share our work with each other.

Have everyone at your table go around and share your stories with each other. When you’re done, select one person who will share his or her story with the room. Ready? Go.


The "medals" I gave each student after reading. They're the colors of
the teams they'd worked with all morning.

Do we have our three representatives? Let’s go around the room and share.

[Almost everyone ended up sharing, which was awesome.]

Thank you all for representing your teams. Would you each please come up here. In recognition of your bravery and good work, please accept this medal. Please take these others back to your tables and present them to your teammates.


Thank you all for participating in the Writers Write Olympics. I hope you had fun. If you think about it, we writers have a lot in common with Olympic athletes.

For all of us, success begins when we turn our dreams into plans. It’s one thing to say we want to win the half pipe or write a story. It’s another to come up with a way to make it happen. How do we accomplish this as writers? We make outlines, develop characters, and brainstorm.

It also takes hard work and dedication. That means sitting down with a pen and paper or a computer to write. It means making time for it and committing to your words. We have to practice doing that. Like skiing down hill or skating at high speed, writing takes muscles. To get your muscles in top shape, you have to do it often and practice, practice, practice.

It can be scary to create a story or a poem then to turn around and share it with others. Just like it must be nerve-wracking to skate a routine on ice in front of fans around the world. It’s okay to be afraid. That doesn’t make you a coward or weird. We’re all scared. But we become champions when we don’t let that fear hold us back from going for what we want.

And all of us have to ignore the haters that try to keep us from doing what we love. Sometimes they’re people who say mean things. Other times they’re the self doubt that make us question whether or not we have what it takes. Whatever they are, you have to ignore them and focus on the prize—a finished piece.

So this is my advice to you, writers:

Dream big and turn those dreams into plans.

Work hard and dedicate yourself to your craft.

Make time to write and make it a habit.

Don’t let fear bring you down.

Be fierce. Be brave. Be daring.

And ignore the haters.

Don’t let them keep you from dreaming and writing.

Thank you for being here today. Keep going and keep believing your words matter, because they do. Now, to end on the moment you’ve perhaps been curious about from the beginning. Why did you write down those random words with your teams? While you were writing away, I wrote them into a Mad Lib. Here it goes:

It actually made some kind of sense!

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1 comment:

  1. This is great, Laura. Wish they'd had such things when I was in school. Congrats on being chosen mentor for the 3rd time. If the kids didn't love it, that wouldn't happen, so double congrats.