Tristan Bancks is an Australian children’s and young adult author. His new book is Ginger Meggs, a 100th-anniversary book of stories based on the character created by his great-great-uncle, Jimmy Bancks, in 1921. Alongside writing, he’s recently created Young Writers’ StorySchool, an online video-based workshop for the classroom that I’m using with my students. It’s designed to help nurture the writing of kids aged 9-14.
I have been trialing Tristan’s StorySchool with an enthusiastic group of writers from Years 5 and 6. These students give up their lunchtime once a week to practise their writing skills. As a teacher, I love how StorySchool teaches these students about writing from an author’s perspective and not from a teacher-teaching-the-syllabus perspective. The video content is top-quality and the activities set in each video are accessible and unique.
(Pics by Amber Melody.)
Here, Tristan shares how his fourth-grade teacher was pivotal in turning him into a writer and how he still uses her writing tools now. (We have been using this writing tool in our StorySchool club too!)
My writing journey began when I was nine years old and my teacher, Mrs Bannister, introduced a simple daily writing practice she called ‘Anything Goes’. I re-discovered the technique years later in Julia Cameron’s life-changing work on the creative process, The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I believe that this simple practice gave me the guts to back myself, pursue a creative career and become a writer of fiction.
Every morning in fourth grade we would get out our Anything Goes books, about a third of the size of a regular exercise book, put the date at the top of the page, and write, flat-out for five minutes. It didn’t matter what we wrote, as long as we were writing. We were told not to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation or handwriting. BUT we had to write for five minutes non-stop. At first it was difficult. I don’t remember being given story starters, in these sessions, but I do remember a sense of freedom. While Maths and Spelling and other subjects had hard and fast rules, inside the pages of that Anything Goes book, there was the opportunity to escape and be anywhere and anyone we liked.
I, of course, immediately started writing a serial drama titled ‘My Life as a Mars Bar’ – a thought-provoking tale about the plight of a chocolate bar being eaten by a human and moving down the digestive tract. I won’t tell you what happens at the end of that gut-wrenching saga.
I LOVED writing that story. And the one about the evil Meany-greeny-puff-puff-lalala. And the other hundred stories that came to me in moments of fevered inspiration. No story starters. No text types. No judgement.
Anything Goes was writing for writing’s sake, with the intrinsic rewards of freedom, an escape into the imagination and, with any luck, the laughter of friends if we had an opportunity to read out our work.
Clearly, not every kid in that class became a writer. Some would have struggled with the task. Others may have outright despised it. But I’ve spent fourteen years visiting schools and working with young writers and, even the kids who find the Anything Goes concept challenging at first, take to it with practice.
I’ve shared Mrs Bannister’s approach with hundreds, maybe thousands, of schools in that time and, quite often, I have visited a school the following year. Those schools or classes that have adopted Anything Goes as a daily adventure for students see a marked improvement in students’ ability to express themselves on the page. I see it and hear it in my workshops. They dive down and start writing flat-out for five or ten minutes, finding their own voices. There’s a courage and confidence that comes with that dedication to writing.
Like anything, writing is a practice. Teachers have an extraordinary amount to get through in a day, a week, a year, but this five-minute daily practice – the licence for students to make mistakes, to try things out, to be themselves on the page – I believe, can do more for a long-term love of writing than anything else.
My talks, workshops and StorySchool cover drafting, rewriting, POV and so on but the real engine room for writing is Anything Goes. It gives young writers a blank slate to float raw ideas or concepts that they might otherwise dismiss.
My end-goal is to instil in young writers a love of writing, a love of creativity and a faith in themselves and their own ideas. I would like kids to read my books, I want them to read everything they can get their hands on, and I want those books to inspire them to create their own narratives, to tell their own stories.
My goal is to arm students with the tools and confidence to create authentic, personal stories and to encourage them to do it every single day. In the first StorySchool video, I introduce the concept of free-writing based on students’ own memories and I’ve included tips to help navigate this, as well as an activity sheet and teachers’ notes to get things started. You can watch the first video here at Oh Creative Day. Happy writing. 😉
You can access the entire StorySchool program and supporting materials at www.youngwritersstoryschool.com and, if you’re in NSW and have a creative kid, you can use your Creative Kids voucher to access the program for free! Just click on the Creative Kids tab at the top of the site.