ASFA-CW: Open House! Sat Oct 19! | 9AM – 10AM – 11AM! | @asfaschool! Lecture Hall! (#seeyouthere!)

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We’re always excited to share what we do and why we do it, so Open House is always a fun event for us. Here are a few links to check out if you’re interested in ASFA-CW:

Our Philosophy

Nuts + Bolts (Poetry + Fiction)

Selected Resources for Young Writers


Slideshow: Author Sheree Renee Thomas Inspires ASFA-CW to Turn Off the Editor and Tune In to the Creative Spirit

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This past Friday, as a part of the Ron Casey Visiting Writers’ series at ASFA-CW, we were graced by the presence of Sheree Renee Thomas, who read from her latest multi-genre collection, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, and then inspired us all with a set of feeling/thinking/writing exercises that encouraged us to shed our preconceived notions of what (and how) we’re “supposed” to write. Below the break, check out a few examples what we were able to create: Continue reading

The Secret to Success in Teen Writing Contests, or The Pros and Cons of Precociousness


Having just announced the winners of our annual statewide contests — and having just had a department-wide talk about (among other things) the pros and cons of contest success in the life of any young writer — it strikes me that it might be useful to reveal a (the?) “secret” to success in writing contests for teenagers, and what that success might really mean in the long run. Continue reading

The Space: Some Metaphors for How We Inhabit the Middle Classroom in the CW Wing @ ASFA

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We’re really lucky. We all have daily(ish) access to a creative studio space, and we get to share it with a group of talented, ambitious, curious, like-minded folks. The energy that’s produced in a setting like that can be really profound and sustaining. It’s important to remember that different people need different things from a space for it to be conducive to making cool stuff. To that end, here are some metaphors for what I think our space is… Continue reading

This I Believe: Values and Evaluations

First Things First:

This is not school.

This is a shared (sacred) space for all of us to do what we love.

This is “How to Do What You Love.”

We’re here at ASFA because “what we love” has at least something to do with what’s on the white board below:

And what’s on this one below:

But how do we evaluate whether we’re doing “what we love” in the right way?

Turns out, “what we love” requires the ability to work autonomously.

That’s why self-evaluation is the most important kind of evaluation.

That’s also why outside objective evaluation (grades, numbers, etc) is (a) very difficult and (b) not very useful when it comes to the things we love to do.

I am not very interested in attaching a number or letter grade to you. I do it because I am required to do it.

I am very interested in giving you my honest, direct opinion about your creative process as I see it.

I am also very interested in getting your honest, direct opinion about my creative process as you see it.

I don’t differentiate my teaching from my writing.

Teaching and writing (and reading and thinking) are related components of my entire creative process.

They are the most important activities in my life and they’re guided by the white boards above.

They’re also guided by the materials we’ll discuss this week, including this article from a recent NY Times Magazine article: What If the Key to Success Is Failure?

I promise you two things: (a) I will always take your work seriously (even if you sometimes don’t) and (b) I will never give up on you and your creative process (even if you sometimes do).

I believe those two promises define whether or not I’m successful in my work at ASFA.

I ask only one thing of you: that you make those same promises to yourself.

This Just In: Running Marathons Is Hard

Some people like to run marathons.

Running marathons isn’t easy. Running marathons is hard. But some people like to do it anyway. Maybe that’s even why they like it. Because it’s hard.

And the thing about running marathons is that most of it isn’t even running marathons. Most of it’s just running. A lot. Everyday (or almost everyday anyway). Nobody’s lining the street for you, holding out cups of water. There’s no big ribbon at the end. You’re just running so that, when the day comes, you’re ready to, um, run.

And there’s this too:

Nobody can do all that running for you. In fact, most people don’t run marathons — running marathons is hard! — so good luck even finding somebody to run with you.

Writing is running marathons.

Running marathons isn’t easy. Running marathons is hard. But some people like to do it anyway. Maybe that’s even why they like it. Because it’s hard.

Lucky for us, we’ve got a room full (and then some) of running partners.

A Quick Note (or Three) Regarding Not Following the Assignment (by A LOT)

This is strongly encouraged.¹

(Just in case you were wondering.)

Thank you.

–The Management.


¹ It’s fair to wonder why I would say something as seemingly counterintuitive as this. After all, I wrack my brain coming up with prompts and other assorted assignments that I think are useful exercises for folks such as yourselves.

The reason I encourage you to not follow the assignment (by A LOT) is that I believe creativity requires you to take risks. The risks of invention and imagination. As people like Seth Godin and J.K. Rowling (and other really successful creative people) have said in one way or another: innovation/imagination without the risk of failure isn’t really being innovative at all.

[Note Inside a Note: Please keep in mind that when I use the F-word — failure — I’m not talking about the Get-an-F-in-this-class kind of failure. I’m talking about the What-you-thought/hoped-would-work-doesn’t-actually-work kind of failure. You don’t really have to worry about the former, and the latter’s not quite as scary as it sounds because that kind of failure is never an end-stop. It’s always a step in a larger process of discovery.]

When I ask you to write a long poem that tells a story, I know for a fact you can do that. I know it will work. So should you. Ditto when I ask you to write a 750-word autobiographical essay that focuses on a specific object, rite of passage, and/or place that says something essential about you. Ditto any and all of the prompts (etc, etc) I ever give you.

Doing something that you know for a fact you can do isn’t necessarily easy, but it is pretty safe. And there’s usually not a whole lot of discovery involved.

But discovery’s the real goal around here.

Hence: you are strongly encouraged to not follow the assignment (by A LOT).

Now does that mean you should actually avoid the prompts like the plague? No, not exactly. Does it mean I’ll think less of you if you use the prompts? Not at all. They’re there to help you, to spark your imagination.

But it’s important to remember that they’re not an end goal; they’re a starting point.

Maybe another way to think of it is this: the goal isn’t so much to NOT follow the assignment, but simply following the assignment isn’t enough. The goal is always to transcend the assignment. By a lot.

Sir Ken Robinson: Creativity and “The Element”


Sir Ken Robinson is a pretty smart guy who thinks a lot about creativity. Also he’s a “Sir” which means he’s a knight which means he can ride a horse with a big ‘ol clunky suit of armor on.

All in all, you might say these aren’t the most practical skills somebody can have. But that’s not how Sir Ken sees it (and, surprise, surprise: it’s not how I see it either). Especially when it comes to creativity.

In the clip above, he mentions a book he was working on at the time. He calls it “Epiphany” but it morphed into something else. It was published last year and it’s called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. It’s got a lot of ideas in it, but the foundational ones involve the following questions:

Do you get it? This one’s about aptitude. To be a truly creative person within a particular discipline, according to Sir Ken, you have to have a certain level of innate ability in that discipline.

Do you love it? Lots of people are good at things that they can’t stand doing. To really be “in your element” as Sir Ken defines it, you have to be pretty good at something that you love doing.

Do you want it? The distinction between loving something and wanting it might seem a little fuzzy at first, but it’s really about ambition. Is this thing a calling? Do you pursue it with vocational intensity?

Where is it? This is about finding the time, space, and peers/mentors you need to pursue your discipline in earnest. It might well be the most crucial of them all. Sir Ken sometimes talks about an arts school in Liverpool, England. Former Beatle Paul McCartney is one of the school’s chief patrons and Sir Ken has served on its board. When he asked McCartney if he loved music when he was in school, McCartney said he hated it. It wasn’t music that he hated; he always loved it. It was that the way music was taught in the school didn’t engage him — nor, it turned out, did it engage his schoolmate George Harrison, who was the lead guitarist in The Beatles. Neither of them was noticed in school as having any particular musical talent when they were growing up. Clearly they both got it, loved it, and wanted it. They just had to find it somewhere other than their school.