Sofia, the Fearless Writer

Yes, you are.

Yes, you are.

Near the end of Monday’s writing session, one of my third-grade students raised her hand. When I crouched down next to her desk, she looked at me with eyes such a deep brown I could only wonder at what’s behind them. Her round cheeks flushed beneath constellations of freckles.

“Ms. Chris,” she whispered. “I wrote a novel.”

“A novel! How wonderful! Can you tell me what it’s about?”

She bore her eyes into mine with her distinctive intensity that I fell in love with the first time she read aloud. It was my first day of teaching for Writers in the Schools, and as a way of getting to know them, I’d guided the class through the creation of an “I Am” poem. Sofia was the first to raise her hand, asking if she could share hers:

I am brave and I am strong.

I wonder what is in the past and what is in the future.

I hear the sound of trees crying.

I see the world turn its colors.

I desire peace in the world.

I am brave and I am strong.

 

I pretend that I travel through the forest

For what really matters.

I feel the touch of the silky wind and

Watch the dance of the leaves.

It bothers me when people cry.

When people cry, I cry too.

But I am brave and I am strong.

 

I know that the world will end.

I believe that everyone can be changed.

I dream of love and I try hard to help.

I hope for hope.

I am brave and I am strong.

She enunciated her lines with a passion and sincerity that belied her nine years. I knew at that moment she was one to watch, and to hear.

“It’s about a girl who learns to follow her own dreams, so that she can become what she wants to be instead of what other people want her to be. Her name isn’t Sofia, but I think she might be me. She’s strong and fearless, just like you told us to be.”

It’s true, that’s what I tell them every Monday morning. I don’t bring in wonderful lessons on the craft of writing, how to construct a plot, how to employ a denouement. I’m not even sure I know how to do those things properly, so I don’t dare try to teach them. I struggled with what I was going to teach, and leaned heavily on the wonderful people and resources at W.I.T.S. (By the way, I give a grateful shout-out to Nancy Barnhart, Ryan Dilbert, Tina Angelo and Gloria Alvarez for helping me get through my first year.) Instead, I decided when I took the job that I may not be the creative writing teacher with all the great tools, but if I could teach them this one specific thing, I would feel I’d succeeded:

Be fearless.

Be fearless when confronted with a blank page. Be fearless of criticism. Be fearless of breaking the rules. Be fearless of failure. In fact, after the lesson and before the writing, we all say it together, loudly: “I am a fearless writer!”

“I was nervous writing it at first,” Sofia said, still whispering while everyone else finished their work. “I mean, it’s five chapters long. I didn’t know how it was going to end. But I just told myself to be fearless, and then I was.”

I gave her a hug, saving my tears for the privacy of the girls’ bathroom. “I’d love to have a copy of it,” I said. “A signed copy.” She smiled and nodded. This is what I hope it says:

Love,

Sofia, the fearless writer.

Freckled, fearless.

Freckled, fearless.