We, SOAR Creative Writing, are indebted to Jenny Sadre-Orafai, Associate Professor in the Department of English at Kennesaw State University, for her time today in our “virtual visit” with a creative writing expert! We appreciate how she took time to really think about the questions sent to her from the students, and how thoughtfully she shared her expertise with us. I, Ms. Hamilton,  learned so much today as a writer and teacher, and I know my middle school writers did, too! I am so pleased my SOAR Creative Writers had this opportunity to learn about writer’s craft, poetry writing, and literary journals.

Dr. Sadre-Orafi took great care and time to answer each of the student questions:

• What is your favorite writing genre?
• Did you want to be a writer when you were younger?
• What’s your writing process like?
• How much do you write in a day?
• What do you find most difficult about writing?
• How do you deal with writer’s block, especially when writing poems?
• What do you think it takes to be a professional writer (career)?
• What inspired you to write?
• Who are your favorite writers and why?
• Do you have favorite writing topics? If so, what are they?
• How did you figure out your passion?
• How do you get ideas for writing?
• Where is your favorite place to write?
• What are literary journals?
• Does creative writing get easier as an adult?
• What made you choose to write creative nonfiction instead of fiction?
• What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
• What advice do you have for someone who is interested in writing for a career and choosing a college and major?
• How often do you write?
• Where do you grow up and did your childhood influence your writing in any way?
• Do your life experiences influence what you choose to write about?
• Did you choose your career or did it choose you?
• Do you ever feel “powerful” because you are in control of a piece of writing like a poem?
• What is creative nonfiction?


Some of the insights and “take aways” we gained from our virtual visit include:

  • To be a writer, you must be curious.  Soak in everything around you.  Think of yourself as a being with antennae and pay attention to everything around you.  Notice and observe!
  • If you want to be a poet, read as much poetry as you can; Dr. Sadre-Orafi specifically recommended we read contemporary poetry (yay!).
  • Very few people become “professional” writers, but majoring in English or a similar field can allow you to use your writing talents and find pathways into related career fields.
  • Literary journals are a great pathway to publication, especially for poetry.
  • A professor once told her that there is no such thing as writer’s block.  If you find yourself getting stuck for ideas, physically remove yourself out of your comfort zone if possible.  For example, walk down a different street or hallways.  A change of scenery or placing yourself in the unfamiliar can help you notice things around with you fresh eyes.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Grooms of the Creative Writing program at KSU for connecting us with Dr. Sadre-Orafai, and thank you to our tech expert Greg Odell for helping us connect through Zoom!  We will be connecting with three more faculty from Kennesaw State this month and in early March; we look forward to learning through these upcoming virtual visits.


My Writer’s Workshop and Writing Connections students are in the process of creating their own zines on topics they have chosen; students selected topic that they are experts on and want to share their passion for through their own hand-crafted zine.   Zines are ” self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images” and can be created in many different formats.  We are crafting zines as our entry point into informational writing and will share our publications with our fellow students through the CA Media Center.

Like many teachers, I’ve been a big fan of Georgia Heard and her work for years.  Earlier this fall, I purchased her new book, Heart Maps: Create and Craft Authentic Writing; I also joined the Facebook group for the book where other educators are posting their students’ heart maps.  It was in this Facebook group that I found an inspirational mentor text for our my students from a mother who was using the tool with her son:

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20160912_091119Cara McCollum, one of our 8th grade Language Arts teachers here at Chestatee Academy, and her students recently completed a writing project on leaders.  As part of their study of informational writing, students inquired and learned about the elements and parts of a newspaper article.

Students then considered these questions:
·         What are the qualities of a leader?
·         Who is a leader in my life or a world leader I want to know more about?

Students brainstormed ideas and answers individually before sharing in small groups.  Eventually, students shared their ideas with the larger group, and each class crafted a collective list of qualities of leaders.  With this working list of characteristics in mind, students then identified someone who was either a leader in their lives or a global leader.  Ms. McCollum required students to justify their leader choice by asking them to explain how that person embodied leadership.

As part of their study of newspaper writing, students learned about developing meaningful interview questions.    The 8th graders then began drafting potential interview questions; all questions had to be open-ended.  Once students had a complete draft of their interview questions, Ms. McCollum conferenced with each student to help them evaluate their questions.    These writing conferences gave students an opportunity to share and assess their proposed interview questions; these conferences helped students eliminate or tweak any questions that may not have met the standards for an effective interview question.  Students who did not have a person to interview in real life could choose a famous leader to “interview” through research using the library resources provided by Ms. Kell, our media specialist, and Ms. McCollum.

After students conducted their interviews, they began crafting their newspaper articles about their leaders.  The class engaged in a great deal of drafting and peer editing before completing a final draft in Google Documents.   Once students had finished their final edits and revisions, they posted these articles in their class Canvas course.

Ms. McCollum is thrilled with the level of excitement and engagement she saw in all her students throughout this project.  Topic choice, opportunities to share their work and ideas with peers, and real world relevance were essential to the success of the writing project.  Congratulations to Ms. McCollum and her 8th grade writers!