For anyone who missed my detailed review of Rochelle Melander’s latest book in the previous post, click here.
SB: Throughout reading LEVEL UP! I often noted how your astute advice and practical approaches are appropriate for adults, like me, and also adaptable for young writers.
You are the founder of DREAM KEEPERS in Milwaukee and I have several questions about that:
RM: When and how was this program inspired?
I began teaching writing to children when my son started school—mostly offering poetry writing units for his class. In 2005, while attending an inner city church, I volunteered for the after school program. As I interacted with the children, I thought: I would love to teach writing to these young people. Dream Keepers was born. I started meeting weekly with a small group of girls, ages 10-16. We used classic and modern poetry as mentor texts to inspire our work, including Langston Hughes’s poem “The Dream Keeper;” Nina Simone’s song “To be Young, Gifted, and Black;” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech; and Pink’s song “Dear Mr. President.”
About a year after teaching at the church, I brought Dream Keepers to the Milwaukee Public Library. I’ve been there since 2007. I’ve also brought the Dream Keepers process to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Schools, and after school programs.
About 3 years after starting Dream Keepers, I took the 4-week Writer’s Institute with the National Writing Project, and that was so helpful for me. I learned a lot about writing circles—which we had been doing—and how to make them even better.
SB: What do you find most gratifying about working with early-stage writers?
RM: I love their openness to trying writing exercises. For many of the young writers, they don’t have pre-conceived notions of what’s right. That means that they can play with stories and writing in a way that older, more experienced writers have difficulty doing.
SB: What surprising challenges have arisen over time?
RM: I’ve been doing this work since about 2001—and I have noticed a distinct change in the young writers I work with. Many of my writing exercises have an art component to them, because I believe that making art stretches our brains and helps us become more creative writers. Recently, many of my students have struggled with simple tasks like folding and cutting paper. This adds a new dimension of anxiety for the students. But I believe that we grow from taking on and conquering challenges, even though they are hard. (Just like a quest!) So I keep asking them to make art and write.
I’ve also noticed that the students are more likely to borrow characters, settings, and stories from television, movies, and gaming. I worry that this is because they fill all of their free time with consuming media—and don’t have time to just daydream.
Finally, and this is the biggest challenge, I teach after school at the library, and most children come to play on the computer. It’s hard to get them to leave the computer and focus on writing and art.
SB: Did your young writers inspire the gaming premise?
RM: I got the idea for the gaming premise from the book SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefullyby Jane McGonigal. In the book, McGonigal talks about how she healed from a head injury by turning it into a quest, with allies, villains, and power-ups. I loved the idea and tried it out in my own life—it helped me meet daily challenges. And it was fun.
After working with the ideas in McGonigal’s book, I brought the tools to my clients and the young writers. One of their favorite activities has been developing their own superhero identity!
SB: Oh, I heard a wonderful interview with McGonigal about her book. It is now on my hold list at the library!
You suggest, LEVEL UP! functions well as a kind of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, with readers pursuing target areas of greatest interest or need. Since you’ve tried many/all of these quests, will you share some that you find yourself returning to or utilizing regularly?
RM: I have a quest in the book called, Master Your Mornings. I used it to develop a morning routine that helps me to focus and get more writing done. During those morning sessions, I use several tools from the quests to support me:
+I use quest #35, “Journal to Boost Productivity,” and regularly practice gratitude journaling and journaling to plan.
+I use quest #2, “Capture Your Vision Daily,” to vision what I want to achieve in the next 3 months.
+I struggle with my mindset a lot, especially around my writing for children. So I use quest #41, “Adopt a Positive Mantra,” to replace my negative self-talk with a positive mantra.
In addition, I am always trying to add power-ups to my day—finding unique and fun ways to renew my energy so that I can work productively throughout the day.
SB: Your introduction is an effective summary of the reasons you wrote this book and some core philosophical tenets you follow in coaching creatives and in broader life approaches. Did you find that writing this book, in this unique way, had a different impact on you than writing any of your other books about effective writing?
RM: I have become increasingly tired of gurus telling people that there is a single way to achieve success. When I wrote this book, I really wanted to keep the reader in my head, to create something that they could use to master their own life, in their own way. As a writer, I’m always thinking about the reader: how will this book support or entertain them? But this book really pushed me to put myself in their shoes. And that has helped me become a better writer and coach.
SB: Thank you, Rochelle. I hope that everyone will buy your book, because I truly see it as a future-favorite-tool for everyone who is truly committed to living their best creative lives.
Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach, experienced book strategist, and the author of eleven books, including, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She provides solutions for people who feel stuck, overwhelmed or confused by the writing and publishing process. She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports children and teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories. Visit her online at http://www.writenowcoach.com.