'You can be published. You can be a writer.' Blog giving Mitchell Middle School students a writing outlet
Mar. 16—MITCHELL — Athletes have their fellow teammates. Musicians have their fellow instrumentalists.
Writers often work alone, quietly crafting stories in isolation that are often deeply personal.
Amber Hiles, a teacher at Mitchell Middle School, is hoping an online blog project she has set up for her English students will help those writers blossom in expressing their art but also build a sense of artistic community while learning a little something about what goes into becoming a professional writer.
"Mitchell has a great program for athletics, and they really pump up their athletes, and I felt like what can I contribute to the Mitchell School District? What can I bring that's different? I'm a published author, why don't I bring that to the district? I can bring something that maybe the district needs, which is more excitement for our writers," Hiles told the Mitchell Republic. "At the middle school level I think there was something of a gap that could maybe be filled — let's find something to celebrate our writers. Let's show our young people that your writing is important. It's valuable. You can be published. You can be a writer. Let that dream be something that's real for you, even at this age.
Hiles set out to do that by
revamping a blog she used to run during her college days
at Dakota Wesleyan University. She used it to post work by herself and other college students. As she pondered how to bring that focus to her classroom of writers, she decided to remake her old blog into a new tool.
"Why don't I reopen that and allow the students to submit to that blog to get that experience on how to professionally submit their work for consideration for online publishing?" Hiles said.
So she opened up the pages of her blog to her sixth, seventh and eighth graders, who embraced the idea. They began writing stories and poems specifically for the blog, and Hiles saw a newfound excitement as they shared their creations with not just their teacher and class, but the blog-reading world outside the school.
The students don't just turn in their writing as assignments. They have to go through an application process to have their work posted on the blog. That serves as an introduction into the world of professional writers and how they often submit their work to publishers in the hopes of having their manuscript turned into a novel or biography.
It's also not necessarily something writers are taught in school, at any level. As a published author herself — Hiles had her first novel, Water and Stone, published just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and shut down the world — she knows the ins and outs of an author shopping their work to interested publishers are complicated and intimidating, especially if you haven't done it before.
"It gave me something new to offer these students," Hiles said. "I"m coming at them knowing how to write, how to communicate, how to publish, how to tell a story. And I wanted to bring that excitement of being able to publish to the students."
The blog Hiles and her class are currently using is called Drythipatica after a fictitious landmark in her novel. In her book, the landmark serves as somewhat of a "portal" for the characters, and though she reworked the blog to serve her middle school students, she left the name, as it felt appropriate to the purpose it was continuing to serve.
And plans to expand the blog are in the works. She is working on a new blog that will open up the experience to all students at Mitchell Middle School, giving them a gateway to show the world their art, to experience the process of crafting the written word and then the satisfaction of successfully lobbying a publisher to release their work.
She is hoping the new blog will be open to any type of creation that can be presented in a blog format, including both writing and visual art. Getting their work on the blog will require steps like filling out a form and obtaining parental permission, all in the name of exposing them to the process of working as a writer.
"It will be a little bit of a process, but I want them exposed to it. It can be painstaking, especially if you've never done it before," Hiles said. "But if you're a writer, this is something you need to know. How to submit your work for publication."
The students have taken a keen interest in the blog and the process, and have discovered the excitement of having their work appear in an online format. One group of four girls is working together on a single writing project for the blog. And while not every piece makes it to the blog, it's a way for students to see if professional writing is something that might interest them.
Even if it doesn't, they have a chance to find out, Hiles said.
"They get pretty excited about it. Once they publish once, they want to do it again," Hiles said. "Not all of them get to the point of publishing, but they give it a shot, which I think is important. Is this for me? Let's try it out, maybe it is or maybe it's not their thing. Just like not every sport is for everybody."
Hiles expects to launch the new blog in August, and it already has a name — MMS Writes. The name was chosen out of 68 suggested submissions for names, and eighth-grade student Brooklyn Schlimgen submitted the short, simple name that will grace the blog when it opens. New additions to the blog will be promoted through the school Facebook page.
The writing and publishing experience will soon open up to every student at Mitchell Middle School, and Hiles is excited to give those students a chance at expressing themselves through a new medium, as well as remind them that although writing can be the work of an individual, those individuals are not alone. There's a whole community out there of fellow writers and those who love to read original writing work.
This will be a blog for all of them.
"I definitely want them to be open to a community of writers. Like basketball people have their people, football people have their people, but the writers don't necessarily have that connection. I hope it will bring them all together," Hiles said. "Another goal is learning about publishing and being able to have their own works in print. I want them to have a community to be proud of."
The current student blog can be found at drythipatica.wordpress.com/