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WITS Voices: Writing Advice from 10th Graders

By Christina Lee Barnes, WITS Writer-in-Residence

I’m often asked if my time in the WITS classroom helps inspire my own writing. While I haven’t yet written very much that is directly about my work with the students, I do draw inspiration from the willingness that students show to try out prompts, to dive in and create, and to share their work with their peers.

I’m constantly impressed with this and inspired by it, and I find myself channeling my students’ energy when I’m feeling disconnected in a writer’s workshop, daunted by a tricky writing prompt, or even when I’m home by myself trying to carve out time to write and create and tempted to check out or drift away into distraction.

Near the end of each residency, I like to ask students to pretend a new student has joined our class, and to share what kind of advice they’d give this student to make the most of their WITS sessions.

The responses this year felt especially compelling, and while they came out of a 10th grade classroom, I’d say these 10th graders pretty much have it covered when it comes to approaching writing at any level. In fact, I just might print off a copy of their wise words and tape it above my writing desk. I’ll share them here in case you’d like a little inspiration for your own writing practice:


  • Keep an open mind while writing. Doing this allows you to explore different styles and techniques.
  • Write about something you’re passionate about. Don’t try to make your writing perfect.
  • Just keep writing. The act of writing can bring up ideas.
  • Use interesting words and phrases to create different sounds.
  • Sensory details are really important to having a vivid story.
  • Imagery is key!
  • Be yourself: it is so much more work to be someone who you aren’t and express ideas that don’t come from you.
  • Focus on the sound and flow of your writing, especially when you share your work—that’s the easiest way to edit.
  • Write about things you enjoy, or things you hate. Writing about raw emotions is super easy.
  • Focus less on the small details; look at the bigger idea.
  • Try to read really good poems so you can learn some style from them in order to develop your own.
  • Always have an open mind. If good ideas don’t come naturally, relax and be detached from the end result.
  • Approach writing knowing that it will be hard. It may seem pointless at first, but the more you work on it, the more things will come.
  • Don’t doubt yourself and your imagination. Write for yourself, not for others.


Christina Lee Barnes
has recently relocated to Seattle after 10 years of teaching public school English in the Los Angeles area. She has published poetry and essays in the
Seattle Times, Tin House’s “Broadside Thirty,”The Toast,Hoot ReviewPigeonholes, and elsewhere. She was chosen to attend the AROHO writing retreat at Ghost Ranch and earned an MFA in Poetry from SPU.

Posted in CreativityWriters in the Schools2019/20 Season