Imaginations running wild

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University campus was crawling with creativity Thursday as more than 800 students, presenters and parents came together for the 21st Annual Conference for Young Writers. The next budding author may have been among them.

The Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative conference featured 20 presenters, including keynote speaker Jonathan Friesen, who kicked off the event with an inspirational presentation.

“He made such a connection with everyone,” said event volunteer Tom Hoff, who is the career and technical project coordinator at SW/WC Service Cooperative. “It was a very powerful presentation. When you’re speaking to third-graders all the way up to adults, that’s tough. But he did a great job.”

Friesen is an award-winning author and international speaker and storyteller who, because of Tourette Syndrome, was angry and ostracized as a teen. He’s the author of five young adult novels.

“I always said I’d never write or speak because speaking, you might look at me and mock my twitches, which were very pronounced when I was young, and writing, I couldn’t keep my hand on the page,” Friesen said. “Now, all I do is speak and write, and I get to travel the country. It went from a curse to a blessing.”

During the presentation, Friesen said he wanted to let the kids know just how important their own stories were. Even more than that, he said he wanted to talk to the students about humanity in general.

“We all have two core needs,” Friesen said. “The first is: does anyone see us? The second one is: does anyone like what they see? It begins when we’re young, as a 5-year-old saying ‘Daddy, look at me. Mommy, look at me,’ until we’re 80 and we wonder if our kids are going to call or come see us today. Those two messages are so universal, and if you put them into your main character in your story, there’s no one who is unable to connect with you. They’re instant connectors.”

There’s much more to being an author than just writing, Friesen said, and to bring passion to your work, it helps to understand those core needs.

“How many people do we see on a daily basis that are all asking the same thing?” he said. “We all have the same questions: how can we, as human beings, go through life exhibiting and exuding the answer, ‘I see you and I like what I see.’ So that’s what I was trying to give them this morning.”

While event organizers Andrea Anderson and Sue Gorecki do the “heavy lifting” to get ready for the conference, Hoff said, all three of them had the opportunity to view Friesen’s YouTube video beforehand.

“We knew he was going to hit a home run here,” Hoff said.

Twenty-eight different school districts were represented at the conference Thursday, including eight districts that brought 30 or more students and five schools that brought 20 or more, organizers said.

Canby fourth-grader Jayla Hulzebos said she had an educational and enjoyable experience while she was at Gail Wood’s “Seven Secrets to a Super Story” session.

“I really like writing,” Hulzebos said. “Me and my friends like writing stories and we thought it would be cool to go to this. (Wood) really helped me with getting ideas for stories and this paper will help me if I’m stuck on something.”

With strong projection and confidence, Hulzebos read aloud her newly-written dialogue between two characters.

“That’s a great springboard for a story,” said Wood, who also encouraged the students to read their stories to friends, on the bus or wherever.

Students attended three different sessions throughout the day. While some students sat in a circle in a darkened room, talking about bone-rattling story writing with author Terri DeGezelle, others let their “imaginations run like the wind” with author Michael Cotter. Murray Country Central students Macy Posthuma, Michelle Zenk and Ashley Hellewell attended Sonya Vierstraete’s “Winter Wonderland of Snow Folks” session.

“We’re best friends,” Posthuma said, putting an arm around Zenk.

“We’re signed up for the exact same ones,” Zenk said.

Along with Hellewell, a fourth-grader, the two fifth-graders created a snow character out of various sizes of marshmallows, pipe cleaners and edible accessories.

“Her name is Angela,” Posthuma said.

Zenk named her snow character “Lily,” while Hellewell referred to her creation as “Snowball.”

After finishing with the snow people, Vierstraete showed a small portion of a movie that was based on Raymond Briggs’ book “The Snowman.” Then she read from the book, leaving off shortly after the snowman came to life.

“Think about what could happen next,” Vierstraete said.

Students were given paper and markers and directed to continue on with the story. Markers were used, students realized, because you can’t erase with them.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Vierstraete said. “It’s okay to misspell words if you’re unsure, too. This is just the first draft in the process.”

When they were finished putting their imaginative thoughts to paper, students shared the stories with those sitting nearby.

“I love to write,” E.C.H.O. Charter School fifth-grader Maddie Slettedahl said. “My favorite is writing scary stories.”

Slettedahl read her story to Brianne Barstad, a fourth-grader from Lincoln HI in Ivanhoe, and to Marshall fifth-grader Kary Devlieger.

“I like to write funny stuff the best,” Barstad said.

Like the others, Devlieger said she also enjoyed creative writing.

“I made up this character called Kaptain Awesome,” she said. “I make up stories about her and draw her.”