Apr 22, 2021

SIDEWRITING TAKEOVER: Write an “I Am From” Poem with Beth Mitchell

interview by Anne-Marie Strohman

Sidewriting Takeover brings together writers of picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction to explore how writing outside of a draft can help deepen your drafts and revisions. Each writer shares an exercise that they’ve found helpful. If you missed our initial post: START HERE.

I first met Beth Mitchell at a local book group for middle grade writers, and I was impressed by her deep attention to the child reader and how those readers connect to story. She reads deeply and widely and is always willing to share a great book recommendation. (You can find her favorites on her blog, bethmitchell.rocks.) She has been a contributor to the blog from the very beginning, and we are thankful for her good words. –Anne-Marie

KidLit Craft: How has sidewriting become a part of your writing process? Were you always a sidewriter?

Beth Mitchell: Definitely not! I used to be reluctant to write a single word that wouldn’t get me closer to The End. My writer friends recommended all sorts of intriguing character and worldbuilding exercises, but I was terrified that if I allowed myself to go sideways, I’d never make forward progress.

Lisa Cron, Story Coach with link to CreativeLive course "Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius"

The first time saw the benefit of sidewriting was when I took a course based on Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. In the third week, we were asked to write a scene showing how our protagonist’s misbelief took root. I’d thought about my characters’ misbeliefs before, of course, although I may have called them wounds, flaws, or needs. But I was amazed how much I learned from writing the origin story of that misbelief as a complete scene. (See Jen Jobart’s post on sidewriting for the misbelief.)

I’ve become more open-minded about different types of sidewriting, but scenes that set the stage for the events of the story are still my favorite. 

KLC: At what points in the process of writing a novel do you sidewrite most?

BM: I sidewrite most during the brainstorming/outlining phase and a little during the revision phase. While I’m writing my first draft, I still have to guard against the dangers of procrastination.

KLC: How does sidewriting help you?

BM: Sidewriting helps me figure out my characters’ motivations and relevant backstories. 

The first stanza of the poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon

Sidewriting Challenge: An “I Am From” Poem

Write an “I am from” poem for your main character inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” Of the dozens of “who am I?” assignments that my two kids completed in elementary school, this one sparked the deepest reflection for both of them. As a writing exercise, it helps me focus on the small details that make a character’s experience unique.

Beth Mitchell lives in the coastal mountains of Northern California with her husband and two sons. A member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, she writes middle grade novels and blogs about the books she and her boys love. 

Find her at bethmitchell.rocks

For more of our Sidewriting Takeover series, check out these posts:

Dive into Character Relationships with David Macinnis Gill

Exploring a Character’s Misbelief with Jen Jobart

Asking the Right Questions with Louise Hawes

Riffing on Your Influences and Auditioning Your Characters with Jasmine A. Stirling

Start with a Glimmer with Sarah Aronson

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  1. Kelly Brammer says:

    Hi Anne-Marie,
    This is your cousin. I am very proud of all your hard work to be where you are today, teaching young minds to write and read and be excited about it.
    Have a great and wonderful day.


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