creativity · english · Jessica Ragg · language · narrative · skill · social media · society · stories · story · Uncategorized · writing

Why I Do What I Do

In 2012 I started Gideon.

Gideon – for those who have not already heard me rave about this – is a company I created which revolves around helping young people further their skills in writing.

At this stage I have two set courses that I facilitate in schools (I’ve seen everything from year one through to year thirteen) one where young people work on their OWN stories and learn a bunch of techniques to improve their writing, and the second where young people work together to write a book which I print for them (a major confidence boost!)

I also work with schools to cater make courses for their students – it is the BEST fun to work with a school and their teachers to deliver something specifically useful for exactly where their students are, and stretch out things they are already working on.

But at first, Gideon was a sort of… wardrobe idea really. I needed somewhere to store all the things I was super passionate about that might be difficult to do as a fully paid job.

I’d just come out of a Bachelor of Ministries which took me an epic five years to complete (because of cross crediting and deciding to do a dissertation). While I loved my degree, I knew it wasn’t exactly my time to work full time in a church or parachurch organization.

The issue was that I have never really be someone who can sit still – at least not for too long.

I’d always been a writer too, since I can remember.

Thinking back on it, I might have been pretty awful to start with – because I am shocking at spelling (even now!) and I never won any awards at school for my writing. Regardless, every day I’d beg my teachers to let me write if I’d finished all my school work.

All I wanted to do was write books, stories for young people which were crazy awesome and fun and created little bubbles of worlds that would be amazing to inhabit.

I’m pretty sure it has been passion and the fact that every day since I was twelve I sat down at a computer for at least two hours to write that has improved my craft.

The issue was as a young writer I was faced with a handful of VERY specific problems.

The first is that while English teachers are amazingly great people – I had some incredible English teachers while I was at school – they sometimes don’t have a huge amount of experience when it comes to creative writing, especially when it comes to trying to sit down and write your first novel.

The simple fact was this: aside from one of my mum’s best friends I had very few people I could ask advice of when it came to my writing.

This meant when I hit walls like…

What do you do when you get to chapter four, hate your book and don’t have the will to continue?

How do you come up with character names?

How do you weave a believable plot twist into a story?

What is the best way to work on inter character relationships?

How much planning DO you need to do?

What about editing? How on earth do you even START to edit a story when I feel so close to all of it and don’t want to change anything!?

I had to work out these issues on my own.

Helpfully though, this meant I had scores, and scores of notebooks filled with techniques that I used to develop my stories, methods I had formed to develop elements of my characters, to dig deeper, to pick myself back up when I got stuck and brush myself off.

The problem that I found was this though, writing is a pretty hard passion to keep alive, especially as you get older.

When I was eight when the teacher asked who wanted to be an author nearly EVERYONE put their hands up (me and my two best friends were absolutely determined!) but these numbers lessened and lessened as we all got older.

Now there’s just me writing still.

I think this is because most people don’t fully understand but writing is a performance art, just as music and drama are. The problem is that you can’t get up on a stage and have people observe you as you write.

As writers we crave audience, I can see in myself how much my productivity drops when I don’t have a consistent audience to read my stories and get feedback from. What makes this especially difficult is very rarely are young writers those boisterous, confident kids who print out ten thousand copies of their latest manuscript and pass it around their classmates.

Young writers are typically a little quieter, shyer, and feel squeamish when people go to read their stories (especially in front of them!!!!!! This is the worst feeling!)

The thing is that there are still amazing writers out there, young people, who have exceptional skill, who have stories to share, who have ideas that actually NEED to be seen and heard by the world.

So I created Gideon because I felt like even if there was one little corner that young people could come, and engage with stories, I’d feel like I was making just a little bit of a difference.

Even if it was helping them figure out that ONE technique that would get them a little further with their writing.

Even if it was just reading their story, and providing a sounding board.

There’s something else too, though, that motivates me to want to go into schools and usually tell a bunch of embarrassing stories to students.

It is because I genuinely believe that stories and the understanding of stories can profoundly impact a young people’s life, and help them in turn profoundly impact the world they live in.

The best way to communicate an idea – the very best way to get to someone’s heart, directly to their understanding – is to tell a story. You can explain facts about ideas but often it does not fully make impact until we share the story of how it impacts us, others, our audience.

World chargers learn how to communicate stories.

In fact we crave stories as humans, gathering together to watch them on big screens in the movies, on our televisions at home, our phones, playing games that engage us into stories. It is a fundamental desire that we have, and sharing our stories enables others to fully understand circumstances remote to what they would have previously been able to understand.

Teaching a young person how to tell a good story also provides them with enormously important life skills.

The first is this: if you understand they way that circumstances can impact your characters within a story, that same understanding actually helps young people develop self awareness at look at themselves, to understand themselves, to understand the world around them too. Cause and Impact, understanding how settings impact them, and others, how to view the world through another’s eyes. To learn compassion and empathy.

The second: to capture important memories or feelings that externalize these in a healthy way. Young people feel a lot of emotions, and writing is a cheap and easy way that helps externalize these emotions and actually work through them in a positive way. Keeping a diary, detailing feelings in a poem or short story. Writing their own opinions or family histories down so they are somewhere other than just in their minds.

The third: learning to tell a story just makes you a more interesting person! I’m sure we all know someone who is just super good at turning the most simple story about how they missed the bus into an epic saga that ought to be turned into a three part movie. In turn this can also further develop confidence in young people.

All of these things make me absolutely electric with excitement. I love young people – they are so awesome, on the brink of literally being anything, with so much potential – so helping them with a skill that could improve either existing passions, their confidence, or self awareness, is just the BEST thing.

So that’s why I do what I do.

That’s why I created Gideon. Because young people are super awesome, and stories can genuinely change their lives in so many ways.




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