Popular culture would have us believe that writers work alone in a silent room, perhaps with a precisely placed picture window in front of the desk, and that their text emerges Venus-like--wholly formed, perfect and complete.
Would that this were so.
As a former English teacher, I know how hard it is to convince students that writing is a process that requires community. Writing the first draft is hard enough, and when kids know that no one but their teacher is going to see what they compose, it can be difficult to motivate them to go through rewrites. “After all, it’s just a school writing assignment,” they may think. “No one’s going to see how good or bad it is.” Without any exposure to the world of professional writing, students may fail to see the authenticity of the writing process; that yes, real writers do get feedback, revise, get more feedback, revise again, and so on. Teachers have tried to cope with this by incorporating writing circles into their classroom practice, but this presents challenges as well. Students know their classmates. While some will want to try to impress their peers, others may feel so comfortable with their friends (and their friends’ opinions) that they won’t take the task seriously. What’s a teacher to do?
Well, the web 2.0 and social media revolutions have changed this by providing us a global audience and free platforms to share our work with anyone who cares to follow the conversation. We’re all content creators these days, as Henry Jenkins says. Blogging can be a great way for students to get their writing published, but there are a few tacit assumptions about blog posts: they are meant for the entire world to see, and they are polished pieces of writing. So using a blogging platform as a means of collecting feedback about one’s writing isn’t always the best solution to recreating the writers’ circle concept online.
Enter Figment, a free online community designed for writers to share their works in progress, read what other authors are writing, and share their thoughts.
The Figment writing interface is very simple: text window with buttons for boldface, underline, italicize, strikethrough, and numbered and bulleted lists. There is no auto-save, so be sure to click the Save Edit button often. You add details about your work, including a description, keywords, summary, and genre. Figment provides seven covers to choose from (you can also upload your own image) and two possible page designs. Works can have multiple chapters, which can be reordered by dragging them up or down in the left-hand margin.
The fun starts once you’ve published your first draft. Figment has a lovely dashboard for each of your works that displays your book cover, name, chapter and word count breakdown, book description, and a preview of your text. The dashboard also shows how many people have “hearted,” commented, and reviewed or shared your book via Twitter or Facebook. Readers can also award your book various responses to a “This story made meâ¦” question: wow, blush, shiver, cry, laugh. All of these features provide quick and easy ways for people to respond to your work. After knocking out a (very) brief foreword and the beginnings of a first chapter for my test text, I confess, I’m actually feeling somewhat motivated to continue my personal writing, despite the fact that I’ve been writing a lot for work lately. If it motivates me, I expect it will also motivate your students.
Sample Classroom & Youth Program Applications
- English Language Arts: Have students post their narrative, fictional, and/or autobiographical writing assignments on Figment, and then give them class time to read and review each other’s work.
- History: While studying a specific event, ask students to write a brief fictional first-person narrative of someone experiencing that event.
- Science: Ask students to write a short story from a molecule’s or atom’s point of view, tracing its journey throughout a specific process. For example, students might pretend they are a water molecule traveling through the water cycle.
- Price Structure: Free
- Allows authors to work on their project anywhere there’s an Internet connection (or cell signal, for those with smart phones).
- Authors retain full copyright of their works posted to Figment, but Figment has the right to display the work for as long as the author keeps it stored in Figment.
- Participation badges provide incentive for users to increase their participation in the community.
- No anonymous comments: conversation tends to stay civil.
- Has a bi-monthly newsletter for educators.
- No automatic saving.
- No built-in spell check.
Do you use Figment with your youth? Do you have any activity suggestions, tips, or tricks to share? Comment below or contact us!