On May 21, Gull Lake High School hosted author Kristin Bartley Lenz not only for a moving speech on her life and her book The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, but also for an inspirational outdoor writing workshop.
Lenz said she dreamed of being a writer, but was too worried and afraid to pursue an English major at the University of Michigan. Instead, she took another path majoring in psychology to go on to earning a master’s degree in Social Work at Wayne State University.
But this didn’t completely end her goal of becoming a writer. Social work expanded her worldview with the countless stories of hope and despair she encountered along the way. Not only it did open her mind, but it gave her the stability that she feared she wouldn’t get just being a writer.
She lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California working at runaway shelters, counseling centers, mental health clinics, schools, including a children’s hospital/home-visiting program in Detroit and a program for children with developmental disabilities in California.
She loved learning each story and connecting with everyone she met, but soon realized that she was one of the only social workers that liked to do all the required paperwork. In fact, she looked forward to it. With all this note writing she began to remember her old dream of being a writer and figured now she finally had something to say.
With the publication of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go she discovered a balance between social work and writing.
The Art of Holding On and Letting Go was first published in 2016 as her debut young adult novel. With her novel, she won the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize, the 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books Award.
However, this novel is not the only thing she has published. She has published works of fiction, poetry, essays, and articles for Hunger Mountain, Great Lakes Review, Literary Mama, WOW! Women On Writing, The ALAN Review, Writer’s Digest, and the New Social Worker. And to top it all off she is also a freelance writer for Detroit nonprofits and is the manager for the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
The best experience from writing is “Probably the sense of community with other writers.” said Lenz. [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Writing can be isolating, you spend a lot of time writing your own stories, and it can take a long time. To have the other support of writers is really essential.”[/perfectpullquote]
Once Lenz finished her presentation, she handed out a sheet titled “Take Your Writing for a Walk”. Here, she broke down some writing advice into three steps: Be Dazzled, Grow Empathy, Show Don’t Tell, and Revision: Deepen Your Writing Through Metaphors.
Lenz introduces Mary Oliver as an example in the section “Be Dazzled” to inspire resilience.
“Over and over, in her lifetime of writing, she [Mary Oliver] called for us to pay attention to these gifts on earth, to experience wonder,” Lenz explained to us.
In Lenz’s second section “Grow Empathy, Show Don’t Tell”, she gives a writing exercise.
“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” she said, “record your observations and write form their perspective. This could result in a story, a poem, a journal entry, or merely a list of thoughts and observations.”
She even brings up the idea of a non-human perspective of an animal or object.
“Revision: Deepen Your Writing Through Metaphors” she said pushes the student writer to grow their descriptions through similes or metaphors. Within this section Lenz has To Look at Any Thing by John Moffitt and A Blessing by James Wright.
Equipping the class with these resources, she walked the group to the outdoor classroom to experience nature and
find the motivation to write.
“Just to be yourself. It’s your own journey,” Lenz said. “If you are comparing yourself to other writers and what they accomplished it can be really self-defeating. You need to believe in yourself and your own values and its okay to follow your own path.”
The rest of her author session was spent reflecting on what the students wrote and how they can enhance it further.
Lenz is growing her writing career as she has another finished manuscript ready for publishing. Her new novel will also fall under the young adult genre; however, it has more serious and mature topics than her debut novel.