Saturday, September 1, 2007

September 2007: Wendy Tigerman, Secret Agent Writer


September 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month 

Meet Wendy Tigerman, WriteGirl mentor and September 2007's America Learns Superstar.

Wendy has been volunteering for programs that support teens for a number of years.  "I really have a passion for helping teenagers" she told us.  "Parents just abandon them and write them off and think, 'Oh, he’s just a teenager.' I don’t think kids have to be in the excruciating pain that they’re in.” 

Wendy shared with us that as soon as she discovered WriteGirl two years ago, "I was so blown away by the girls and their writing."  Her WriteGirl mentoring experiences have even motivated her to write in new genres, including a children's book that will be released next year called If We Had Some Ooga.

Wendy's Strategy
Wendy created an engaging, energy-filled strategy that teaches young people that their own lives can be an inspiration for meaningful writing.  Here's how Wendy summarizes her strategy.  "You need to write what you know.  Write what you see.  Write what you hate.  Finally, you are the center of the universe.”

More about Wendy

Wendy Tigerman


Wendy is an award-winning radio writer/director/producer, senior copywriter and associate creative director.  Her expertise is in writing, casting, directing and producing radio spots. She also creates concepts and copy for TV spots, video projects, ads, billboards, direct mail, brochures, posters, websites, one-sheets, packaging, newsletters, press releases and bios.  Some past clients are The WB Television Network, Toyota, Intel, Universal Studios Tours and Buena Vista Television.

Wendy on Mentoring
"Mentoring is like parenting.  You have preconceptions about what it’s going to be like and what [your mentee] is going to be interested in.  And then she shows up and it’s this complex young woman.  If you don’t listen to her, it won’t work.  You need to recognize her abilities and challenge her to be more....  You really have to pay attention to who you’re working with."

The Strategy


Created by: Wendy Tigerman at WriteGirl
Topics: - Character Development
- Fiction
- Poetry
Grade Levels: 9th - 12th, Adult
Arrangements: - One-on-One
- A public setting such as a café (alternatives to public settings are listed below)
- Note paper and a pen or pencil for both of you (or a laptop computer)
- Optional: dark sunglasses for both of you so that you can stay "under cover"
- Optional: these observation sheets (pdf file)

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: My mentee likes to write fantasy and I wanted to help her see her life as a valuable writing resource.  We often do variations of this strategy to help her understand this important lesson.

This strategy also offers mentees meaningful practice in using descriptive language and details to make the settings and characters in their writing come alive.

Step 1: We sat down at the café, donned our shades (this is where the "spying part" starts to come in), and began to study the people around us for a long time.

We each picked a person and studied their physical appearance, actions, body language, voice, what they ordered, what they did while they ate, etc. We took notes on all of their qualities and discussed what we observed.

When we did this the first time, I picked out a person and whispered questions like, Do you see that guy over there, the one by the counter?  Why do you think he’s here?  Do you think he’s waiting for someone?  Do you think he orders that every day?  Is that what he always orders?

I also asked questions about his appearance so that my mentee could actively think about how she’d describe those aspects of him.  For example, Why is he wearing that shirt?

America Learns Note: If your mentee needs some help with organizing her observations, consider using one of these three types of observation sheets or coming up with another format.  As she gets the hang of organizing her observations on paper, you can encourage her to organize them on her own using any format that works best for her.

Step 2: Put your observations to work.

Write fictional stories
We'd sometimes write fictional stories about why the people we observed were there, what they wanted, what their obstacles were, and whether they got what they came for. I encouraged my mentee to dig deep, thinking about where they were at in their lives, their hopes, dreams, frustrations, and how this simple scene played into that.

Following is an excerpt of what my mentee wrote about the person in the shirt mentioned above.  This piece was later published.


The Man in the Blue Shirt

The man in the blue shirt is pacing around Starbucks as if he's waiting for someone, or something.  Food perhaps, maybe a seat?  Couldn't be, there are a few places to sit.  He stares up at the menu before circling one more time.  Finally he places his order, he knows exactly what he wants -- Cafe Americana with coffee cake.

His cheeks are like Marlon Brando's in The Godfather, he even has that same scratchy mafia-like voice.  He's wearing light brown sunglasses with gold trim, light enough that you can see his eyes.  They're eyes of a man who's lived a long time.  Their color has faded and they're watery.  The man's hair is grey, almost white, with evidence of its original color.  There's a patch of gleaming baldness at the back of his head.  His arms are hairy, almost wolf-like. His black arm hairs and head hairs are clearly not on speaking terms.

Read the entire story by Aisha Holden in Untangled (WriteGirl Publications, 2006).


Write poetry
Other times we'd write poems that centered around several people in the café. We'd project them into relationships that didn't exist, and write about ones that did. We'd sometimes take turns writing a line, each of us focusing on a different person (such as in the piece below).  My mentee loved this.
The thing I was trying to teach when we wrote the following poem was, “respond to what you’ve written, let the writing talk to you, let go of preconceptions about where your writing is supposed to go...”


Poem excerpt by Aisha & Wendy

Vanessa sits all alone at a table for four.
Hope is alive at Seattle’s Best.

The nose-picker hopes nobody is watching.
But in fact everybody’s watching.

Oh my god, I think that’s Jerry Garcia.
Who the heck is Jerry Garcia?!!?

What’s stranger than a stranger?
A really strange stranger?

He’s still probing.
She’s still alone.

I still don’t know who Jerry Garcia is.
I hope someone tells me soon.


Write fantasy poetry
My mentee loves fantasy.  On the same day we wrote our regular poem, we used some of the same people as characters in a fantasy poem, which we also alternated in writing. We closed our eyes and imagined what was going on in relation to all of our senses (hideous fumes, writhing snakes on the floor), who was good, who was evil, who had power, who had none, their relationships to each other, etc. etc. The writing and fun flowed.


Poem excerpt by Aisha & Wendy

A fat green tentacle reaches out of that guy’s hat.
The monster wants some attention. Now.
Another tentacle reaches out from his shirtsleeve, across the enemy laptop and bravely thumps “delete.”
All is lost.

The Queen arrives, disguised as an old skinny woman.
Her claws flip the pages of People magazine, shredding as she goes.
She’s surrounded in swirling green fog that smells of rotting cats.

No one can see the hideous Queen and her entourage. Only us.
The King shows up. His once thorny tail wraps feebly around his lover’s bony leg.


In our imagining of what was going on in other peoples' minds and hearts, I hoped I was also introducing the possibility to my mentee of looking to one's self for the same non-fiction-, fiction- and fantasy-writing inspiration.

America Learns Note: Other types of writing you can do include writing newspaper or magazine articles, news radio stories, blog entries that the person or people you're observing might write, stories that that people may post on their Facebook or My Space pages, or songs that person may write.

America Learns Note: Alternative Locations for this Strategy

If you're unable to go to a public place with your student or mentee, the following ideas may help.

- Bring in photographs or look up photographs online or on your cell phone's web browser that you and your mentee can observe.

- If you have a laptop computer, bring in an appropriate movie your mentee hasn't seen before and play a scene without sound.  Act as if you're spying in on a scene.  Write stories or poems about your observations.

- If you're working with a group of mentees, divide the students into groups and have them come up with and act out a silent scene while other mentees observe and write stories about their observations.

- Ask your mentee to reflect upon a recent event or moment and think deeply about a person or group of people that were there who she didn't know.  Ask her to write down her descriptions and use those as inspirations for her writing.

Related Strategies in the America Learns Network: Please note that these strategies are only available to current Network members.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy with us and with Wendy by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

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