Author, literacy advocate and volunteer Danielle Davis is passionate about teaching writing to kids to help them cultivate their unique voices and imaginations.
Her first novel for kids, “Zinnia and the Bees,” was published in 2017, but she wanted to move beyond just writing stories for kids. In 2019, she created a YouTube series called “This Writer’s Life: A Peek into Process,” aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds.
Her project ties in perfectly with her background of teaching English to students in middle school and community college. Over the years, she’s also had the opportunity to volunteer with literary and literacy nonprofits here in Los Angeles, including WriteGirl and Reading to Kids. In her capacity as a middle-grade author, Davis has also participated in and facilitated events as well as writing workshops at schools, bookstores, libraries and arts and crafts venues. Her debut picture book, “To Make,” illustrated by Mags DeRoma, will be published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in 2022.
I recently caught up with her to learn more about her process of sharing her passion for writing with kids. Her perspectives on engaging kids in the art of the written word are enlightening for parents and teachers.
How many YouTube episodes have you produced, and what topics are covered?
There are 30 episodes on YouTube so far, thanks to founding director and talented filmmaker Rippin Sindher, who began this process with me. While the pandemic has prevented us from working together the last year, I continue to shoot more episodes regularly on my own. I tend to brainstorm topics that represent the building blocks of narrative and creativity. Episodes are little windows into the ingredients and methods of making something, with examples from my own writer’s life or from children’s books I know and love.
My vision for “This Writer’s Life” is to be a resource library of engaging creative writing activities, concepts and techniques that are accessible to kids, parents and teachers as reference and inspiration.
The videos are upbeat and include inspiration from professionals. Who are the people you’ve invited to share insights on the creative journey?
Showcasing creative people I know and admire as the finale of every episode is one of my very favorite parts of this project! Many of the advice-givers are friends or other connections. They’re from a wide variety of backgrounds and fields. So far, the advice clips have featured a food stylist, book designer, filmmaker, hair stylist, set decorator and professor, as well as writers and illustrators, in order to show kids a broad scope of artistic expression and possibility. Their advice continues to inspire me, and I’m confident it inspires kids, too.
What do you hope your series will provide young writers?
With positivity, cheering-on and honesty, as well as practical tips and activities, my hope is to provide kids with tools they need to truly see themselves as writers and to explore and strengthen their writing. By developing their own process and their own writer’s life, they can solidify a practice that will serve them now and later by absorbing narrative structure and logic, honing writing techniques and, perhaps most importantly, nurturing the ability to channel their feelings and experiences into creativity and stories, a meaningful practice they can lean on their whole lives.
Why do you think writing feels hard to some kids (and adults) almost as much as public speaking does?
We don’t often get a window into the behind-the-scenes of any given creation — a story, a book, a film, a piece of art, etc. And that behind-the-scenes is essentially countless small steps, some backward, some forward, some done over and over again. Writing is like that, of course. And so not only can writing be difficult, it can also feel overwhelming when unacquainted with the process behind it. That’s why my tagline is “A peek into process.” I hope that if kids can see the steps involved — for anyone and everyone — in writing something, they will feel buoyed, empowered and less alone when they face the page.
Plus, your comparison to public speaking is apt. There’s a vulnerability to writing that requires courage to take on. If kids are exposed to both ideas (that it’s hard work for everyone, as well as that their voice and imagination truly matter), I hope that will help them undertake and embrace their own writing journey.
What’s been one of the most rewarding things to happen since you launched “The Writing Life?”
Hearing from teachers who are using these videos in their classrooms has been incredibly meaningful to me.
Danielle Davis continues to facilitate creative writing workshops for kids around Los Angeles and is always looking for new teaching venues. Find her at DanielleDavisReadsandWrites.com and This Writer’s Life on YouTube.