Young people designing their own lives: Sketching a book or screenplay

(part of the Fall 2013 Collaborative Explorations: Creative Thinking for All series)

A Collaborative Exploration (CE) in which participants develop a storyboard or sketch as the basis for a book, a screenplay, or another piece of literature aimed at young people to encourage them to design or "compose" their own lives.


The development of one’s life, from its very earliest days, can--although we would have to find different words to convey this to children--be thought an expression of creativity as we form relationships, manage multiple identities-in-formation, respond to complexity and unexpected dramas, and recognize resources and opportunities as the tools available to us to make changes and direct—or design—where we want our lives to go. In this Collaborative Exploration participants develop a storyboard or sketch as the basis for a book, a screenplay, or another piece of literature aimed at young people to encourage them to design or "compose" their own lives.

If you want more stimulation or guidance about why and how to write to young people, consider the passages and sources in the box below. But, if the broad topic of sketching a book or story board about young people designing their own lives is enough for you to be interested, feel free to get started.

Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life, offers this introduction:

  • “The composition of our lives” is a creative act that engages everyone. “In a stable society, composing a life is somewhat like throwing a pot or building a house in a traditional form: the materials are known, the hands move skillfully in tasks familiar from thousands of performances, the fit of the completed whole in the common life is understood. Traditional styles of pottery or building are not usually rigid; they respond to chance and allow a certain scope for individual talent and innovation. But the traditional craftsperson does not face the task of solving every problem for the first time. In a society like our own, we make a sharp contrast between creativity and standardization, yet even those who work on factory production lines must craft their own lives, whether graceful and assured or stunted and askew. Today, the materials and skills from which a life is composed are no longer clear. It is no longer possible to follow the paths of previous generations…Our lives not only take new directions; they are subject to repeated redirection…Many of the most basic concepts we use to construct a sense of self or the design of a life have changed their meanings: Work. Home. Love. Commitment.”

If we think about composing our lives as a creative act, then we might consider further how our experiences can be offered as a scaffold for young people to be encouraged to design, or compose, their own lives.

Within the structure of a Collaborative Exploration, we consider how young people relate to literature and stories as a way of thinking about developing their own lives. Images and words form building blocks of dialogue, setting, plot, and character and extend to themes, voice, relationships, and other issues. Imagine a process of using these elements creatively and then developing a storyboard or sketch as the basis for a book, a screenplay, or another piece of literature aimed at young people about designing or composing a life. Through this process, we might recall how we have responded to stories during our own younger years, review themes of designing a life from existing literature for young people, and create the storyboard for an original work intended to help young people develop a sense of designing their own lives.

The framework mentioned here suggests that we are not simply looking to write a children's book or screenplay, but rather acknowledging that our own engagement with stories, especially during our younger years, and as both creator and audience, may have established a space that contributes to how we understand our own lives and our role in designing it for ourselves, separate from a range of forces that may have shaped or imposed upon us a life (or parts of life) designed by others. By reaching into those personal experiences, we then have a starting point for connecting personal creativity to the design of our lives; moreover, we can engage in the act of creativity by developing a storyboard in the interest of sharing this experience with young people, and with the idea that young people may be encouraged to form insights into how they may creatively address the design of their own lives as well. This emphasis of sharing our experience means that we are using this creative act as an offer to a wider community -- an opportunity for others to build upon it, rather than something that we keep to ourselves as a private creative expression.

The following kinds of questions may prompt us further:

  • What experiences of listening to, reading, and/or writing stories from our own young lives were most meaningful, and why? How have those experiences connected to our efforts to design our lives?
  • What models and examples from the literature for young people present the possibilities of designing a life?
  • How might young people regard stories as a way to express themselves, solve problems, assert agency, make sense of complexity, explore identity, and connect thought to action in the interest of the design of their lives?
  • What resources, interactions, and principles and practices of creativity inform and facilitate the process of developing a storyboard that will that will serve as a foundation of a book for young people about the design of one's own life?

Intended outcomes of this Collaborative Exploration are of two kinds:

CE: expectations and mechanics

Whatever thread of inquiry participants pursue in any specific Collaborative Exploration (CE), your posts and contribution to live sessions should aim to stimulate and guide the learning of other participants, and build towards the final tangible product described in the scenario. The complementary, "experiential" goal is to be impressed at how much can be learned with a small commitment of time using the CE structure to motivate and connect participants.

The CE will take place over 22 days and consists of four sessions spaced one week apart, in which a small group interacts in real time live via google hangout for 60 minutes.* The day and time is arranged to fit the schedules of applicants, but often 9-10am, 4-5, 5-6 or 6-7pm to maximize the coverage of international time zones. Participants spend time between sessions on self-directed inquiry on the case, sharing of inquiries-in-progress, and reflecting on the process (which typically involves shifts in participants' definition of what they want to find out and how). Prospective participants are asked not to sign up if they cannot guarantee live participation in most of the sessions and an equivalent amount of time between sessions spent on the case. (Sessions will be available as a private unlisted youtube for participants who have to miss once.) A public google+ community, open beyond the small group, allows interested people to view and respond to any posts posted by the small group, which may, in turn, draw on them in their private discussions. The structure of each live CE session is predefined, but the CE builds in room for participants to take stock so as to inform future proposals for improvements in these structures.

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