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Hope is the thing with feathers…Emily Dickinson

Ms. Johnson says everybody has a story. She said some of us are afraid to tell ours and that’s why when it comes time to write something, we say we have writer’s block. Ms. Johnson says there’s no such thing as writer’s block. She said it’s just your mind saying to your body, I ain’t trying to write that jive. Everybody laughed when she said it like that because, mostly, Ms. Johnson speaks proper.

“Then what does your mind want your hand to write?” Ms. Johnson asked the class.

Trevor was tracing the letters on his desk. Rayray was staring out the window. I looked down at my blank paper, my pencil in my hand and my hand and mind real still and quiet.

“Frannie?” Ms. Johnson looked at me.

I shrugged, “A story?”

“Maybe,” Ms. Johnson said. She walked slowly over to Rayray and turned his head gently toward the front of the room. She walked over to Trevor, lifted his pencil out of his hand.

“If the story is the truth,” Ms. Johnson said.

“But that’s nonfiction then, ” somebody said.

“The truth is in your heart. My daddy says we all have a truth in our hearts.”

It was the Jesus Boy speaking. He even surprised Ms. Johnson. But she tried to hide it by smiling.

“Exactly,” Ms. Johnson said. “Write what your heart tells you to write.”

We all looked around the room at each other. Nobody said anything.

“My heart’s not saying anything,” Rayray said. He slumped down in his chair. “I hate this.”

Ms. Johnson walked back to the front of the room. “Think of a day in your life,” she said. “Any kind of day–where something big happened or nothing at all happened. Something important or something just regular, like you ate a sandwich while watching cartoons. Anything. Just try to write down every single detail you can remember about it.”


I looked down at my paper. There were a million days in my head, all of them marching all over each other. All of them coming from my heart and feeling like my heart-truth. I didn’t have the slightest idea where to begin. There were all kinds of thoughts swirling around in my head and it felt like the whole class dropped away and disappeared and all that was left was me and my pen and my paper and the whole wide world spinning around me. I felt dizzy with all those thoughts, had to put my head down on the desk.

“Frannie, are you okay?” I heard Ms. Johnson asking. Her voice sounded like it was coming from real far away.

I nodded into my arm but didn’t lift my head. “I don’t even know what the first line to write would be,” I said.

“Begin at Frannie’s beginning,” Ms. Johnson said.


From the book Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

I love children’s literature.


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