Hilltown Families


Perfect for the creative teen or tween who wants to write or is already writing. These exciting online classes with Nerissa Nields begin on Tuesday, March 24, goes to June 16, 2020. The 4pm class is for all genres, including graphic novels, fan fiction, poetry, etc. The 7pm class has a strong focus on songwriting. Nerissa has six years of experience teaching writing at preparatory schools, as well as 15 years of teaching these creative writing workshops out of her studio. $265 for 12-week course. Sign up here.

Each week, Nerissa will give assignments, tailoring each assignment to the student’s interest and genre. For example, if the student wants to write songs, she will give a song prompt or topic. If the student is writing a novel, she will guide them to craft an outline, then submit chapters. If the student is writing a film, they will storyboard, then write scenes.

In the Zoom class, class participants will begin with a check-in on everyone’s progress, and Nerissa will teach techniques and use examples from films, books, songs, poems, plays, etc. Students will be invited to read a portion of their work out loud if they feel comfortable doing so. Shyer kids might want to submit to Nerissa, or have her read their work anonymously. The class will support each other as a community of writers, cheer each other’s progress, and listen to each other as they share the challenges that inevitably come with any creative practice.

Participants will not criticize each other’s work. Nerissa’s workshops are based on the principles of Amherst Writers and Artists, which are all about supporting new creative work with kindness, focus, and an eye to what is working well in the given piece.

Nerissa will not give grades, but she will edit and comment on all work, and make specific suggestions for improvement and/or direction on the page or via email. In the class, she will also point out what is working well.


About Nerissa Nields

Nerissa holds a BA from Yale University, having graduated cum laude with honors in English and taught Creative Writing and English at The Madeira School in McLean, VA, and the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT. In 2003, she founded Writing It Up in the Garden and has run writing groups and retreats out of her home in Northampton, MA. In addition, Nerissa taught songwriting at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyon’s Colorado at their Song School for two years. She has published a young adult novel, two works of non-fiction, and three books of poetry. She has written thousands of songs and recorded and released 20 albums worth, on major and independent labels.

Writing intersects with the natural world in many ways. Genres of nature writing include science writing, environmentally inspired literature, and works of environmental advocacy. Walks and hikes through the woods and mountains, journeys through rivers and streams, can inspire all types of artwork from poetry about the beauty of the natural world to imploring essays on our responsibility to preserve it.

And because of the natural beauty of our region, Western Massachusetts has a rich literary history. Famous authors such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all share ties to the Berkshire area. In addition, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, William Cullen Bryant, W.E.B. Du Bois- all hold historic ties to Western Massachusetts.

Those interested in learning about literary history should check out our post: 10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA. Others may want to follow in the footsteps of these authors, many of whom drew upon the natural surroundings of the Pioneer Valley in their writing.

Here are several upcoming community-based opportunities that support your interests…

Western Massachusetts is a treasure trove for community-based studies of literature and literary history! Including historic homes, local landmarks, beautiful trails, and more! Here in the western half of the state, community-based educational resources for explore American literary history are plentiful.

Combining science with writing and visual creativity is such a refreshing way to approach a complex topic. American Chemical Society is now seizing the day and holding an innovative poetry competition for kids that will drive them to explore different avenues in science.

As fall darkens and begins to give way to winter, our hibernation instincts begin to kick in, inspiring us to hunker down and spend more time inside. While it’s sad to give up the long, bright days, there’s no reason not to make the best of the darkness! Families can spend November writing, by participating in either 30 Poems in November or National Novel Writing Month – two writing projects that challenge participants to create a large amount of new work throughout the month.

We live in a society with a lot of stuff, most of which limits creative free play while having a negative impact on our environment and societies. This summer, rather than buying more stuff to encourage kids to play, make your own toys out of materials you have at hand!

This month in ‘What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community,’ Carries finds a book that inspires her to do just that! The best part about making toys with kids is the pure experimental nature of it. The first try may not work but with comes learning through problem solving…
and may even taking things in a completely new direction! It’s all wonderfully stimulating and drives creative free play through sustainable practices. Read Carrie’s post and get inspired to make your own!

Summer affords us a golden chance to encourage our children to open their senses to the world. These are rare formative situations in which a child can absorb the happenings of their community and wider world in a different context, where they explore and get in touch with their own interests- just like a vacation.

In “What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community” this month, Carrie outlines creative ways to channel a child’s favorite thing to do and subsequently fuel the desire for them to explore, have fun and enjoy an enriching summer. Carrie’s methods involves opening access to diverse reading materials and encouraging sketching. Through creative-free play comes discovery!

National Novel Writing Month happens every November! It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants writing event where the challenge is to complete an entire novel in just 30 days. For one month, you get to lock away your inner editor, let your imagination take over, and just create!

In “One Clover & a Bee,” Amy shares two poems to read and recite with your kids while crunch through autumn leaves or during indoor transitions…

This month in “One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love,” Amy’s pick for July is a poem by Emily Dickinson…

Take a Poem to the Beach To kick off the summer, here’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Cummings is known for his inventiveness—his play with language and form. That playfulness is usually most obvious in the capitalization (or lack of) and punctuation (seemingly random) in his poems, and kids love to see a grown-up breaking those rules. ——— maggie and milly and molly and may by E. E. Cummings maggie and milly… Read More

Big Ideas (in the Ordinary) I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way. The poem I’ve chosen for… Read More

Writing Skills: Putting Language Down on Paper I’m not an expert on writing skills, but I often find myself working with children who have difficulty getting ideas on paper. I start by reviewing the variety of skills and processes involved in writing. First, a writer must gather ideas, take notes from readings, and make choices about which ideas are important enough to include in the writing. Then they need to organize these… Read More

Behind All Our Questions: Yet Another Reason Poems Are Good For Us I don’t know about you, but I don’t always know what I’m feeling. Or I have a general idea, but I’m not sure I understand it, or know what to do about it, or if there is anything to do about it. I think for our kids, especially as they grow older, this is a fairly constant condition:  they’re trying… Read More

Phtheezles May Even Ensue This month I offer up a poem by A.A. Milne, of Pooh fame, that’s about being sick (or pretending to be), which a lot us can probably relate to right now. It’s also terrifically fun to say out loud. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are especially prone to what I call “repetition and variation” finding a word or a sound that feels good to say,… Read More

Other Bells We Would Ring: A Poem for Parents As I write this the rain is bucketing down out of a sky so gray it feels as if even the weather is conspiring to press home the weight of darkness that this month has ushered in. So much grief is around us, and the idea of bringing forth light seems a fool’s task. Yet the wheel is turning, and I don’t know… Read More

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