Monday, November 9, 2009

How to Encourage Young Writers, Part Deux

     This is a terrific topic, Derin.  I have had experience on both sides of this issue. I was a young writer looking...and not finding...guidance, and I am now a writer interested in encouraging young writers. I feel strongly about this, since I was a young writer, out there on her own.
    I am always amused when students and teachers ask me "Who encouraged you to write?" The answer? Absolutely nobody! My parents thought it was nice that I wrote little stories, but were terrified that I would grow up to be a "starving writer". My parents "encouraged" me to become a librarian, so "at least you can eat and pay the rent."
    My teachers did not encourage me, because "creative writing" was not part of the "curriculum." In my school, if you wanted to be creative, you could take art or join the marching band. Period. I had to find other ways to keep writing. So I did.
    Whenever possible, I turned school assignments (even essay test questions) into fact-based creative writing events. I volunteered to be the school reporter for the local newspaper, a job I held all the way through high school. I entered every creative writing contest I could find. (I won some, too.)
     As a young writer I would have been thrilled to take a creative writing class, or join a young writers group. Alas, these opportunities are still hard to find. I have been blessed to work with the Young Writers programs at the Margaret Mitchell House, here in Atlanta. I just finished my fall class last weekend, with five of the most amazing writers, ages 9-13. They were all ready to take on a new session, starting next Saturday, but there won't be another session until sometime next spring. Since the writers in this particular group all live in the same part of town, I suggested that they get together on their own to write and share until then.
     For those of you young writers who don't live in a town with an arts center or other learning center that offers writing classes, there is the self-help route. When I began to write, there were no books just for young writers. I read the magazine The Writer (which is still published), and later Writer's Digest.  They offered easy-to-read, practical advice on all sorts of topics related to writing and publishing.
     Today there is Marion Dane Bauer's book What's Your Story (recommended in the previous post), as well as the books of Ralph Fletcher. Ralph Fletcher is another writer who teaches. His books A Writer's Notebook, How Writers Work, Poetry Matters and Live Writing are useful for both beginning writers and their teachers.
    Another handy little volume is A Teen's Guide to Getting Published by Jessica and Danielle Dunn. The Dunns were fifteen-year-old sisters when they wrote the first edition in 1996. It was recently re-issued in an updated version. Not only do they include all the advice I give (keep a journal, read, read, read, write, write, write, etc) but they include sources where young writers can actually publish their work (sometimes for money!!) They also include a list of websites, writing camps, other writing books, courses, and on and on. This book was re-issued in 2006, so there is a possibility that some of the information may be dated. I still recommend the book as being one of the most complete, all-in-one-book, young writer's guide book.
     And speaking of books....I have had a wild two weeks, that have not left me a lot of reading time. The one book I did read was YA fiction, Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff.

Mary Ann


Anonymous said...

I have been teaching adults and college for almost an entire career. Over the last 12 years I have been writing fiction and it has been a joy as well as a healing outlet to my creative drive. It's good to know about other writers in a similar situation. My thought: this allows us to write what we really want because we do not depend on sales to make a living.
I would invite all to visit my website for my recently released novel for young readers, Angela 1: Starting Over at

Sarah Campbell said...

My 10th grade English teacher told me, in response to my expressed desire to write about my life, that it was conceit to think my life might be important enough for others to want to read about. Talk about no encouragement. However, to her credit, she did make us learn poetry. I can still recite some of it. No doubt I carry remnants of motivation from the sting of her rebuke and fuel in the way of lyrical language. I hope to get into writing with the young folks, too.