Avid Writing Kids

Although I’m relatively new to being a published author, I’ve done dozens of school visits already. They are often long days, but I find them energizing and they really motivate me to finish the next book. Often a teacher catches my eye during a visit and wants to have a word with me about a student. Almost every time it’s an avid writer who produces volumes of stories or poems—finished, unfinished, skillfully written or simple, wildly creative or somewhat familiar. And what they want to know is what to do with all that writing.  Because teachers are great at teaching children who can’t write or won’t write or need lots of support to write; I am routinely impressed by the dedication of teachers I meet. They can see that the avid writer needs guidance, too, but they are often at a loss about where to begin. Parents of these kids are often equally in the dark—proud, but unsure of how to best support a budding author. I have four school-aged children myself, some of whom are avid writers so it’s a topic I’ve given a lot of thought. Here are three things you can do to nurture the young writer in your life.

avid writer

1. Help them save and safely store their work.

I’m bad at this myself. I love my stories but I don’t take very good care of them.  One of the most helpful things a teacher or parent can do is set up a file to keep stories both those finished and those abandoned. Most working writers begin as many as a dozen stories for every story they finish. So it isn’t important for your avid writer to finish every project they begin. Learning when to set aside a story that isn’t working is an important skill, too. But many times a writer will return to an old idea with a fresh insight and make a new story from one that wasn’t working before. Sometimes a character that didn’t work on a first try is exactly what you need in a different story. So having those files accessible is a gold mine. If your students write on a computer, getting them in the habit of a daily back up to a disc or thumb drive helps. Because thumb drives are easily lost, it’s also good to email a file and store it at the email account.

2. Help them find with a time and place for writing.

When writers get together, one of the most common topics of conversation is the struggle of finding a time and place to write. Some young writers are great at tuning out their surroundings and writing wherever they are—school bus, dinner table, math class. This of course has problems of it’s own.  But students who need a little privacy to write may need help finding a quiet corner of the classroom or an undisturbed nook in the house, and a few free afternoons a week.

I know a 4th grader who came to school one day on fire with a great idea for a screenplay. She begged her teacher for time to write it and he agreed, letting her use the class computer through all the lessons, recess and even lunch that day. In five hours this girl wrote the first three and a half acts of a screenplay. In the last half an hour of the day the teacher asked her if she could show at least a part of her work to the class so they could see what a screenplay looks like. She chose a scene she wanted feedback on and got the class to read the roles out loud. As a result a half dozen other kids got the screenwriting bug for a few weeks. A gift of time like that is a rare and precious gift for a young writer and went a long way to helping this child believe she could be a professional writer some day.

Instructional time is precious and extra curricular activities are valuable, too, but for the avid writing child nothing is so enriching as simply the time and place to create something new.

writing space

3. Help them find a writing community.

I don’t know a single author who works alone. Most of us have critique groups or at least a writing partner. They are people who help us work out all the many details of writing well. It means the world to me that if I’m stuck I can call on my neighbors Heather Vogel-Frederick, author of the Mother Daughter Book Club series, or Susan Blackaby, author of Nest, Nook and Cranny, and go out for coffee and just talk through a writing problem.

For young people community can be hard to find. A teacher who is aware of two or more avid writers might encourage them to join the newspaper staff or school literary magazine. Younger students might find kindred spirits in a Newbery Club or on a Battle of the Books team.

The connection need not be formal and organized. I met two eighth grade cousins on a school visit who have an ice cream date every Sunday after church to work on the YA novel they are writing together. Some kids enjoy fan fiction websites because they create a sense of community and offer a place to share work.

Some communities are wonderful about offering writing opportunities for children and teens. I’m going to list three of the best children’s writing communities here in Portland, Oregon and I hope you will add your local resources in the comments.

Young Writers Workshop at Powells.

Every Second Friday from 4:30 to 5:30 at the Powells Bookstore on Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton.

Come meet your fellow writers, learn the craft of writing from amazingly talented and friendly authors, bring your own work to share and get feedback. Anyone ages 10-18 is welcome.

Young Willamette Writers

First Tuesdays of the month from 6:30 to 7:30, the young Willamette Writers meet in their own space during the meeting of the adult Willamette Writers. They practice the craft of writing in the company of great writers from all over the region. The meeting is held in the Old Church on SW 11th and Clay in Portland.

Oregon Writers Festival

For more than 20 years the Oregon Council of Teachers of English have sponsored a day-long writing festival in the spring for students from all over the state. The festival is held at Portland State University. The next one is Saturday, May 7, 2011.

How about you? What are your favorite events for young writers? Put them in the comments and I will compile a state-by-state resource page and keep it in our own Mixed Up Files

Rosanne Parry is the author of the up-coming Second Fiddle, a story about an avid violin player who finds friendship and adventure in some unexpected places as she travels with her friends from Berlin to Paris.

11 Responses to Avid Writing Kids

  1. Coming in late to this thread, but I would have loved to have had this kind of exposure to places and people to encourage me to write when I was a kid! As a mother of a budding writer, I am so glad to see some solid advice on how I can help him. Thanks for this great post, and welcome to the blog!

  2. Thank you so much for the great info, Rosanne! I wish there were places where I was encouraged to write when I was younger. I remember handwriting 100 pages of my first novel when I was in 7th grade. Nobody ever read it.

    The programs for young writers in Oregon sound amazing!

  3. Great post, Rosanne! Thank you for being such a champion for writer kids, (and for writer grown-ups too).

  4. Thanks for the info on the central coast writers conference, Cathe.

    Good luck with your November Workshop Teresa. I’ll be looking for Cliffhanger Writing Prompts next year.

  5. The Central Coast Writers’ Conference in San Luis Obispo, CA which takes place every September has a teen writers program. We had a fabulous turnout this year and the teens exchanged emails so they could start their own critique group. The site is http://www.communityprograms.net

  6. Love this post! My daughter is an avid writer. She started a critique group at her school in 7th grade with 4 friends, and now two years later it has grown to three groups of four students who meet weekly at coffee shops. She has attended Young Willamette Writers for a couple of years and is very energized by it. I’m the guest speaker for November, and we’ll be writing from my upcoming teacher resource book being published by Scholastic next year “Cliffhanger Writing Prompts.” I’m really looking forward to it!

  7. Hi Brian.
    I do talk about this stuff at school visits. I usually show them a picture of my treehouse office and talk about finding a spot where you can really concentrate. And I always talk about my writing buddies in the neighborhood and my Story Helper Jim at Random House.

    They love to see my extremely messy and completely unpunctuated composition books where I hand write first drafts.

    Then I show them what a manuscript looks like after I get it back full of line edits and a 3 page letter of suggestions from Jim.

    And more than anything they like to see the copy edits, where my wonderful Random House copy editors who I have never met but have come to call Violet, Indigo, and Green, have marked up every single page of a 140 page manuscript.

    Amber, Love the book trade! That’s so fun!

  8. Just today I was in my son’s class and one of his classmates asked me if I would trade a copy of one my books for one of hers! Love it!

  9. Karen B. Schwartz

    This is such an encouraging post, wish I’d known it was even possible to do as a kid. Some wonderful resources in Oregon. I don’t know of any that are local.

  10. Where was this info when I was a young budding writer? Oh, that’s right… personal computers were the size of my house back then.

    When I was young (post caveman days) I always WANTED to write, but never actually tried until much later. During your school visits, do you ever discuss this with the kids? Just curious.

    Great post!!!

  11. Laurie Beth Schneider

    Thanks for the inspiration, Rosanne. Fabulous suggestions and such a great story — the screenwriter and her teacher.