Encouraging Young Writers – A Middle School Talk on Writing

I had a great time at a local middle school this morning. I was asked to give a talk about writing to an advanced 7th grade class. They started out a little subdued, but it was a Monday after a Holiday. I started out asking them questions about what type of literature they were interested in and if they had ever written anything before. Some had written stories outside of school work. The majority loved Horror, especially about vampires. I took them through the creative process from the beginning; where they get their ideas from, what to do with their ideas and how to nurture these ideas.  I gave them some examples of where their stories can come from: a dream, a word you hear on the street, etc…

Being relatively new to writing myself (less than five years), I felt it best to keep to the beginning levels. I took them through what they had to do to get started writing a story: The willingness to put it down on paper and let other people see what you wrote. I explained how so many people aren’t willing to share because of fear of rejection or of being thought of as too weird. Next, being willing to have several different people critique the story to get feedback, and how to handle it. I explained the need to have a variety of different people read their stories to get a proper range of feedback, and then how to take that feedback and decide what to incorporate into their stories; what would make sense and not lose the essential nature of what they were trying to express.

I also explained how only a minuscule portion of writers’ make any real money on their work, which surprised them.

I continued into how their characters in their first stories may all sound alike and actually have the writer’s personality, and what kind of research it might take for them to find different voices for different characters.

Then I took them through the cycle we go through, of writing, getting critiqued, submitting, getting rejected, editing, getting critiqued, editing, submitting, getting rejected, etc… I also explained why rejection was a good thing and the range of rejection letters and what they meant, from silence up to “We like the idea, but it needs more work. Here’s what we’d like to see.”

There was a question about too many vampire novels out there, and I explained that every publisher is trying to make money on what ever is popular at the moment, so there’s a lot of trash out there. I told them to make a vampire novel salable; they would have to put a unique twist on it. I threw out “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” as an example, “Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters”, & “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” as two other examples of unique twists. That got a laugh!

I also offered to have them submit short stories to me for critiquing. I wanted to give them a real-world kind of experience. I also told the teacher that if enough stories came in, I would produce a PDF e-book on CD’s she could give to the students and their parents. Two of the students write music, so they may collaborate on a song to be included.

I know one student in particular paid attention. His comment at the end was that he had no idea the process was so complicated. He thought you just wrote something, submitted it and it either sold or was rejected and that as the end.

They were an enthusiastic bunch by the time the class was over. I look forward to working with them. It was a marvelous opportunity to share my own experiences, and to help others oen new doors. I encourage any writer, editor, publisher, artist or any other creative person to volunteer their time to such an endeavor. It is a truly rewarding experience!


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