10 Ways to Nurture a Young Writer | Jane Friedman

10 Ways to Nurture a Young Writer | Jane Friedman

Today’s guest post is by author and publishing consultant K.B. Jensen (@KB_Jensen).

What do you do when a teen in your life is a diehard writer? When they won’t clean their room and just want to write stories or poems all day?

First off, congrats to any adult reading this who wants to support a young writer whether they are related or not. You are lucky to have a dreamer in your life, and they are lucky to have you.

I have a unique perspective on this situation, as a former kid who loved writing (and still does) as well as a parent of a kid who loves writing, and a coach in writing programs for adults and kids, including My Word Publishing’s Emerging Teen Authors Writing and Publishing Camp online.

Here are some things we’ve learned from preteen and teen writers at our publishing camp on how to help them on the journey:

1. Don’t underestimate the power of a positive adult influence.

When I was in third grade, a special teacher in my life, Mrs. Nancy Grein, used to send me to the principal’s office to read my stories. I won grand prize in a writing contest that year and got tossed into the gifted program afterward. Long story short: For a kid who flunked first grade, this was a big change, and it altered the trajectory of my life. Mrs. Grein gave me her school picture and on the back of it she wrote: “I look forward to reading your book one day.” It meant so much to me.

In contrast, when I told my dad I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he told me I’d starve. So: watch what you tell your young writer. They might write about you one day! So if your kid tells you they’re a writer, believe them and help them along on the journey.

Above all, believe in your writer. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you aren’t a writer,” author and cover designer Victoria Wolf recently told our camp teen writers at their latest book launch party. “Because you are.”

2. Don’t interrupt them.

This nugget comes straight from my now 14-year-old daughter, and I agree. When you spot your young writer on their laptop typing away at a story, this is not the time to badger them about cleaning their room or doing the dishes. Don’t interrupt their train of thought. Allow them to give themselves permission to write. Do not teach them that writing is not as important as other tasks. Because that’s something that they will have to unlearn later to be successful as a writer. What they are doing has value, even if it’s practice. Even if it’s never published. Even if writing just makes them feel great.

3. Listen carefully when they want to talk or share their stories.

Be kind, supportive, genuine, and specific in the things that you like. Don’t force sharing though. Some kids are shy while they are developing their craft or tackling uncomfortable topics. It’s okay if they don’t want you to read it. It’s great to give constructive and positive criticism, if they ask for it, but make sure you have their permission. Let them build on what they’re doing right, rather than focusing on the negative.

4. Help them learn how to research in a safe way.

So, the kid wants to write about a cult, crime, historical fiction that takes place in the 1980s (gasp), or some other topic? Offer to help them research. Make sure safe search is on their web browser at a minimum. My daughter jokes that she could already be on an FBI watch list, because she’s got an imagination in her search history and likes to write psychological horror. Find useful articles or info, and pass them along.

5. Have a writing party or family writing contest.

Set a timer and write together, if you like to write too. Share favorite lines, if you feel up for it. My husband is not a writer and jokes that he has a talent for writing a lot of emails. But once, we all wrote short stories and judged them. It was a fun family activity, and his story was surprisingly hilarious.

6. Consider a waterproof notepad in the shower.

I once received Aqua Notes in a mysterious Amazon package, and I have no idea who sent them to me, but they are wonderful. You can write story ideas and poems while you are in the shower. If your family shares a bathroom, you can leave each other notes of encouragement. It’s a great place to practice and brainstorm for writing.

7. Show your kid how to play with writing prompts.

There are countless sites for writing prompts. Images also work wonderfully. I love finding them on Pinterest. Anything can be a writing prompt if you think about it, like a treasured object on the top of your dresser, an old photograph, a favorite memory. The idea is to spark a story, sometimes a story you already wanted to write.

8. Find a contest for young writers, and encourage your kid to enter as an excuse to play.

Don’t make a big deal over whether they win or not. If they do win, that’s cool, of course, but it’s not the point and make that clear. The idea is to have fun with the guidelines and try new things.

9. Get them a library card and/or buy them books.

I used to stay up reading all night as a kid, and I’d check out the maximum 12 books at a time. You can learn so much about the craft just by reading amazing books. Consider reading the same books and talk about what you like in the stories and the style. There are some wonderful middle grade and YA books that adults can also enjoy. Bond with the writer in your life by reading what they like. Consider a family library night, where each family member picks out a book for the other to read and swap to try new authors or genres.

10. Find a positive and nurturing creative writing program for your young writer.

Whether it’s a creative writing club after school, a class or an online summer camp, look for a nurturing environment for the young writer in your life. Find a way to encourage a writing practice on a regular basis. Consider helping your young writer create or join a weekly club or monthly writing group with their writing peers in your area.

A note about My Word Publishing: Our camp helps teens learn to revise and works with top editors and designers to produce books for our award-winning Camp Ink Series. So far, our camp kids have published three books and won two awards. For more information or to register a camper, visit our website.

K.B. Jensen is an award-winning author, with three books of her own. K.B. lives in Littleton with her family and rescue mutt. She enjoys skiing and writing poetry. A former crime reporter and journalist, K.B. shifted to the publishing world in 2014, and is a senior publishing consultant and youth writing camp director for My Word Publishing.

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