Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Promoting Teen Writers, a guest post by author Jennifer Nielsen

Earlier this month, I shared with TLT readers how The Teen was trying to start her own teen creative writing group and some of the resources that were recommended to us. Today I am honored to welcome author Jennifer Nielsen who joins us to talk more about cultivating young creative writing talent.

As an author, one of my greatest joys is meeting young writers. They are excited, often almost bursting with story ideas they want to share. They ask questions – intelligent, thoughtful, meaningful questions – about craft, career, and problem solving. They want to know other young writers, to give and get feedback and support, but often, they do not know where to turn.

Schools cannot always fill this need in the classroom. As teachers face increasing pressures to focus on STEM education and standardized testing, creativity is often forced out of many classrooms across the country. Personal narratives, persuasive essays, and research papers often take priority over original stories or free writing time.

I wonder about this. We urge students to read but deny them classroom opportunities to create these stories themselves. How can we persuade them that one is important when the other is ignored or devalued?

No one will deny that academic writing is an important skill to learn, but when that’s all a student is exposed to, a gap is created that teen libraries may consider filling.

Consider what creative writing does for a young person:

  1. It reinforces reading skills. In the same way that a teacher often learns more than her students, writers often pick up reading skills they otherwise would have missed.
  2. It is the great equalizer. Creative writing is not “right” or “wrong;” it’s simply a collection of choices. For that reason, a top student has no advantage over someone far behind the rest of their class.
  3. It validates the writer’s voice. Teen libraries are constantly seeking ways to recognize their patrons’ voices, to listen to them, empower them. Writing achieves that, allowing the free expression of thought to emerge on the page. When that page is shared, or posted, or re-read, the writer is heard.
  4. It allows for an expression of the ideal self. During the years when self-worth is most under assault, it’s important to remember that most young writers use themselves as their main character. But not as they are – instead, it’s often the person they wished they could be: cooler, more powerful, more heroic. It is one place where a student can delve into their imagination and seek out their best self. In the same way that a library is a safe space for their patrons, a young writer’s work is their personal safe space.
  5. It allows for an exploration of emotions. Some teens with serious concerns on their minds hold in their emotions, or express them in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous ways. However, the young writer often creates a story that explores these difficult emotions within the safety of a written page. This creates an additional advantage: a teen librarian who might be asked to read such a story may be able to perceive a call for help, even when it is not directly given.

Teen libraries seeking to provide creative writing space can do so in relatively simple ways:

  1. By posting weekly writing prompts; in the form of a question, an image, a stupid fact, an excerpt of song lyrics, etc.
  2. By creating a group story. Patrons may check out a notebook with an ongoing story that they must read to understand where the story was left off, then they can add to it as many words as they want, whether a paragraph, a chapter, or more. Rules should be put in place for what is acceptable, but otherwise, let them have at it!
  3. By posting student created poetry next to a similar published poem or song – except there are no names on it. Patrons can guess which is student created and which is professionally created.
  4. By setting up manuscript exchanges. There are few places for a young writer to go to have their work read, particularly by a peer. But learning to give constructive criticism, and to receive the same. is an invaluable skill.
  5. By allowing teens to “check out” the finished and printed works of their peers, just as they would a book.
  6. By posting opportunities for writing contests, or, as interest grows, by hosting a contest. Summer programs often offer rewards for reading. Why not expand that for writing, with its own rewards and recognitions? They could be a natural pairing.

Teen libraries that create places and opportunities for young writers will fill a need their patrons may not even realize they have. But it will eventually be rewarded. Tomorrow’s generation of authors are in the libraries today. They need to be found.

Meet Author Jennifer A. Nielsen

Photo from author page

Jennifer A. Nielsen is the New York Times Bestselling author of The Ascendance Trilogy, A Night Divided, and other titles. Her next release will be Words on Fire (Oct 2019, Scholastic), the story of the Lithuanian resistance fighters who smuggled books into their country to save it from the Russian empire.

About Words on Fire

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen transports readers to a corner of history with this inspiring story of a girl who discovers the strength of her people united in resisting oppression.

Danger is never far from Audra’s family farm in Lithuania. She always avoids the occupying Russian Cossack soldiers, who insist that everyone must become Russian — they have banned Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language. But Audra knows her parents are involved in something secret and perilous.

When Cossacks arrive abruptly at their door, Audra’s parents insist that she flee, taking with her an important package and instructions for where to deliver it. But escape means abandoning her parents to a terrible fate.

As Audra embarks on a journey to deliver the mysterious package, she faces unimaginable risks, and soon she becomes caught up in a growing resistance movement. Can joining the underground network of book smugglers give Audra a chance to rescue her parents? 

Take 5: Books on Creative Writing

A couple of months ago The Teen announced that she wanted to start her own creative writing group for her and her friends. She gave it a name- the coolest name ever! – and we talked about what she wanted and then I went online and I asked people on Twitter, including some of the authors I follow, for their tips and suggestions. They offered a lot of suggestions and some specific book recommendations, which we have added to our home library to help The Teen as she explores the art and craft of writing.

Many authors swear by On Writing by Stephen King, which seems to be the go to book on writing. And he does kind of have the career to back him up, so that’s now a part of her collection. Ironically, it is also the book she is required to read over the summer for her summer reading assignment, which worked out well for us.

Rip the Page was recommended by several Twitter followers and I like that it has prompts and experiments and places wrote in the book to write.

Spilling Ink was also highly recommended and we haven’t dived into it that much yet, but it got so many recommendations that I purchased it as well.

I’m a huge fan of Ally Carter’s books and we’ve seen her on several YA panels, so we purchased Dear Ally as well. As a bonus, the Dear Ally book is an answer to the questions that Ally Carter gets from teens themselves about the art and business of writing. It’s her attempt to answer and engage directly with teens, which I appreciate.

We already owned the Basher book on Creative Writing because we collect the Basher Books. They are mini encyclopedias on specific topics so it has less on the tips and tricks and writing prompts and more of the definitions and story structure components. It’s informative and fun, but less useful then some of the other titles.

Poemcrazy is a book I have owned and used for years in teen programming. It is hands down one of my favorite books on writing poetry and it includes a lot of fun, creative activities. The activities are fun, engaging and spark a lot of creative thinking and writing. If you are going to work with teens on anything poetry related, I highly recommend that you look at this book.

A lot of libraries host teen creative writing workshops of some kind or another, which I told The Teen we could look for. However, she wanted to start her own group without adult influence or control. She wants it to be entirely teen led and adult free. However, she’s glad to have the books and is diving right in. Her vision is that they will just write, get together and share what they write, and repeat.

Do you have any tips, tricks or titles to recommend? Leave them in the comments.