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? 

Sunday Reflections: But What Will the History Books Say?

I had written a fabulous piece about how newspaper headlines refer to women (for example – how they often don’t include their name and refer to their male partners name instead) to post here today. It’s a great piece and I will post it soon. But . . . last night the news came that yes, we now had fairly strong proof that actors from Russia have worked hard to influence our 2016 election here in the United State of America. What’s more disturbing, many of our political leaders seemed to suggest it doesn’t really matter all that much. But it feels like a direct affront to the idea of democracy and to our political sovereignty if you ask me. It’s an assault to our very ideals and foundation. It is, in a word, terrifying.


So I spent some time last night doing some creative writing and I wrote out a passage that I envisioned from a future history textbook. Creative writing is often something that we ask our teens to engage in so I try to practice the same periodically. I share that passage with you here today. What will the future history textbooks say? Perhaps it will read like this.

Chapter 16: How the Former United States of America became the United Republic of Russia

The United States of America began its slow incorporation into the United Republic of Russia in 2016 when the Republican party chose party over country. Up until the year 2016, The United States of America had a very contentious relationship with Russia, with most of the preceding decades termed a cold War (particularly in the 1980s). Some leaders of the time had warned that Russia was trying to manipulate the 2016 elections in their favor, but the information was buried, particularly by the Republican Party and Mitch McConnell, the President of the Senate at the time.

After an election in which the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won one of the largest popular votes in contemporary history (with a lead of 2.7 million votes), the Republican candidate Donald Trump was declared the winner of the electoral college. Soon after, evidence came to light which affirmed that yes, Russia had acted to influence the election and install a puppet candidate that was sympathetic to their cause(s). It also came to light that the Republican Party had known of this information as early as September of 2016 but that they tried to bury that knowledge.

After a loud and concerned public outcry that highlighted how this activity was a direct threat to the nation and its very ideals and foundations, the Republican Party – who had previously spouted patriotic rhetoric and had demanded investigations into things like the Benghazi incident and the Clinton Foundation emails – became suddenly silent about the election scandal, choosing instead to maintain their party’s political dominance that had recently been acquired with the aid, assistance and interference of Russia. Unfortunately, they would soon learn that their political dominance was not in fact a guarantee.

Russia soon came in and slowly dismantled the United States of America piece by piece and law by law. Within a year, the former United States of America became an ecological disaster and a political nightmare as the dictator of Russia, Putin, declared himself to also be the dictator of the USA and renamed the 50 formerly independent states the United Republic of Russia. The United Republic of Russia continues today and its newer citizens do not know the political freedoms their country used to have or the riches they use to share within their borders.

Many members of the Republican Party of the former United States of America would later express regret at the loss of their country, the harm that their choices brought to their families and friends, and the loss of democracy in general, but by then it was far too late for them to do anything to rectify the situation. History judges them, and none too harshly if you ask those who were alive at the time and can remember what it was like to live in the former United States of America.

**Please Note: This history textbook has been banned by the United Republic of Russia and you read it at your own risk.**

Here’s the deal, if you are not concerned that Russia tampered with our democratic election, then you are not fit to serve in a democracy. And I say this to any elected official in any party and in any position. And if you, a citizen of our democratic nation, do not care about this, then perhaps you don’t care about democracy as much as you claim to. This is what’s at stake: democracy.