I am extremely privileged to work with young writers for my job with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. I run seven clubs every week, catering to home-educated children and within schools as after-school clubs. Some are on Zoom and some are in-person. I work with children aged between 7 and 16, though sometimes younger and older. I’ve been doing this since 2015 and in that time, though I like to think I have taught them a thing or two about writing, it’s also true that they have taught me. Here are some lessons I have learnt from young writers.
- Self-belief is key – One of the things I love about young writers is that so far they are entirely untouched by cynicism. There is a lot of negativity within the writing world and I have blogged about it before. A lot of adult writers, for example, get jaded and worn out, think it’s not worth it, they’ll never make it, never sell any books etc etc… but young writers don’t think like that at all. They’ll quite happily declare that they’ve started writing a book and it’s going to be a series and they’re going to get it published and become an author. They truly believe it and so they should!
- The stories in your head are just as important as the ones you write down – One thing I can tell you about young writers is that their heads are just full of the most amazing stories. The tricky bit is getting them to write it all down! Of course – it’s physically and mentally taxing for young children to fill reams and reams of paper with handwriting, and most of them have not yet mastered fast typing on a laptop, so I spend a lot of time listening. Sometimes I help them out by writing it down as they explain it to me. I find it fascinating how much their imaginations conjure up! One young writer recently told me about some missing cats who had their pictures on wanted posters. This started off as a fake article as we have been working on article-writing. It soon morphed into a wonderful story about magical rainbow cats that have been stolen, and since they have vanished, the world has no colour and everything is black and white. Another was reluctant to write his story down but told me it was about a mythical creature that died mysteriously in an alley-way and its death opened up a portal to another world, and since it died there can be no happiness in the normal world. Another told me a story where children wake up to find that everyone but them have been turned into tiny sand-timers counting down to some sort of disaster. The children have to solve the mystery to save the world. Just brilliant! Sometimes my job involves encouraging them to put pen to paper and sometimes my job is simply listening in wonder.
- It’s okay to let things go off tangent – This might be one of the biggest things they have taught me. I plan my half-term topics and most of the clubs will tackle the same topic at the same time. I usually plan the sessions in advance – for example, with article writing in schools, we started by talking about what an article is, who had read one, why etc – then moved on to creating our own crazy headlines. This involved lots of very dramatic words laid out on a table for them to move around. We had some brilliant creations such as Cats Are Broken, Donut Monsters Are Taking Over The World and Dragon’s Map of The Road Less Travelled… The idea after that was they would attempt to write a fake article to go with their chosen fake headline. Some of the children did this, writing a lead or intro under their headline, drawing a fake ‘photo’ even conducting fake interviews, whereas some of them vanished on a tangent for a story idea. I didn’t mind this at all. It would have been lovely to get them all to write the story in article style, but when an idea runs and runs, who am I to stop it? The end result was a mixture of article style stories and actual stories.
- Everything is open to interpretation – It quite often transpires that my plans go awry with young writers. They inevitably interpret things differently and ask to do something slightly different and within reason, I like to accommodate this. Sometimes I’ll set a task and then when the results come in, it will become obvious how differently they have interpreted it. Again, there is nothing wrong with this and I think it shows the depth of their individual imaginations.
- A support network is everything – One thing I have noticed over the years is that the more children talk about writing and share their writing, the more other children will do the same. I try to encourage them to share their work, either by reading it out or by allowing me to. They can be shy about this so I never force anyone. I have noticed, however, that they are naturally very supportive of and impressed by each other. Our Zoom groups for instance are full of supportive and kind comments in the chat and they seem to love listening to each-other’s stories. In the school groups, as they grow in confidence they love reading their work out loud to the whole class and sometimes I end up with a small mob surrounding me begging to read theirs out! I think this shows that writers do need support and the more they can get, the better. When you feel supported and valued, when your efforts are noticed and appreciated, you tend to try even harder.
- Above all else, writing should be fun – This is such an important one and I think us older writers tend to forget this. Once we are bogged down in editing, proofreading, submitting, marketing and promoting, we find ourselves surrounded by some of the negative aspects of the writing world. I think there are far too many negative writer stereotypes out there and it’s easy to fall prey to that mindset. Writing is hard, it’s a torture, why do we do it to ourselves? I’m happy to tell you that children don’t see it that way at all. For them, it’s storytelling and telling stories is fun. It definitely helps to remind ourselves of this from time to time!