10 Things I’ve Learned Working With Young Writers

I’ve been working with young writers since I started my company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group in 2015. I was no stranger to working with children as I was a childminder for five years and as a mum of four myself, I’ve always felt quite confident dealing with young people. At the moment, I run seven writing clubs for children aged between 7 and 16. I have four physical, in-person clubs and I have three clubs on Zoom. These clubs cater for schoolchildren and home educated children. Currently I’m working with fifty young writers every week. It’s a privilege combining my love of writing with working with kids, and I consider myself very lucky. There are of course many challenges and here are ten things I have learnt from working with young writers:

Image by NeiFo from Pixabay
  1. Drawing is writing too – quite often when a child is new to a club, they will ask if they can just draw. I never mind this, as it’s amazing how much writing can evolve from drawing. They might start off just scribbling or drawing something that interests them, but more often than not, they will get an idea from the drawing and will start to talk about a possible story. Sometimes allowing drawing can form part of a deal too. Younger writers are not keen on writing too much but often I can get them to write a paragraph, then go back to their drawing and so on. They often surprise themselves when they start to write as well as draw!
  2. How quickly they improve year from year – it never fails to amaze me how quickly young writers mature. It’s always exciting to note the improvements in their writing skills. Just little things like them starting to self-edit, picking up on repetitive phrases and words for instance, or using body movements in place of dialogue tags. It’s amazing how fast their storytelling skills mature from one year to the next.
  3. Talking is writing too – sometimes talking is writing and it’s good for young writers to realise this. Talking about writing with other writers can be so helpful. If one child is a bit stuck and we start talking about it, suggesting ways to move forward or to generate more ideas, or to get the plot moving again, it’s still writing! There might be less words on paper but often they have learnt a lot more.
  4. Give them options, not instructions – I learnt early on that running my writing clubs ‘my way’ was not going to work for every child. There are children who thrive on instructions and being told what to do, and don’t mind coming into a session, finding out what the tasks are and getting on with them. But there are children who come bursting in with their wonderful new ideas who then feel completely deflated that we have something else planned. For this reason, I always have options. There is never just one task, or a one size fits all approach to my clubs. For example, we have been trying creative non-fiction in a lot of my clubs lately and I always give them a list of prompts to choose from. Some kids whizz quickly through the whole list, responding with short paragraphs to each one and some spend the whole session on one prompt. They definitely prefer having choices! One of their favourite things is to have different writing activities on each table so that they can move around the room and try different things.
  5. Eventually it sinks in – Young writers tend to get a head full of ideas and want to write their story instantly. Inevitably, they often get stuck or run out of steam so I’m always trying to impress on them the importance of character development and plotting, which can happen alongside the actual writing, but certainly can’t be ignored. I often meet resistence to this and it can take time for it to sink in. The moment when a child shows you their plot ideas or their character bios or their map for their location, when you haven’t asked them to do it, is a very special one indeed! Eventually it does all start to sink in.
  6. They take things off on own tangent and that’s a good thing – as I mentioned already, talking about writing can be just as beneficial as actually getting words down on paper. And sometimes talking within a writing group can help children get unstuck. Often I find, I have planned a session with structured activities I aim to take them through together, and the whole thing will get hijacked by young writers going off on their own tangents. It might be an idea they suddenly get that they just have to share. It might be something I have mentioned has sparked off a memory about something else. Or it might be that my suggestions lead them in a direction I had not anticipated. Either way, as long as they are writing and getting excited about writing, I really don’t mind at all!
  7. How surprised they are when you say they are a good writer – This always gets to me. When you listen to something they have written, or they pass you something they want you to read and you reply with positive feedback and tell them they are good at writing, they always get this wide-eyed look of surprise on their face. In our groups we focus on writing for fun and don’t focus too much on grammar, spelling or punctuation. We do of course edit and encourage young writers to self-edit and we do mention correct spellings and grammar, but they are not tested and not pushed. If a child hands me a story or a poem with incorrect spelling, I still tell them they are a good writer, because they are.
  8. Some of them are natural writers, which is very exciting – I think all children are natural storytellers, just as they are natural artists and dancers. It is human to create and it is very human to make up stories and pass them on. Some children come along to writing groups and start to improve their skills very quickly, for example learning how to use dialogue, how to fully develop their characters, how to utilise back story and so on. And some children come along as almost fully formed perfect little writers. Actually, perfect is the wrong word. Natural, is closer to what I mean. They instinctively know how to structure a story, how to reveal character and how to build tension. It’s so natural that they don’t even realise they are doing it. I find this very exciting!
  9. Jumping from idea to idea is okay – I’d have to say that the one thing most of my young writers have in common is how much they jump from one idea to the next. I do try to encourage them to stick with a story and finish it, and everything we work on from character to plot, is aimed at helping them achieve this. However, I never mind when they get bored of a story and come up with a new idea. Having a lot of ideas is very exciting for them and I’d hate to get in the way of new ideas spilling out whenever they need to. I always insist that they keep everything they write somewhere safe, so that if an idea has not worked out, they can come back to it another time. I also encourage them to write down all their ideas for other stories, if they are sticking to the same one. Keep those ideas safe and the more you have, the better! Writing is very much like a tap, I think. Once you have turned it on, it wants to keep flowing. Your mind is finding new ideas to explore for you and that is a good thing.
  10. The quietest ones sometimes have the loudest minds – My writing clubs can be noisy excitable places at times! It can be a challenge keeping the noise down so that the quieter students can focus on their writing. Some children are very creative and like to talk about it and share it around. While some are quieter and like to keep it to themselves. I tend to find that the really quiet ones, the ones that keep their heads down and write away endlessly in a corner, have the loudest minds when their work is finally revealed. They have so much going on in there that they just have to focus on getting it down on paper.

I think I could add more than ten things I have learned from working with young writers, but that will cover it for now! It is a challenging but rewarding job. One of the best feelings is when a parent emails to say their child is writing more at home now, of their own accord, or that their teachers have noticed their writing has improved in school. Another fantastic feeling is when children bring in finished work they have been doing at home. They are always so proud if they have seen a story through to the end. Introducing them to new things is also really exciting. Getting children to enjoy non-fiction or poetry, for example, feels amazing! You can’t win them all and you can’t please them all, but I aim to keep the clubs as varied and exciting and as challenging as possible. Sometimes I look at these kids and wonder who will be a best selling novelist one day!

Self-doubt, Imposter Syndrome and How To Battle Through

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”

Self-doubt is something that has plagued me my whole life and I am sure I am not alone in that. When I was younger especially, I had a habit of talking myself out of things I wanted to do, because this inner voice did not believe I could do them. This voice told me it was better to stand back and hide. Run away. And that’s what I did, one way or another, for many years.

Of course these days, as a so-called adult, I know better than to compare myself to others. I am me and I have come a long way since my anxious, angsty teen years which were nothing short of a horror show.

At least, I thought I had.

One of these days I am going to blog about the perimenopause which I believe I have entered but not yet. It’s definitely making everything worse as my teenage me is back to haunt in oh so many ways…

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome being one of them.

I’m pretty sure all writers get imposter syndrome one way or another. Well, maybe not Stephen King. I have to admit, I don’t really get it with my writing. And that’s not to say I’m big-headed about my work. I’m not. Why would I be? I hardly sell a thing. But because I write for myself first, for the pure pleasure and joy it brings me, for keeping me sane, giving me an escape, I could go on…Writing is my biggest passion and it always will be. I don’t think my writing is the best thing ever, but it does make me happy, so I don’t feel like an imposter, because I am just being me, doing what I love.

But for the last few weeks the imposter syndrome has really hit hard in other areas of life. In fact there are only two areas unscathed. Mothering and writing. I know I am a good mother and I know I am a good writer, at least for myself.

But hormones and emotions are having a lot of fun with me right now. Clawing their way onto my back and digging in for the ride. Whispering in my ear that everything I do is a failure, that I’m a failure, that I ought to give up and walk away, that I’m rubbish, useless, pointless. I feel this pressure given only by myself every moment of every day. It’s like something I cannot shake free from.

For the last few weeks I have seriously considered quitting my company. For those who don’t know, I started a writing group in 2015 as I could not find a local writing group to go to that fit in with having kids. I started my own and after a lot of thought and research I branched out into kids workshops. I used to be a childminder and I had really missed working with kids so it seemed to make sense to combine two things I loved, kids and writing and try to encourage the next generation of writing.

This then evolved into me becoming a community interest company in 2017, which was a brave move because it is just me, on my own, doing everything. A few years later and I still can’t shake the feeling that although the idea behind my company is a good one, I am not the right person to be doing it. When I stand in front of new writers and talk them through the ups and downs of self-publishing or building an author platform, I often think, who am I to be telling them anything?

The urge to quit has got very strong lately and it’s hard to explain why, as everything is going very well. It’s hard work, it’s time consuming and the paperwork drives me crazy…but I do genuinely enjoy being with writers, whether they are children or adults. So why the self-doubt? I’ve no idea but I wish it would go away.

It really is like a nasty voice whispering in my ear the whole time. It got so bad last week that I almost decided I would quit…I would go back to dog-walking full time because I’m better with dogs than people, there is less paperwork, less stress, more time alone, no people and so on. This was me wanting to hide. Wanting to run away and avoid the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This week I feel differently and several things have helped me be more positive. So how to battle through imposter syndrome?

Here are a few things that have helped me lately;

  • look for concrete evidence that you are doing well. This could be financial, ie sales, or a promotion at work or whatever, but if there is concrete proof through your finances that you or your business is doing well, cling to this and use it to quiet the scathing voice of self-doubt
  • feedback. Another concrete piece of proof you can cling to when the voice of self-doubt comes whispering…last week I had a lovely email from a parent with regards to one of my writing clubs. It made me realise that actually over the years I’ve had a lot of lovely emails from people, so this means I have actually helped and made a difference to some of the people I have worked with.
  • write your fears down. No matter how irrational. You don’t have to show them to anyone else. Just write down what it is that is bothering you or niggling at you. I usually do this in the form of poems that only seem to come to me when I am feeling stressed, panicked or sad. It really, really helps to let it out.
  • find a level-headed person to talk to. Last week, battling the overwhelming urge to quit it all and become a recluse, I really, really needed someone to talk to. I like being alone and never feel lonely, so perhaps I do have a tendency to gently push people away. But I suddenly realised I needed a human to talk to, face to face. I needed a coffee with a friend, someone who wouldn’t mind me babbling on about my self-doubt, explaining my imposter syndrome and helping me work through it. I nearly asked on Facebook, can you believe that? I didn’t, of course, and as it happened, I ended up having a lovely long chat with my eldest daughter, who is a very sensible person. It helped a lot.
  • make a list of pros and cons. Whatever your self-doubt is telling you to do or not to do, write down the pros and cons of doing it or not doing it. I made a list for each company, my dog walking and my writing group. There were way more cons for the writing group and that is understandable. It’s a far bigger challenge where far more can go wrong! But writing out the pros really helped me realise the positives about my company, which I had started to forget.
  • Take some time. If I had made a snap decision after making that pros and cons list, I would have quit my company and googled how to dissolve a CIC. I would have followed through on my upcoming commitments and then bowed out and returned to full time dog walking and writing. Oh, how tempting and blissful that sounded…But I knew that as my hormones and emotions are all over the place, I should wait for the storm to die down and see how I felt a few days later, the next week, the next month and so on. Definitely don’t let self-doubt lead you into rash decisions.
  • try to remember why you started in the first place. This is what I came back to in the end. Why did I start this company? Because I love writing and I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. Because I want them to feel like I feel when I write, to have that escape and that release, to be able to create new worlds, new friends and adventures, to be able to use writing to make sense of this world and this life, to make sense of your thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears, to say something to the world, to leave your mark…Those were the reasons. They are still the reasons. So, as long as I can still see concrete evidence either through financial means or feedback, or both, I know that I am achieving what I set out to.
  • Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to say that, isn’t it? I see memes like that all over social media. Self-care. Self-love. We are all pretty terrible at it and I’m not sure why. That might be a topic for another day. And the advice is there and it’s quite correct, but it’s easy to say, easy to tell someone to be nicer to themselves, but far harder to actually follow that advice yourself. I try to do it in small ways. I have that coffee on the doorstep and some time to breathe. I give myself occasional days off where I just sit on the sofa and chill. I have that wine or cider on a Friday night. I hug and kiss my kids. I surround myself with animals and nature. I read, write and listen to music. Those are the ways I remember to be kind to myself. As for the inner voice of self-doubt, I don’t think she will ever go away but some days she is a lot quieter than others, and that is something.

Over to you. Do you suffer from self-doubt or have you ever experienced imposter syndrome in all its ugly glory? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!

My 2018 Writing Goals

After comparing the goals I set myself for 2017 with the reality, next comes setting the goals for the year ahead, 2018. Now is the time to admit I am scared! Before I even start writing these goals down, I have to tell you I am terrified of them. Read on to find out why!

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  1. Release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature – (Wasn’t this on the list last year and the year before too?) Okay, the time has definitely arrived. I am currently amending the last set of typos I picked up on a read through. As far as I am concerned I can’t make this book any better. In the next few weeks, I will put together the synopsis and start sending it to a small list of publishers I feel would be a good fit. I will wait three months, and in that time draw up a self-publishing book launch plan, that will have to make the release my best one yet. I will have to sort out a cover too. And then, finally, I will be free of this book!
  2. Continue To Work On My YA Trilogy – A year ago I had just finished the first draft of a novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I’m now at the fourth draft stage and have penned a sequel and started the third book. I had no idea this contemporary YA novel would evolve into a trilogy but it has! I don’t expect to get any of the books ready for release in 2018 but I fully intend to finish a first draft of the third book and then commence editing on all three. I’m looking forward to this challenge. I love these books!
  3. Kickstart My New Company Into Action – Okay, this is the terrifying goal. In 2015 I started Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which involves me running an adult writing group and children’s writing clubs and workshops. As time progressed I became increasingly inspired by various projects and wanted to take my writing group business to the next level. Cue a meeting with a lady from Dorset Community Action who explained that becoming a Community Interest Company (CIC) was the best way forward. I already had three project ideas in progress and becoming a CIC would make it much easier for me to access funding for them. Excited, I plunged ahead and just days before Christmas I received the certificate in the post. Chasing Driftwood is now a CIC! Immediately I felt terrified and since then I have veered between impossibly eager to get started, and wishing I could change my mind! It all suddenly feels very real and scary. I am going to have to drown out my fears of failure and remind myself again and again of the reasons I am doing this. To bring writing projects and opportunities to people in my community, particulalry those who might not be able to access them. If I keep the purpose in mind, I might be ok!
  4. Apply For Funding for A School Project – This will keep me busy for the next few weeks. I have a project already underway with a local school and applying for funding was put on hold while I became a CIC. Now I need to get on with things! I will update you on this when the whole thing gets going!
  5. Apply For More Funding for Community Writing Project – I already have a small bit of funding secured for a community writing project, but it’s am ambitious idea and we are going to need more! I also have to really sit down and plan this thing out to a meticulous degree. What, when, where, how, who and why. More information to come. Again, so daunting!
  6. Get Wheels In Motion For Two More Projects –  Not things I expect to start in 2018, but I do have two exciting projects in my mind and I need to at least get them outlined and discuss them with others. One has evolved from my own frustrations as an indie writer who cannot readily afford book covers, editing and promotion. I would love to be able to start a project that helps writers from poorer backgrounds access such things. Just an idea at the moment, but something I really want to talk about. The second idea involves children, writing and nature. Reconnecting the three!
  7. Push Forward With Pop-Up Book Shop Idea – This appeared in last year’s list. I want to set up a local pop-up shop for local indie authors. I’ve got a list of people who want to be involved, and just have not had the time to do anything about it. But I intend to change that this year!

Okay, that’s it. Only 7 things this time, but a lot of them are pretty big things. Releasing Elliot Pie and finishing the YA trilogy are not particularly scary. They’re exciting goals. But the CIC stuff? I want to do it all but I wish there was someone just above me, you know, an imaginary boss who has done all this before. She could take ultimate control and tell me what to do, and I would quite happily do it all. But there isn’t anyone. She doesn’t exist. It’s just me. And right now I can’t help feeling I have bitten off more than I can chew! We’ll have to see, I guess. For now, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that all I have to do is take one step at a time. One, then another, then another. I can do that.

 

My 2017 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

This is becoming a bit of an end of the year tradition for me now. Having outlined my goals for the year ahead, as that year draws to end, how did I do? How much did I achieve? Time to have a look at the goals I set myself at the start of 2017 and examine the reality!

  1. Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress A Song For Bill Robinson (literally days away from this now!) – Yes! I achieved this and a lot more. A year ago this gritty YA novel was days away from the completion of the very first draft. Right now, at the end of 2017, I have completed four drafts of this book, penned a sequel and started a third! This novel has become a trilogy! I’m still really enjoying it and I plan to get the whole trilogy written before I think about releasing the first book.
  2. Leave that aside, and go back to Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for a final draft read-through on the laptop, followed by a final read through on my Kindle – A year later, this particular book is still not done. A final draft became another draft, and then another and another. It went back to beta readers and I made several changes. A few weeks ago I thought I was finished but decided I really needed to cut the word count down. A decision was made to cut out an entire character and just days ago I finished this edit! I have now sent it back to my Kindle for another read on there, to pick up typos and make another list of things to cut out. One more draft should do it!
  3. Find a cover for Elliot Pie! Which is going to involve a lot of thinking and research and approaching various people as I really, really need to get this right- Not achieved, obviously, as the book is not ready, and I will be sending this one off to potential publishers just in case. In the meantime, I have been thinking about covers and will need to start doing some research soon.
  4. Devise a promotional plan for releasing Elliot Pie, which will involve online and real life launches, promotional material and so on – Also not achieved as the book still not ready!
  5. Release Elliot Pie!! – Another one sadly not achieved, BUT I did release The Tree Of Rebels instead!
  6. Go back to The Tree Of Rebels and rewrite it until I am happy – Achieved! Weirdly, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie swapped places, with The Tree Of Rebels being ready for release first.
  7. During this time, I suspect I will delve into a second and possibly third draft of A Song For Bill Robinson. I don’t think it will be ignored for an entire year!- Achieved! I actually managed four drafts, plus a sequel and a third started!
  8. Early in the new year, follow up on the initial contact I have made with two schools through my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business, and arrange to go in and speak to them about my project proposal- Achieved! I have one school on board and have had several meetings with them. I also decided to turn my business into a Community Interest Company. Once I get this through I can apply for the funding for the school project and many others!
  9. If they are on board, I then need to secure funding for the project!- sort of achieved! I have a school on board, but just waiting for my CIC to come through so we can get onto funding applications. (Though I have already secured a small amount of funding for another project!)
  10. In March I will run my first adult workshop under Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Having done various workshops now for Dorset Writers Network I am ready to take the plunge on my own and run a workshop on building your author platform- Achieved! This went really well and I put on another workshop myself in the summer.
  11. At this workshop I will be introducing my ideas and plans for a Dorset Pop-Up Book Shop, where indie authors can come along and sell their paperbacks in a pop-up shop, hopefully, to be welcomed into libraries, literary events and so on- Achieved! The Pop-Up Book Shop is in progress and will be one of the projects I hope to get funding for once my CIC is in place.
  12. At some point in 2017, I hope The Tree Of Rebels will finally be fit for purpose and I will then be planning another detailed promotional event and releasing it! Fingers crossed!- Achieved! I released The Tree Of Rebels in August 2017 and to date it was my most successful release, with a three-month launch plan and a Facebook release day event, among other things.

I achieved 8 out of the 12 things on my list, and I actually achieved a hell of a lot more than I had set out to! Although a year in indie publishing is always a bumpy ride, with things going wrong (Pronoun shutting down!) and things going right (lots of writing done!) it’s actually really helpful to sit down like this to examine the reality. It just shows that the best-laid plans can change dramatically. It does me good to list my achievements and anything not achieved on this list will be top of the 2018 Writing Goals list which will be my blog post next week!

What about you? Did you set any particular goals for 2017 and if you did, how well did you do?