Your Inner Writer Goes Back to School

I know that many of you YARN readers spent the summer nurturing the writer in you—by going to summer creative writing programs, or just spending hours under a tree with a journal. And now, it’s back to school time! Time for exciting new pencils and sneakers, sure, but also time for the drudgery of school writing.

Hey, I get it. Even though I became one of the wicked witches who make you write about things you couldn’t care less about, then give you grades you don’t think you deserve, I ALSO used to be a teen writer myself. I remember how hard it was to fit in time for my novel between history and English papers, French vocab, and math homework.

Selfishly, as the editor of YARN, I want you to set aside time to work on your creative craft—like I did as an aspiring teen writer. Starting in middle school, most days I came home and took a break between classes and homework by sitting in front of a computer (which back in those days, had a black screen and a green cursor! Not nearly as welcoming as computers these days) and working on my latest project for an hour or two. This usually involved a snack—chips and soda, milk and cookies, that kind of thing (I’m a big believer in food accompaniment to intellectual tasks). Even though I was, on some level, doing “work” by engaging my brain and getting it to push words around on the computer screen, I would emerge from these sessions totally refreshed and ready for actual the actual work of homework.

While I sometimes indulged fantasies of being the youngest writer to be interview by Oprah, basically I knew I was writing for myself and the small audience of friends who liked my stuff. But as high school plodded along, I found larger audiences for my work—something I encourage all you YARN writers out there to do. The two best high school outlets for my writing turned out to be the school newspaper (the St. Mary’s “Kettle”!), and the speech team.

For the paper, I carved out a place for myself as a freshman by pitching and landing a gig as a movie and music critic (they didn’t have one before me), then working my way up to Assistant Editor as a junior and Editor as a senior—and when you’re Assistant Editor or Editor, you get to write a regular editorial that can be as creative as you want, and mouth off about stuff that pisses you off. It was awesome.

For the speech team, I wrote and performed speeches for an event called Original Oratory, sometimes about pre-prescribed topics, and sometimes about whatever I wanted (another form of editorial). But best of all, I got to write and perform short stories for an event called OPP (Original Prose and Poetry). This is where I met my first really serious audience of judges who scored my writing and performing skills, and I met peers of other writers who also wrote short stories and were totally geek-blissed out about sharing them with other writers. And as a side benefit, I met other cool “speechies” like Shannon, who became a life-long friend and my Co-Editor here at YARN!

In these two arenas, I got feedback—both positive and negative—and learned to incorporate others’ ideas into my writing. I learned to balance writing for myself with writing for an audience, and—I cannot overstate the benefit of this—I actually got myself an audience, composed of some people who actually wanted to hear my work, and some for whose attention I was competing with other writers (just like in the real world of writing). This wasn’t an audience out there in the ether like with blogging. These were living, breathing people I couldn’t ignore, a few of whom also wanted to go out and get coffee to talk about books and stuff in their free time.

So this back to school, I want to encourage all you would-be YARN contributors to find your first audience. High school newspapers, literary magazines, and speech teams are a great place to start. If your school doesn’t have one, start one! If all the official slots on the staff are full, figure out what the group doesn’t have that you can do, and make them take you on to do that thing. Even though you’ll be adding one more thing to your busy schedule, I promise you’ll be totally rewarded by the flood of creative energy that will flow back into your own writing.

And then, submit the best of what you produce for that audience to YARN, so you can get an even bigger audience.

Kerri Majors, Editor

–Kerri

OTBW, I should probably mention that I’m going on a bit of a maternity leave from blogging, because I’m having a baby in late September! But I’ll still be around behind the scenes, reading your work and getting all that fresh YARN up on the site. And I may well be back to blogging by the time your first article appears in your high school newspaper. J

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