Tips for Teen Writers

I’ll be speaking with some grade eight classes this week on the topic of “So You Want to be a Writer….” With that in mind, I intended to revive my Ten Tips for Teen Writers, which I wrote months ago as part of a guest blog on Teens Read Too. But that seems lazy — and “Go the extra mile” is a tip for would-be anybodies — so instead I looked up advice from some of my favourite authors for children and teens. Here’s what they have to say:

“Be very, very careful about whom you show your writing to. If you’ve read the novel Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, you know exactly what I mean.” (From Virginia Euwer Wolff, author of Probably Still Nick Swansen, True Believer, etc.)

“When someone slams your writing, listen carefully to what they say. Then tell yourself that he or she is a tasteless, moronic, jealous, mean-spirited, ignorant jerk. Then go back to your garret and figure out what you did wrong.” (From Pete Hautman, author of Godless, Rash, etc.)

“Descriptions of characters require real originality if they are to move us at all…. So if you say, ‘her eyes were the color of the mathematical function keys on his Texas Instrument calculator,’ you are being original (and saying more about the viewer than the viewed, which is also good).” (From Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Rex Zero, Blink & Caution, etc.)

“To beat writer’s block, allow yourself to write a rotten first draft. Then revise it as many times as it takes.” (From Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, Twisted, etc.)

“I live a very simple life, and often spend several hours each day just daydreaming. It is usually during these times that my ideas come to me.” (From Dav Pilkey, author of A Friend for Dragon, Captain Underpants, etc.)

“Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls.” (From Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Catwings, Earthsea, etc.)

Quite the gamut, huh? There’s no need for me to say more. Just check out the websites of these far more experienced authors – they contain oodles of other tips, and all so well-written. 

But I will add one last piece of advice: When you are stuck, go walk your dog and the answer will come to you. Try it. It really works. (So bring a pencil and notepad along with your stoop-and-scoop bags.) And even if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll feel better. (But honestly, it works for me.)

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