Ruth E. Walker
As a former president of a writing organization and someone who is known for giving workshops and presentations about writing, I’m occasionally approached by a parent about their child who “wants to be a writer.”
Invariably, it’s Mom who calls or stops me to chat. They have a daughter or son who writes all the time, makes up great stories and even puts them together into homemade books.
The question always is: What programs are out there for my child? Where can my child go to take workshops and be encouraged about their writing? Is there any place my child can submit their stories to?
I’ve also been a guest in many classrooms. Eager students want to know where they can submit their writing to be published.
There are places for young writers to submit, but first let’s take a step back and focus on what we can do to keep that child’s enthusiasm fuelled.
Caring adults are key
As in any aspect of a child’s development, a caring adult can make all the difference. For young writers who are immersed in their imaginations, the way their fledgling stories are treated might make all the difference as they get older.
Parents, guardians — even next door neighbours — can keep young kids writing as long as they remember that correct spelling, grammar and logic isn’t the point at an early stage. What matters is that the child feels their words on the page have value. It might be tough not to point out that “witsh” should be “witch”, but it’s so much better to focus on how scary their Hallowe’en story is. And to ask them questions about the story, inspiring them to include a few more details the next time.
And teachers — with several educators in our family, I know the tightrope you walk balancing your teaching day with administrative demands, curriculum expectations, exemplars, resources, extracurricular duties, prep, supervision…and the expectation that you engage every single student you teach. The last 20 months, in particular, have been exhausting and full of uncertainties.
However, when you release students from the expectations of the aforementioned spelling, grammar and logic with their writing, marvelous things can happen. Make space for free writing. Later on, you can lead them gently to the editing process. If their confidence and connection to their stories remains strong, you can easily show them how revision is part of creativity.
Young writers taught me
I’ve been an artist in residence for our local board of education. I visited classes to share my journey to publication and give them a taste of a workshop.
I always told young students in my workshops: It isn’t about spelling or grammar or logic. It’s about your words, your way. Almost without exception, this was key to getting them to write.
I especially loved working with the alternative high school students. The ones who didn’t fit in the regular classroom. They had complex and difficult lives and often unhappy relationships with adults. Earning their trust was a major accomplishment and I treasured it. They taught me that all of us, given the chance to express ourselves in writing, can move others with our words on the page.
And finally, I learned that an aptitude for the written word may not be the primary gift of a talented young person. At the school board’s integrated arts camp every June, I ran a creative writing workshop. For just over a week, grades 7 to 12 students explored freefall writing, prompts and story ideas.
Back in 2017, I posted a story about a student in my arts camp workshop. In A Boy, His Words, His Way I shared how this brilliant writer showed me that excellence can move through more than one creative outlet. And equally important, how some young writers want to care about spelling, grammar and logic. They’ve already moved beyond free expression and are working on the next level.
It changed my approach, as follows: It isn’t about spelling or grammar or logic. It’s about your words, your way. But if spelling, grammar and logic matter to you, I’ll honour that. Because it’s still about your words, your way.
Resources for young writers
It’s a tough market for even experienced writers and young writers have fewer opportunities, but there are places that will accept submissions. And places where supports and resources help keep the fires of inspiration going.
If you’re a young writer or a caring adult with a young writer in your life, here’s some links of interest:
Award-winning Canadian children’s author, Karen Krossing, has an extensive list of writing opportunities and resources for young people on her website. She also has some great writing tips to help young writers deepen their craft.
In The Learning Network, an education resource of The New York Times, there’s an article with over 70 places young writers can submit work to. Updated in October 2020, the article notes that many of the sites listed accept international submissions.