(as brought to you by a young writer*)
Writing is a hobby, an occupation, and an art—one open to all ages. But the hardest part, as with anything, can be starting out, especially for young writers. There are tons of questions surrounding the writing process in general. How do you get better? How do you put your work out there? Both of these questions and many more will be covered in the following article.
1. Read and listen to the kind of stories you want to write.
Some say you need to read to write. While it’s possible to learn about the technicalities of writing without flipping through a piece, seeing how these technicalities are applied in a variety of styles will give you a much more profound understanding. There is nothing better than being inspired by another writer—taking the parts you love from their works and weaving them into your own work, with your own personal touch.
Read widely—and be don’t put off youth-authored stories. While it may be tempting to stay within a small circle of genres and formats, the best thing you can do for yourself is read as many different types of writing as possible. This isn’t to say that you should force yourself to read something if you hate it, but sometimes our deepest loves can stem from something we never anticipated.
- The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards recognize and support creative youth in grades 7-12, offering a platform where their voices can be heard, and where they can apply for awards and scholarships.
- 826 Valencia is a nonprofit organization in the US dedicated to supporting youth writers. Their gallery is full of inspiring short stories and essays.
- Indigenous Arts & Stories is the largest and most recognizable creative writing competition in Canada for Indigenous youth. The competition showcases Indigenous creatives not only through writing but also through visual arts.
Listen to authors read their work. While prose can be more entertaining when being read aloud, poetry takes on a new form altogether and is often said to be best experienced this way.
- Poetry in Voice is a Canadian poetry recitation competition which has as its goal inspiring students to read, recite, and write poetry. Videos of student recitations can be found on their website, along with writing prompts and a self-guided poetry workshop.
- The Moth is a platform that offers verbal renditions of stories much in the same way a podcast would. The stories range from stand-up to personal trials but The Moth believes that listening to this wide range of stories can help us realize what we all have in common. Their intended audience is not youth though they do offer advice on how to become good at storytelling at any age.
- Book Riot’s 11 Podcasts for Poetry Lovers also has some good options if you really like listening to poetry.
2. Learn about the craft of writing.
There are as many different ways to write as there are fish in the sea, which means that there are just about that many different opinions on how you should be writing, too. So which advice should you be taking? It’s possible a face-to-face class or mentor might be the best way to learn but they aren’t the be-all and end-all. Even through your own research, with the power of the internet at your fingertips, I’m positive you’ll be able to tackle the basics of the craft.
Books. From a quick look, all of these writing advice books can look the same. They can also get pretty technical, full of fancy terms that have you turning to your dictionary every other sentence. While these terms and theories are good to have in your back pocket and can be useful in the future, when reading up on how to write, books that simply inspire you to write while covering the basics are definitely your best bet. Here are some suggestions:
Websites. Again, there is an overwhelming number of articles all preaching the dos and don’ts of writing, golden rules, and such. In a way, websites can seem less reliable than books but they are also more concise and easier to access. There are definitely websites out there with great advice and tips.
- Jane Friedman’s Writing Advice for Children and Teens is an article she published after realizing that the same advice directed towards adult writers doesn’t necessarily apply to youth.
- Be a Better Writer has more specific advice on the craft of writing as well as some articles talking about the publishing process, from agents to contests to editing and how to do it.
- Aerogramme Studio publishes news for all writers, old and young, new and established. It also has links to some other helpful resources.
- DIY MFA offers an alternative to a Master’s of Fine Arts based on the pillars of writing, reading, and community, and explores the importance of each. They also have a prompt generator on their website in addition to articles about writing.
- This Writing Advice From Neil Gaiman was written to the youth taking part in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, which will be mentioned again later in this article. Contrary to the title, this isn’t necessarily advice, but more-so a pick-me-up, a sign to keep writing even if you feel like quitting.
Podcasts. The appeal of casually listening to a podcast while cooking, cleaning, or lounging around the house is reaching more and more people. There are a lot of podcasts, including interviews with authors, that are a great way to learn from some professionals in the business.
- Book Riot’s 30 Outstanding Podcasts for Writers is an extensive list and a good place to start.
3. Write and write and write (and edit) and write.
Yes, read and listen to stories you like. Yes, learn about the craft of writing. Yes, take courses, find mentors.… But—and I’m sorry to say it—as a writer you must, inevitably, write. And like anything else, to get better, practice is key. Of course, one of the perks of this practice is that it never needs to see the light of day; it’s the act of writing that makes you better, not fretting over it afterwards—that’s a different skill. Who knows, maybe something you once left for dead will come back for you to appreciate in a new light.
Get a journal. A journal can be whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t need to be tidy or pretty or contain only your best work. In fact, your journal will probably contain your most unpolished work instead, all those story-starters and first drafts that could end up as proper works later on. With this in mind, while it might be tempting to get a journal with the nicest leather cover and thickest pages you’ve ever seen, it’s possible to feel scared you may ruin such a masterpiece, and therefore never use it. Try investing in cheaper notebooks. You’ll find they fill up faster. Of course, journalling on your phone or laptop works just as well. Keep in mind that you could use your phone for some things and your journal for others, a paper napkin in a bind—changing the way you write automatically affects what you write, and it can be interesting to see where inspiration will take you.
You have a journal. What to do with it now? Opening scenes and poetry can work as amazing inspiration for future pieces, but why limit your inspiration to just that? Everyone has a personal favourite source that can inspire even when finding themself in the deepest depths of writer’s block. Snippets of dialogue around you, song lyrics, odd facts, character names, settings, lists, plots, memories, themes—there are so many and this is by no means a complete list. There are also other ways to find inspiration that are a bit more specific. Notably, the many roulette-style prompt generators across the internet. However, even websites like Pinterest, which have all sorts of photographs, art, and aesthetics, can be a powerful tool for inspiring a story through character design or setting.
- Inspirobot generates random and unique inspirational quotes. You’d be surprised how much inspiration can be generated in trying to find the meaning behind these nonsensical sayings.
- Writing Exercises is a more conventional writing prompt generator but has many different options, ranging from random first lines to dialogue to character traits. The site also has a rhyming dictionary and games meant to widen your vocabulary.
- Reedsy has, in addition to over 1000 writing prompts, options to submit your short stories inspired by their prompts, or you can just scroll through the archives until one strikes your fancy. The site hosts weekly writing contests, which would be a great way to motivate yourself to keep writing.
- Seventh Sanctum is one of the oldest random prompt generators. It comes from one man’s belief that randomization produces creativity. There are so many options, from a battle aura generator to lost civilizations. There is also a generator completely dedicated to naming things. Click on The Nexus to find a long list of useful resources for writers, touching on art sources, book covers, portfolios, self-publishing, and much more.
There are also books full of inspiration or journals dedicated to getting you started writing. Here are two examples:
Are you ready to write something longer? The month of November is also named the National Novel Writing Month, during which writers are challenged to write a novel in only one month. For youth, a newer version has since been created called the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program.
Want to write poetry? Whether poetry is your cup of tea or not, writing some poetry every so often will teach you a lot when it comes to flow and using figurative language smoothly in your writing. Poetry can also work as an outlet for both simple and complex emotions that are sometimes too personal to insert into a narrative.
- Pongo Teen Writing, in addition to having fun poetry writing activities which can be filled in and completed on the site, host a poetry prize (you can even read the poems which they deemed prize-worthy over the years). There are also writing activities geared towards marginalized voices, such as 2SLGBTQ+ youth and the BIPOC community.
If you’re the one always typing quick quotes on your phone, these are some apps that are designed for writing poetry:
4. Connect with others and welcome feedback.
Sharing your work with others keeps you inspired and provides valuable feedback. These people who are reading your writing don’t just have to be other writers either. Your family and friends can offer a valuable perspective about the entertainment of the piece, without getting too caught up on the technical side of things. When asking for feedback, you have to remember that constructive criticism is not a criticism of your own writing abilities so it’s important you don’t take it too personally. Of course, this is easier said than done, because writing is inherently a very personal thing. Sharing your writing takes guts because inside every piece is a little piece of yourself. Opening up is a skill that becomes easier the more you do it. It’s also important to make sure you look at feedback objectively. If you get too caught up in the emotional side of writing, it can cloud your vision, causing you to reject advice that could actually improve your piece. And while accepting constructive criticism and alterations is proof of growth, rejecting suggestions in the name of style or personal preference is also completely valid because, in the end, it is your piece and your call.
In-person sharing. Creative writing classes, camps, and groups can be the best way to share your writing, get feedback, and open yourself up to other writing styles. There are tons of benefits to providing and receiving real-time, in-person feedback, like motivation and constant improvement. There are several national, provincial, and even city-based organizations dedicated to writing as a community. The majority of provinces have their own guilds but for the ones that don’t, there are also national organizations. The Canadian Authors Association (which hosts a conference every year aimed at Canadian writers, but is offered at a discounted price for students!) and the League of Canadian Poets are both examples of national organizations you can look into. Here are some other resources for discovering organizations based in your province or area:
- CAA’s list
- Writer’s Union’s list
- (for writers in Yukon) Yukon In
- (for writers in the Northwest Territories) NorthWords
Online. There exist a number of online communities for writers. A place to post your work, receive feedback, and connect with other writers, possibly across the globe.
- The Young Writers Society was formed in 2004 and is one of the best online communities for young writers. It is completely moderated to provide a safe environment and to keep posts relevant and conversations active. These topics include fiction, poetry, visual art, photography, and general media.
- Power Poetry is a US-based site for teen poetry as well as one of the first and largest online communities for youth. You can post work, join groups, and participate in their online slams. They believe in the power of poetry but of digital poetry in particular as technology continues to become a larger part of our everyday lives.
- Underlined offers a site for teens and young adults to post fiction and poetry, receive comments, and join either public or private forums to discuss a variety of topics.
- Wattpad is a platform where anyone can post anything. What this means is that it can be a great place to read a variety of different voices, participate in official or unofficial writing contests, and post your own writing—but it is not moderated. Tags and maturity ratings are used to protect young writers from problematic content but, again, these are not enforced and so Wattpad should be browsed with caution. If community is what you’re looking for, you’d have a safer bet with the other websites listed.
5. Submit your work to magazines and contests.
So now you’ve written, edited, and shared your work. Now it’s time to consider submitting your work for publication. There are tons of literary magazines all over Canada who are looking specifically for young emerging writers. They pride themselves on being able to find previously undiscovered talent. When submitting to literary magazines, remember each has their own flavour, something that sets them apart from the others. To find out what this something is, you should always read a few of their previous issues (which are often archived on their site). This will help you discover if your writing is truly a good fit for this magazine, or it will help you adjust your work so that it is. Other than that, submitting is easy. Send them your best and then sit back and watch your inbox (the timing for replies also varies quite a bit between magazines depending on size and how many submissions they’re receiving). CBC has a great list full of literary magazines who are accepting submissions, and so does WritingCommunity.
The thrill that comes with submitting is built on the fact that sometimes your work may be declined. While this may be disheartening, rejection is just another part of the writing process. There are almost no writers who haven’t been rejected at least once. It just means that you need to try again; with revisions, with a different piece, with a different magazine. As Sylvia Path wrote in her journal: “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” So keep putting your work out there, and it’s bound to go right eventually.
- Squibler is a great resource that has fewer articles but they’re well-written and specific. Squibler also has a program that will keep you writing for five minutes straight, because if you stop, then all of your writing will be deleted. Under the ‘Tools’ tab, you can try it out. They call it ‘Dangerous Prompts’.
- Bryn Donovan’s Writing Resources offers articles of advice written by Bryn Donovan.
- The Write Practices Resources recommends writing software and other resources that are relevant if you ever intend to write longer projects or work in writing yourself.
*The first edition of this article was created in 2018 by Katherine Barrett and Andrea Papan. In 2021, Heidi Elder substantially re-wrote and updated the article and provided an essential youth perspective. Heidi Elder is a young writer from Nepean, Ontario, currently enrolled in the literary arts program at her high school. Writing primarily fiction, she hopes to someday incorporate the same level of meaningful absurdity in her own writing as Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five. Her work is published in Polar Expressions’s student anthology, The Quiet.