Wednesday, January 21, 2015

5 Dear Teen Writer -- What Can I Learn From You? A WOW Wednesday Post by S.P. Sipal

The AYAP team is sad to say goodbye to Alyssa Hamilton, who has been a staple of our WOW Wednesday features for the past couple of years. She’s finishing up school and working full-time, so while you’ll still be able to find her at Swept Away by Books, she’ll be taking a break from AYAP for a while.

I (Susan Sipal) and Shelly Z will be taking the feature over, and we’ll be rolling out some additional options that we’re really excited about. We’ll still have great authors guest posting, but now we’ll expand the options for topics, and one of the topics we’ll discuss periodically is authors talking about what they wish they could say to their teen selves about writing and how that translates to what they’re doing now as writers.

That being the case, I’m going to kick off our very first Dear Teen Writer post for WOW Wednesday...

Dear Teen Writer -- What Can I Learn From You? by S.P. Sipal

I used to lead a teen writing club at my kids' school. We didn't have tons of students attending, but those that did, ranging from 7th to 12th grades, were extremely passionate about writing. What blew me away every time they read from their stories was the freshness of their ideas and the originality of their writing styles. These were not kids who'd devoured every craft book published or adhered to every rule they'd learned at workshops or from critique groups. Rather they were writing from the gut of their life, the passion of their teen experience, and the original fantasies of their active imaginations. A few of those stories were so unique and alive, I still remember them.

Some of the kids were writing with an eye toward publication. Most were writing for themselves and to share with their friends. Writing helped them put sense to the often senseless and emotional turmoil of their lives. But when they would ask me the likelihood of having their stories published, I measured my response carefully. Their trust was sacred to me. I absolutely did not want to discourage, but also did not want to mislead. Publishing is, after all, a business. And not all stories that have merit get published.

However, looking back on the advice I gave those kids, I realize now that I should have been taking advice from them. To be very honest, for this "Dear Teen Writer" post, instead of me giving writing advice to teen writers, I'd like to channel the teen writers I've known and share what they can teach those of not quite so...uh...young.

Write From the Gut

Write from what terrifies you, hurts you, excites you, or makes you weak at the knees. Don't choose the easy route and write about what you understand. Sometimes it's the not knowing, the feeling that you're walking into an impenetrable forest as you create your story, that brings out the deepest emotions in you as a writer and the sense of walking off a ledge for your reader.

Write From the Heart

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Let the words tumble out of your mind and onto the screen/paper in all sorts of chaotic, tumultuous passion. Forget about market. Forget about trends and rules and the style you've worked so hard to perfect. Just get that emotion out. There is a time and place for hard-core editing, but (for most of us) it's not when overcome by the passion of telling our story for the first time.

Write From the Unchained Depths of Your Imagination

Experimentation is the root of all creativity. From the story itself to the manner of telling that story, the teens I worked with never did anything "by the book." They wrote stories that were often "unmarketable" or broke every craft rule I'd learned. Most of them rarely sat down in front of a Word document to type. Many were constructed in bits and pieces on fansites or by back-and-forth sharing with friends on role-playing sites or game boards. One girl I knew was texting her story into her phone (aagh that tiny screen) whenever she had a moment between class. And it was brilliant. Every time I see her, now years later, I ask about that story. I still want more. But, alas, she has moved on.

Write Like You're Invincible

For most teens, nothing bad is ever going to happen to them...or so they think. While this quality may drive worrying parents into endless nights of sleepless pacing, for writing it's actually a useful tool. There's none of this self-doubting every other word you write or every bright and shiny idea that pops into your head. Your story is golden and publishers will be lining up to throw buckets of money at you. Ah, hem. While most of us may not be able to dive that deep into fantasy thinking, we must remember that our confidence in ourselves and our story (or lack thereof) will show on the paper. Believe in yourself or no one else will.

For those of us writing YA or MG, these points are especially important. Remember, teens of today have a multitude of ways to get their story fix without ever having to crack a book (or ebook). They have MMORPGs and fansites and Netflix and the list goes on. They will compare your story against those written by their young peers, and they're not necessarily going to analyze how well you constructed that metaphor or developed that style. They'll seek out stories that reflect the gut-wrenching, heart of their teen lives back at them in a way, perhaps, that help them understand and cope just a bit better. And make them want to come back for more.

In the end, as writers, for us to reach these talented teens, we need to open our ears and listen to what they have to say.

About the Book:

Cilla Swaney is thrilled to return stateside, where she can hang up her military-brat boots for good. Finally, she’ll be free to explore her own interests—magick and Wicca. But when she arrives at her grandma’s farm, Cilla discovers that life in the South isn’t quite what she expected. At least while country hopping, she never had to drink G-ma’s crazy fermented concoctions, attend church youth group, make co-op deliveries...or share her locker with a snake-loving, fire-lighting, grimoire-stealing Goth girl…

…Who later invites her to a coven that Cilla’s not sure she has the guts to attend. But then Emilio, the dark-haired hottie from her charter school, shows up and awakens her inner goddess. Finally, Cilla starts believing in her ability to conjure magick. Until…

…All Hades breaks loose. A prank goes wrong during their high school production of Macbeth, and although it seems Emilio is to blame, Cilla and Goth pay the price. Will Cilla be able to keep the boy, her coven, and the trust of her family? Or will this Southern Wiccan get battered and fried?

Southern Fried Wiccan releases March 24, 2015 from BookFish Books.

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  1. Oh yeah, as a teen, I wrote like that. I go back and read those old stories now, and they're still knock-you-in-the-head awesome. Sure, they have POV gaffes like head hopping (I grew up reading classics and wrote entirely in Omniscient), and sometimes there's telling instead of showing. But golly, the emotional stuff is great.

    Now I go to Wattpad and test stories in the teen market there. I read their stories and make sure I'm writing at their level. I don't really feel much like an adult anyway. :-D

  2. What a great idea, Kessie! I think it's great to get feedback from teens beyond a circle that you know. So often, those you know are so eager to please.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Interesting path this WOW blog is taking. Are you open to guest authors submitting write-ups on what they'd tell their teenage-author-selves? Because, oh my goodness, do I have a lot to say! :)

  4. Hi Ann, sorry to be slow to respond. I'm glad the post piqued your interest! To see about posting with us, check out our author promo tab at the top of the page, or go here:
    And thanks!


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