…and teen non-writers deserve them, too.
Teens have taught me a bunch about writing over the last couple of decades–both the teens who have already written five novels and the ones who would rather scrub under the refrigerator than pick up a pen. For a lot of teens, writing was ruined for them by third grade. For others, dutifully writing their five-paragraph essays, their love affair with writing is made up of clandestine moments, stolen from their more “important” term papers and college applications.
The needs of these writers are simple, but those needs often can’t–or won’t–be accommodated in school. They come down to two basic principles: ownership and community. Here’s what I think most teens ask of their parents, mentors, friends and teachers when it comes to their writing.
1. I have a right to secret writing. I may keep a private journal. It may have poems or stories in it; it may have letters I never send; it may have just random thoughts. But it is not for public consumption; it is not for anyone who wants to check my spelling or penmanship; it is not even there so you can read my poetry, celebrate my talent and understand me better. When and if I want to share it with someone, I will. In the meantime, do not ask.
2. I have a right to choose what I write about. I know I’ll have assignments for school that I don’t choose; I get that. But I have a right to channel my creativity in a way that rocks my world–even if my song lyrics make no sense to you or my spokenword piece might shock Great Aunt Betty. I have a right to create my own body of work.
3. If I am part of a writing group or class, I have a right to either share my work or not share it. Sometimes sharing my work with a group is helpful and feels good. But sometimes the writing isn’t yet ready to share. And some writing will never be ready to share. I have a right to know I can write from a deep place inside of myself, or that I can experiment and the teacher will not demand to have the work read.
4. I have a right to accept or reject critique. If I choose to get feedback on my work (and I can choose not to), I am not obligated to change the work in the way the critiquer suggests. Even if the person giving the critique is my best friend. Even if it is my mom. Even if it is an award-winning author. I have a right to decide what is useful to the piece and what is not, and to base my revisions on the advice I believe best serves the work.
5. I have a right to be listened to, encouraged, and respected. If I can find a group of people who feel like my “tribe,” because they are just as strange and quirky as I am, I may show them my secret writing–misspellings and all. I may share my spokenword piece with them and hear theirs. I may write weird, experimental collaborations with some of them. I may listen to their critique and weigh it carefully, because not only are we all becoming stronger writers, these people know me. And the real reason I write is to know and to be known.
If you know a teen still looking for a “tribe” of creatives, we’d love to have them at our TEENWrite EPIC overnight May 17-18 at Camp Huston. Our 10th anniversary Summer TEENWrite EPIC camp will be July 8-12 at Fort Casey.