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The Young Writer

Last week, I was thinking about how much I wanted to be a writer when I grew up but had no concept of what that actually meant or how to do it. Everyone in my life knew I wanted to be a writer, they knew I wrote poetry and short stories, but no one ever pulled me aside and told me how to get where I wanted to go. I don't think they knew either really. I didn't have any teachers who entered my work in contests or helped me figure out how to reach deeper in my writing. I never even took a creative writing class until college, it just wasn't offered. I went to a public school in Florida where creativity wasn't a top priority. Sure, I had good teachers, but no one who could help me become the kind of writer I wanted to be.

When I got to college I felt like I was already behind many of my peers who had worked for their school's literary journals, or else had won several writing contests. When I was in school, I had one non-fiction story win second place at a district-wide contest, but it wasn't anything I felt particularly proud of. The contest hadn't been well advertised and I still only got second place. I felt like I was playing catch-up.

I've said all this before though... The reason I'm reiterating it now is because I started thinking about how young people are getting into writing today. When I started writing, it was in a spiral notebook with a pen. Nowadays, kids are given a Gmail account when they enter elementary school, and there are a million online tools to help get writers organized, but how do they know where to start?

I decided to interview my little sister, Audrey, about this. She's 14 and entering high school. She's had a passion for writing and art for as long as I can remember and goes to the Orange County School for the Arts charter school in California. I wanted to know if with all this technology at their finger tips, are young writers further ahead than I was at their age?


[Disclaimer: This interview wasn't recorded. I took notes and her answers have been paraphrased.]

Q: When did you start writing and what did you like to write?

A: I started writing around 4th grade. I was on the playground and just had like all of these stories in my head and then kind of realized that I had access to Google Docs and could write them down. I would spend all of my free time scribbling down notes and stuff to add to the stories later. I started with very self insert stuff about friends and family but mostly fantasy stories.

Q: What made you want to write?

A: I just wanted to get all of these stories out of my head. And I read a bunch, so I would always have a bunch of ideas going on. I would mostly write for myself, but I also shared with my friends and we would read each other's work.

Q: Tell me about writing in an online community.

A: I don't really talk to people online, like especially ones I don't know, so I don't really have an online community. I like to keep up with what's happening, so I have social media, but I don't put a lot out there. I used to share stuff on Google Docs with my friends when I was in Elementary school. We would write together, or edit each other's stuff, but that kind of fell away as we got older. No one ever really shows their work to anyone else anymore.

Q: What do you consider to be "good writing?"

A: I look at how well the plot is, the character, and the world-building. I feel like those are the three pillars of a good story. Like, take the new Avatar movie, the world-building is amazing, but the plot and characters are just okay. It's beautiful to look at, but it wasn't my favorite thing.

Q: How do you work through your writing goals and do you have an editing process?

A: I don't really have a writing goal. I like to write for fun, and like I'm always thinking about writing something because I have these stories in my head. I haven't written as much lately because of school and stuff, but I want to write more this summer. I think my fuel for writing is to get the ideas out before I lose them. Like I'll write down a whole idea for a character arc. Once I get a bunch of ideas down I can pick and choose which ones I like. I don't have an editing process yet because I have yet to finish a full first draft of something. I always get a new idea.

Q: Who taught you the most about writing?

A: I think the books I read taught me most of my vocabulary and such. My writing classes taught me some formatting and style and stuff, but I'm mostly self-taught. I feel like my classes mostly focus on poetry kind of stuff, it depends on which teacher you get.

Q: What do you wish you were being taught about writing?

A: I wish teachers would focus on how to take an idea and make it work into a story with compelling characters and world-building. Like how to write something and then find all the plot holes and fix them and just make it really compelling. Most classes are more focused on the words rather than the writing. It's all about your vocabulary and not how to put a story together.

Q: Do you know of any opportunities to share your writing?

A: There's some stuff at OCSA [her school] but I don't know of a lot. Like I said, I would share stuff with friends, but really there is one person who I would use for peer edits.

Q: Is writing something you want to do professionally?

A: I honestly have no clue. I know that writing is a really hard career path, which is a turn-off. I think there are a lot of options for my future career, so I'm not sure what I want to do. I want to be creative, but also want to be successful.

Q: What do you want to say to other writers out there?

A: People who want to start writing have to just adore the idea that you have and then you absolutely have to get it out because others might like it too.


After talking to my sister, I found myself feeling a lot better about my beginning with writing. This might sound stupid, but I was sure this generation was getting the leg up on all of us who had been grinding for so many years. I'm sure there are people out there who are killing it at a young age, but for those of us who aren't S.E. Hinton or Christopher Paolini, it's okay. Audrey reminded me that we all start off at the same place, with a passion for the written word. We all start off with a million ideas and hundred of works in progress. I've read Audrey's work and I'm always impressed by where she is at such a young age, and now I find myself more impressed by how unbothered she is about it all. Yes, she wants to be successful and will keep working hard at her craft, but she isn't worried about killing herself to be the best, or get published at 18, or some other crazy goal.

This interview reminded me that the foundation of writing is simply about a passion to share the stories in our heads. I might feel behind sometimes, but we all start somewhere. I'm going to take a page from her book and try to worry about it a little less. As long as I keep writing and being passionate about it, hopefully, I'll get to share my work through publishing some day.

Audrey and me in [top left to bottom right] 2018, 2013, 2012, and 2015.

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Katybeth Jensen
Katybeth Jensen

And isn't the hardest part starting? Which is something you both have already done. Thanks for introducing me to Audrey. I'm sure she will be successful wherever her life goals go. And while it would have been clique to ask, What is her favorite book as a teen?

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