How To Write For A Youthful Market

    youthful market - kid reading

    I have a son and a neice who are both middle-school-aged and both fantastic writers. It’s amazing to see talent blooming at such an early age, and while talking with my sister about it, I began to think about the best way to develop a kid’s emerging interest in writing.

    How do you go from being a reader of great writing to a writer yourself, when you’re still young and don’t know where to start?

    Today we’ll look at some of the best things a young writer — or a parent or teacher of a young writer — can do to develop writing talent.

    My Background as a Writer

    I’ve been a professional writer for about 18 years now, since my senior year in high school when I was a sports freelancer for the local daily newspaper. I was editor of my college newspaper, later became sports editor of the daily paper as well as a news reporter who covered politics and crime (sometimes in the same articles!). I’ve also been a freelance writer for magazines, newspapers and websites, a political writer of speeches and legislation, and now a professional blogger.

    But I didn’t start out as a professional. I started out as a reader, in elementary school, devouring mystery novels, fantasy books, and just great fiction. I lived in the world of books, and when I started writing short stories in fourth and fifth grade, it was only natural.

    In middle school, my English teachers singled me out as a writer, and that encouraged me. By high school, it was one of my aspirations to be a writer some day, and when I got a job as a freelancer, it was scary but a step toward a dream.

    Start Out As a Reader

    It’s been my experience, and I would guess the experience of all writers, that an interest in writing comes from an interest in reading. You don’t just start writing fiction and poetry without having read plenty of good examples of it first.

    Reading good writers is the first and one of the most important steps to becoming a good writer yourself. All good writers are book lovers, with favorite authors and beloved childhood books.

    If you’re a kid or teen-ager looking to become a writer, you’re probably already a reader. Continue that, and expand it. Read as much as you can, every day, during your spare time. Read new books and writers and genres you haven’t read before. Pay close attention to what the writers do to achieve the magic they create — their plot devices, the way they shape a character, the way they craft the language.

    Enjoy a good book, and you’ve already come a long way to becoming a good writer.

    Getting Started in a Writing Career

    One of the most important question young writers have is, “If I want to become a professional writer, how do I get started?”

    Well, first of all, there’s no rush. If you’re still in elementary, middle or high school, you have lots of time. For now, just enjoy reading good writing and exploring the craft of writing. Have fun with it — try out new things and just go crazy. Don’t put any pressure on yourself.

    Write a lot, because practice helps you get better.

    That said, here are some tips on getting started in a writing career:

    • Try writing for a school paper. It’s good experience. If your school doesn’t have a paper, make your own.
    • Try writing a blog. It doesn’t have to be popular — it’s just a good way to explore your writing.
    • You might consider trying out a youth internship at your local paper. There’s one such program at the local paper where I live and it’s a great idea for getting your foot in the door.
    • If you go to college after graudating from high school, take some writing classes. Also write for your college paper.
    • After high school, consider applying to be a freelancer for a newspaper in your area (or near your college). Many newspapers will take less experienced writers as freelancers and even train them in the art of newspaper reporting and writing. Even if newspaper writing isn’t your ultimate goal, it’s great experience — the more you work with words, the better. Great writers such as Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway started as newspaper writers.
    • After high school, definitely start your own blog. Again, it doesn’t have to be popular, but 1) it’s a great way to explore and hone your writing and 2) it’s a great way to show other people what you can do.
    • Consider freelancing or writing guest posts for other blogs — it’s great exposure.
    • Write short stories, poems, and other fiction and non-fiction whenever you can. Take a shot at a novel — who knows, your first attempt might be a masterpiece. Even if it isn’t, it’ll help you understand what’s involved in writing about a novel.
    • Read about writing when you can — online and in print.
    • When you have a little experience, try freelancing for magazines. It’s a great way to try new kinds of writing.
    • Once you have some freelance experience under your belt, and have a blog of your own, and have written fiction, you’re a writer. You can go anywhere you want from there.

    Writing Tips for Young Writers

    Besides reading a lot, writing a lot is the next important step to becoming a good writer. Here are some tips that will help you find your way:

    1. Steal from your favorite writers. Don’t be afraid to steal — imitation is the best way to incorporate good techniques into your writing. Later you’ll take these tools and make them your own, but at first you should feel free to mimic the best writers.
    2. Try different forms. Don’t just stick to one form of writing. Have fun with different forms — short stories, novels, plays, TV or movie screenplays, poems, essays, newspaper articles, blog posts.
    3. Start your own blog. No matter what age you are, a blog can be a lot of fun. It can be like an essay, a journal entry, a newspaper article, an online conversation — whatever you want it to be. And it’s free and relatively easy. Try a free Blogger or WordPress account.
    4. Share your stuff with others. It’s pretty scary to allow other people to read your work, but it really helps you grow and learn. Blogging is a good way to share your writing, but there are other ways: you can email stuff to family and friends, you can read poems out loud to family (as my niece Samantha recently did — she’s an amazing poet!), you can put on plays with friends or relatives for a small audience, you can pass out a newspaper to family. The feedback you get will probably encourage you or help you learn what you need to improve.
    5. Read about writing online. There’s a huge wealth of information about writing on the Internet. Do some Google searches for writing blogs, writing tips, and the like. Subscribing to Write To Done is a good start. 🙂
    6. Make writing a daily habit. Whether you write in the morning before school, or during lunch, or after school, or just before you go to bed … choose a time and try to write every day during that time if you can. Even just 20-30 minutes a day is a good start. An hour is even better if you can manage it.
    7. Write what you know about. While it’s fun to use writing as a way to explore your imagination, the most realistic writing comes when you write about things you know. Write about characters who are similar to you in some ways, with similar lives or interests. Write about the city or town or island or area you live in. Take elements of people you know, settings that are familiar, events you’ve lived through.
    8. Write what you’re interested in or love doing. Are you passionate about a sport, or a hobby, or a particular topic? Write about that — your passion and knowledge will shine through your writing.
    9. Join an online writing group. There are tons of them out there — just do a search. Some of them are even aimed at young writers. Check out a few that look interesting, read through a bunch of posts for a few days, and then take the plunge and introduce yourself. Get involved in discussions, ask questions, and learn from the people in the group. Eventually you can share your own writing and get critiqued and get suggestions.
    10. Don’t get discouraged. If you’re not a good writer at first, don’t worry — no one ever is in the beginning. Good writing comes with practice, with experience, with time. Just keep doing it. If you get bad comments from people, don’t sweat it — you’ll get better, and sometimes people just make bad comments because they feel like it, not because the writing is bad. If you read writers who are your age and who seem better than you, don’t worry about it — it’s not a competition. Don’t compare yourself to them, but instead learn from what they’re doing right. You’ll get better.
    11. Yes, grammar and spelling are important. These might seem like boring subjects to you. I know I wasn’t interested in grammar in school, and I’m paying for it now (I make grammar mistakes all the time). But I recommend you pay attention to these subjects, in school, in the things you read, and in your writing. They’re important because while good spelling and grammar won’t win you many writing awards, bad spelling and grammar will cause people to stop reading your writing. It gets in the way of writing, and you’ll fail if you can’t do reasonably well at spelling and grammar. The good news: if you pay attention, you’ll get better at it. You’ll learn from experience and from reading.
    12. And yes, editing and revision are important too. These are two other things I didn’t like when I was younger. When I was done writing something, I never liked to read over it again and revise my writing. It was such a pain! But let me tell you something: it improves your writing. In your first draft, just let the writing flow, and don’t worry about editing or revising as you go. But then go over it, and read it aloud, and see what sounds awkward, what doesn’t flow, what is unclear. Then revise, and read it again. You’ll learn to improve with each revision.
    13. Avoid cliches. I’m actually bad at this, because I often forget I’m using a cliche. But when I can catch a cliche, I will kill it. Writing that’s full of cliches is bad writing. If you’ve read a phrase a number of times, avoid using it. Come up with something new.
    14. Keep a notebook. This isn’t necessary, but I’ve found that it helps. Keep notes about characters and stories you want to write about. Jot down little snippets of dialog you’d like to use. Write descriptions of scenery you can use later. Write down your thoughts on writing. Go back over all of it later when you’re bored.
    15. Observe. Become an observer of life, and of human nature. Listen to people’s conversations to improve your dialog writing. People-watch at busy places and take notes. When you’re going through something tough in life, reflect on it in your writing. Wherever you are, notice details.
    About the author

      Leo Babauta

      Leo Babauta is the blogger behind the superblog, Zen Habits, which is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of life.

    • Amy says:

      Hi, I’m Amy Davidson and i’m 12 years and I really want to get a book published before i leave school to show people if you work work you get what you want…

      got any tips?

      x

    • Autumn says:

      This post/article is exactly what I’ve been looking for! I am 14 years old, I’ve been blogging and writing since I was 11 (I was on http://www.homeschoolblogger.com for a while, because I’ve been homeschooled all of my life, but about a year ago I switched to Blogger). And all my life before that I’ve kept journals (at least all my life that I could write.)I am now a writer for a free, online magazine for Christian girls called Bloom! magazine (www.bloommagazine.webs.com). I mostly write fiction, and I have started several novels, and I have several DOZEN ideas jotted down in notebooks (I have a LOT of notebooks) and I have loose papers dominating my room. In recent weeks, I have wanted to find more opportunities for writing for teens like me. This article answered all of my questions and then some. I think the tip that helped me the most was: Yes, grammar and spelling are important! I have never, ever, ever been the spelling or grammar genius, but my mom is always telling me, “You’re a writer! You need to get better!” She’s always scolding me if she sees that I spell something wrong, and I know I need it. I scold myself as well, and I really need to do better. This year I just started the 10th grade, and also a vocabulary course. I was pretty happy when I took the pretest and got the result telling me that I have a superb/above average vocabulary! Anyway, thanks for all the help, I will be subscribing to Write to Done!!!

      ~Autumn

      P.S. Here is the link to my writing blog; be warned, it’s a little sparse at the moment: http://www.aspiringauthoress.blogspot.com

    • Emma says:

      I have been keeping a journal since I was 6 years old and I am 14 now. I am really interested in becoming a writer and found these tips very helpful! Thanks!

    • Thanks Leo, that post was very helpful!
      I’m 14 now, I’m brazilian and I like to write. I do have my own blog, actually, but it’s in portuguese, so…
      Thanks for the tips, it really helped

    • ZeroNews says:

      Thanks Leo for this helpful post.
      I’m 17 and I write, like you say, after school. I think it’s the best mode to express myself.
      Thanks
      I hope youl write more writing tips

    • Hi Anna!
      I’m so happy to see your comment here! In my mind’s eye, I can see the launch of your first novel. I’ll be there and hand out the drinks 🙂

    • Anna says:

      Hello Im the 13 year old girl Mary was talking about and this is the best articles I have read on writing I admire you!

    • Hi Feliza!
      After reading your comment, I had a look at the Young Writers Society website. It looks very interesting. Thanks for the tip!

    • Feliza says:

      Awesome article!

      I’m a teen writer, and I recognize a lot of the steps – I’ve done them myself. =] You may want to mention one of the top writing sites for young writers: the Young Writers’ Society.

    • Fantastic post. I wrote a MUCH shorter version of this idea for Seventeen.com, but I think I’ll link to yours next time. Great stuff!

      Here was mine:
      http://www.seventeen.com/fun-stuff/17-buzz/violet-buzz-092407

    • Hollie says:

      This is wonderful, thank you.

      I’d love to see an article on how to get started if you’re an older writer!

    • This is a very informative article. Teen Writers And Artists Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring young authors and artists of all kinds toward achieving their dreams. I created a link to your article on our site. I think my teens will be very interested to hear what you have to say.

      Thanks for your insight.

    • Jbird says:

      This is a great post! It is so important to teach children and teens the value of becoming a good writer, and I’m glad to see so many people on here agree. I look for this kind of content online all the time. I found these two articles below that also have some great writing tips for kids. If anyone else has ideas or resources, let us all know!

      http://www.drrickblog.com/page/Regular-Practice-Creates-Better-Writers.aspx

      http://www.drrickblog.com/page/Teaching-Students-The-Forgotten-R.aspx

    • lhuff says:

      Thanks for your inspirational words. I’ll be sharing your post with my English 11 and AP English Language students. It helps to here these nuggets from someone other than their teacher. Struggling to nurture a new crop of bloggers, I’m hoping your post might encourage them.

    • I am giving this to my daughter-the next writer in our family to read.

      I know that when I finished my first (120pg) novel in 8th grade it didn’t matter if it was good or bad, the daily writing habit of it has stayed with me for life. Although it lives in a sock drawer, the sense of feeling like a writer for finishing it has also stayed with me. It is never to early to start and to keep at it!

    • Great article Leo! I gave it a thumbs up and review on Stumble.

      The best part is “Don’t get discouraged.” So many teachers, friends, or parents have a certain idea of what writing is and want to force that on new writers. I’ve found from reading Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg that writing is for everyone and to never limit yourself because of inner or outer critics. Writing can be fun, freeing, flowing, fantastic, and fantastical. My hope is that young writer embrace the wonders of writing and discover their own unique writing voice.

    • Adam says:

      A few comments:

      Mary, in response to your first comment about Anna, I was in a similar situation back in my junior high days. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and enjoyed writing. For my grade 9 English class, there was a substantial creative writing component. The challenge was that they wanted a certain number of pieces. Well, suffice it to say that I was into writing longer form stories (40+ pages), and writing 15 of those wasn’t going to work in the time allotted. What I was able to do was negotiate with my teacher to accept the longer form stories in lieu of several shorter form stories. I think the two I had submitted ended up counting for 9 or 10 of my requirement, and I completed other short form pieces for the remainder.

      Leo, I also think the blogging component is huge. I’m blogging on non-fiction topics, even though I’d love to get into fiction. The thing is, just getting a chance to write anything is great practice. You gain greater facility with vocabulary and a different perspective, not to mention the opportunity to practice things such as tone and voice.

      As mentioned by several people in the comments section, the key is consistency. I largely got out of writing in high school and university, and it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve been getting back into writing. Hopefully I’ve still got many years to come!

    • One great way to develop writing skills is to keep a diary. There are many other wonderful reasons for it, too, which I share, along with tips on how to do it, in “10 Reasons to Keep a Diary” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/16/10-reasons-to-keep-a-diary/

    • Monica says:

      Leo– thanks:

      I’m forwarding this on to my 12 year old writer/blogger!

    • meghnak says:

      This indeed is a wonderful reading which I thoroughly enjoyed. You have given a lot of useful advice here for all young writers.

      I’m a 13 year old aspiring writer and an avid reader. I am glad to notice that I already follow almost all those you said, unknowingly and am overjoyed to know that I’m moving in the right direction.

      I write poems, short stories, fiction, humor, horror, blog posts, about my experience and whatever I feel like. I write regularly and am also managing two blogs which are read by many and found to be popular amongst youngsters and elders alike.

      But the best thing I’m doing is reading and following experienced writers like you and try to IMPROVE with every piece of writing. I hope I can learn a lot in the coming years and achieve my goal.

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful article.

    • Hi Brad!
      That’s an impressive array of skills! Next time I have a coding question, I’ll consult you.

    • Scott McIntyre says:

      Thank you for the comprehensive advice, Leo.

      As part of my exploration of genres in writing, I’ve created a few short stories for children which were published low key.

      The aspect I enjoyed most about this style of writing is the permission it gives you to occasionally ‘switch off’ from conventions and explore the improbable- then tie it all together with an underlying sense of reality.

      Being attuned to the particular needs of the specific age group you are writing for is important.

      Younger readers enjoy fantasy and can make sense of reality, if it’s packaged to their level of understanding.

      Likewise, older children’s need to read comes from a somewhat deeper level.

      As with any audience, it’s good to get feedback on your content from the reader themselves.

      And, with younger people, it’s often very illuminating when you either read a story out loud to them, or allow them to read what you’ve written privately.

      They are the frankest, the most honest and, sometimes, the harshest critics around- but, ultimately, a wonderful source of inspiration.

    • J.D. Meier says:

      I think the toughest part is making it a daily habit. It’s also the most important part. I think it’s tough to be bad at something you work to improve at daily. A little goodness over a long time adds up.

    • @Mary: Thanks for the motivating comment; I was just wondering if that person you asked was me (I can code HTML, PHP, MySQL) but I just realized you said that person was 13… well, that’s not me then. Glad you like my writing, though.

    • Hi Brad!
      The great thing about the blogging world is that nobody cares how old you are. I recently had a complicated question about a coding issue. I asked an experienced blogger and he put me right.
      It later turned out that he’s 13. Great, eh?

      I had a look at your blog. It’s great! I loved the story of the girl with lies and crutches and left a comment. You sure can write!
      cheers
      Mary

    • I started my blog to hone my writing skills and I never realised that I would fall in love with writing so much.
      Now I write every day and I completely love it. It is what I want to do with my life. I am glad I know this and I am only 20…I have 30 years to practice

    • My 6 year old daughter has been keeping a journal for the past year. It’s amazing to see her progression as her writing and illustrations advance from scribbles to details depictions of her experiences.

      As a child I was always encouraged to read – it could be whatever I wanted as long as I describe to my parents what the subject matter was. This enabled to branch out to different areas of interest that normally I would not have approached if my parents had recommended them to me.

    • writer dad says:

      Trying different forms is good advice. I enjoy writing everything. My daughter is six, and she’s really into writing books right now. She writes everything on white paper, folded in half, then she staples the pages together. It’s really awesome. I can’t wait for her to have her own little wee-blog.

    • Ooh, I think I do come into the young group (I’m 11) and I already use some of these tips, but it’s still a great read! I’ve been blogging for three years now (started when I was 8) and I have to say these tips are definitely useful for all age groups. Well, most of them…

    • Love the post, Leo!

      I’ve got a young friend who is a talented writer. She’s 13. I notice that one of the blocks to her developing talent is that the school isn’t fostering her writing.

      Anna tends to write long stories with language that touches all the senses. She wrote one of the stories in the first person. It was about a girl who was physically assaulted by her father. And her drug addict mother just stood by. It was pure invention! But the English teacher looked at Anna’s mother askance next time she came to school and began to probe Anna about her family life. This is how good Anna writes!

      The teacher said to Anna that her pieces were too long and that her language was too rich and colorful. Can you believe it?!
      I said to Anna, “Don’t believe her. She’s just envious of your talent!”

      My point is that adults who want to foster young writers have to take the time to read and discuss every story that they write. And to affirm their talent over and over, so that it isn’t squashed by people who wouldn’t spot a good writer if they tripped over one.

    • Even though I am not in the ‘young’ age group you are talking to, I really enjoyed the tips you’ve presented. I think that going back to the basics is always a good way to refresh and revitalize your writing abilities.

      You’re a great teacher and you write in a very clear and easy to understand manor. This is a great addition to the Write to Done archives. 🙂


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