Friday, November 6, 2015

How to support the young writer in your life

Recently a Quora question went around where a mother asked how she should approach telling her fifteen year old daughter she was an "awful" writer. The person who answered, Nina Mason, and everyone who shared the post all seemed to agree - YOU DO NOT. Nina's answer went into ways a parent can support a young writer but I thought it would be beneficial to get a little more specific.

How can you support the young writer in your life?

First and foremost, remember that most teenagers are not objectively good at most things. A fifteen year old soccer player is not as good as a twenty year old soccer player and a fifteen year old writer is going to suffer the same predicament. That doesn't make any particular fifteen year old a bad writer. It makes them a fifteen year old writer. With support, when that teenager is thirty, they'll have a minimum of fifteen years experience. So DON'T read critically unless you're asked for specific feedback, and even then - be gentle. In addition to limited experience writing, the young writer also lacks experience in taking feedback.

This leads to my next point - don't judge the reading materials of a young writer. Don't sneer at their paranormal romances or John Green novels. A good writer is a voracious reader and a voracious reader might hop from The Hardy Boys to Stephen King, make a right turn at Salinger and dive into Twilight. If you're a parent, you might want to discuss the topics in the books and be sure your child is ready for them, but don't be a snob. Shaming a kid for reading the things they enjoy isn't going to help them develop better tastes, it's just going to make them think you're lame (and if you're book snobbing to teenagers, you are lame).

If you are lucky enough to read the work of a young writer understand the bravery involved in handing work over to an adult. Understand that your response will be a story they tell for the rest of their lives. So many writers have stories about teachers, parents, and other adults making them feel like something was wrong with them. If the young writer in your life writes about drugs, sex, or violence, don't panic. Don't demand to know where they got those ideas (the news, probably).  Be the person who makes them feel good about their creativity.
Most of your support will be silent. Don't take them away from their reading. Keep them stocked in pens and spiral notebooks. Make sure they have a library card. Call them "a writer", encourage them to identify that way. Tell them about writing contests you hear about.

When it comes time to give your young writer gifts, give them Strunk & White; Eats, Shoots, and Leaves; On Writing; The Gift. Encourage a love of language with a nice dictionary set, or books about language like Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue or David Crystal's The Story of English in 100 Words.

Be on their side. Writing is a lonely endeavor and we all worry we suck. Be the person they thank in the acknowledgements.


Dana King said...

Well put, Renee. If I could add a couple of books I have found valuable, also consider John McNally's Vivid and Continuous and Self-Editing for Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (no relation).

scott adlerberg said...

Indeed, nicely said. Pretty much everything you said applies (even more so) to a 10 year old writer, which is who I have in my house.