Children and Teens Who Want to Write

By Candy Gourlay

I visited Ormiston Bushfield School in Peterborough
yesterday as part of the Pop Up Schools Programme.
I wore these socks.
I get a lot of mail on Facebook from young people who are trying to write. They ask me: Will you read my manuscript? Will you help me finish my book?

Sometimes, they ask me: How do I get famous?

And when I visit schools, the question always pops up: How do I get published?

These are HUGE questions.

And before anybody says anything snarky, they are all questions that once passed my own lips on my own long writing journey. They are questions that deserve to be answered with kindness and consideration.

For a while now, I've been meaning to write a blog post for young people who want to write.

Lucky for me, former Writer's Digest publisher Jane Friedman beat me to it. Here are the links:

Jane suggests that mentors can speed one's development as a writer. I am glad though that she gives the following counsel: "Don't ask a famous person to be your mentor or give feedback on your work. You don't need someone really famous."

At this point, may I apologise to all the young people who have asked me to help them with their books. I just can't do it -- not just because of the sheer number of requests I get, but because I am working full time as a children's author, writing my own books and appearing in schools. 

'Mentors speed growth,' Jane writes. And to all you grown-ups reading this: do you realise that you -- YES, you! -- may already be mentoring a young writer?

You might be the teacher whose warm encouragement has inspired a student to explore his or her writing.

You might be a librarian who suggested the book that ignited that love for words.

You might be the parent who has unwittingly nurtured a writer by relentlessly reading aloud to your children at bedtime.

If so, you too have to skill up. Your mentee is counting on you. Do bookmark Jane's article on writing advice, there is a lot of really good stuff in there, including suggesting online writing communities like Figment and Wattpad (I suggested Wattpad to a young friend the other day who was wondering if she should set up a blog to share her writing -- if you're interested in sharing your writing, that's not really blogging ).

Not everyone has the drive to write however. But everybody loves a good story. When I visit schools, children never fail to astonish me with their creativity and storytelling ability. 

Yesterday, during a visit to Ormiston Bushfield Academy in Peterborough (part of the Pop Up Schools Programme), the children planned out novels in just thirty minutes! Here are synopses of the two books we made up. If children can do this in thirty minutes, think what other magnificent things they can achieve!

Twelve year old John and his parents live on Mars. It's a settlement of refugees who have fled the toxic wasteland that Earth has become. John is the only young person on the planet and he hates it. Not only is he lonely, he is forced to wear a survival suit at all times. He would do anything to leave Mars, but where would he go? One day he  stumbles upon a six year old girl hidden in a survival unit. There is an explosion and John and the girl end up in an escape pod that slingshots them to Earth. When they emerge, they discover that Earth is no longer toxic but it has been overwhelmed by wild animals. John, who had been desperate for young company, discovers that it is a great responsibility as well as he protects his new friend (who is a bit annoying) from the wild creatures. Now he just wants to go home. To Mars.

Christopher, a BMX biker, is plagued by strange dreams of apocalyptic scenes. The dreams never change, following a series of events that end with terrible destruction. It has gotten to the point that he dreads falling asleep. He is so distraught he moves into a remote forest, to get away from the places that he sees in his dream. One day, he discovers that one of the things that happen in his dream, the one that sets off a series of destructive events, actually happens. That night, the dream changes. A man, who had not appeared in the dream before, speaks to him. He tells him that his dream of apocalypse is going to come true unless Christopher crosses into his dream and stops the events from happening. At first Christopher finds it hard to believe. He returns to the locations he sees in his dreams and something makes him realise that the man's warning is true. He also discovers that he has no choice. If he doesn't enter his dream, he will die. In the final chase scene, he uses his BMX skills to escape the dream baddy.

With thanks to the children and staff of Ormiston Bushfield who made me welcome. And to Pop Up for having me on the programme. Thanks to Kyhiro for the badass apocalyptic creative commons image.