How Librarians Kindle Creative Sparks in Young Writers
I don’t remember the first person who saw something in my writing. I can’t recall the first time I volunteered to share a story in class, or even the moment I had the impulse to put pen to paper on my own. And yet, the cumulative impact of these instances and others like them is clear: I was affirmed as a writer from a young age.
Inside and outside of school, I grew into this identity. I raised my hand during English class, I joined my high school newspaper and relished the extracurricular “Write-Off” competitions, and as I became more confident, I even asked my parents if I could sign up for a creative writing workshop offered as an extension course through a local university. It was there that I had another first: I found myself surrounded by fellow aspiring novelists, screenwriters, and playwrights… all about a decade or two older than my teenage self.
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But even if I was a novelty to some of my fellow students, I still found camaraderie and useful feedback in that small meeting room. More than anything, it was just meaningful to be in a setting where the potential in my writing was recognized and encouraged.
Years later, as a teen librarian, this was the same ethos I wanted to uphold by creating a monthly writers and artists’ group for teens. A quick search for successful examples of similar programs led me to discover that I was far from alone. Across the country, librarians like me were providing a vital creative outlet for teens and tweens with an interest in expressing themselves. Plus, unlike my eccentric class of yore, these forums were with their own peers. And also: free!
But those are just a few of the many reasons why teen writers and the grown-ups who support them should look to their local libraries as ideal spaces for creative sparks to be kindled.
Here are three more:
1. Accountability — Writers of any age can benefit from peer support and goal-setting. That’s why writing groups are a thing in the first place, even when the act itself can be so solitary. It’s also why the marathon sprint that is National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a, NaNoWriMo) has become such a phenomenon worldwide.
For teens, whose lives as students involve constant battles with time management and competing due dates, there is an additional advantage that comes with the structure of participating in a writing group: it demands time and space be dedicated to their self-driven interests. This elevated status can be a powerful motivator for teens themselves and also make it easier for parents to prioritize time spent writing in the same way they might time spent practicing a new language or learning a musical instrument.
2. Validation — As a librarian, I discovered how many teens valued online writing platforms like WattPad and fan fiction.net. There, they found not just solidarity but enthusiasm, sometimes even a full-fledged following, for their work with fans eager for the next chapter or adventure featuring new or familiar characters. This lively — and largely LGBTQ+ friendly — subculture has even inspired fiction of its own with young adult authors tackling tropes like slash fiction (same-sex pairings of canonically straight characters) and online fame vs. offline obscurity in books like Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Francesca Zappia’s Eliza and Her Monsters.
So, where do libraries come in? Just like meetups and fandom conventions, real-life groups can emulate and harbor the same crackling energy that fuel these online communities. In other words, within the safe context of a library, creative teens can meet and cheer on other like-minded creative teens. They can exchange writing routines, reading recommendations, tips for getting out of a slump, and celebrate breakthroughs when they happen. For teens unsure of how their school friends’ or families’ might react to their writing, these supportive forums can be especially meaningful.
3. #Future Goals — Whether teens have dreams of getting published, using writing as a stepping stone to college, or are in search of a space they can stand up and read their work in public, libraries can provide. Some will spotlight teen writers by hosting zine collections, open mic nights, or competitions (the Oakland Public Library even created the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program as a distinguished literary title and scholarship opportunity for local youth!) Other libraries open doors to teens by seeking out and sharing opportunities outside of the library. Teen Ink, a long-running print and digital magazine devoted entirely to teen-created writing, art, and photos, is distributed in classrooms and libraries across the country and could very well serve as a first byline. Similarly, the librarians who lead these groups can make for dynamite references. After all, guiding teens towards pathways that connect their interests with future possibilities is not just a professional perk but a key part of our job description.
Really, every aspect of a teen writing group from the social to the scholarly aligns with the mission of teen librarians to provide young adults with the assets they need to develop into the best version of themselves… and (who knows?) perhaps a new hit YA novel to grace our shelves.