Dealing with the Young Writer

I have a friend whose young daughter is interested in fantasy comics and anime. This is not a bad thing. This friend’s daughter is so inspired by these comics and cartoons that she has decided she wants to write her own stories in these worlds. This is not a bad thing, either.

The bad thing is that I’ve read some of those stories, and they’re…pretty terrible.

She’s young, impressionable. I want to help foster her love for stories and creating worlds with words. I was like her, once, and I know how valuable it can be to have your work accepted and – yes – praised. Because when all we hear is criticism, it often leads to a quick trip to the toilet, to flush our stories and ideas down the drain forever.

I do not want to do that to this girl. Because I’ve been there, standing over that bowl of bluish water with the words of my dreams half-crumpled in my fist, wishing for all of the world that somebody would just understand me. (Cue melodramatic pre-teen angst.)

blue-water-toilet-flushing

I now wish some of my ideas were this clear…!

I’ve worked with a lot of students here at university, and I have no trouble talking with them about what works and what doesn’t in their stories. They are (usually) mature enough – both emotionally and intellectually – to understand that any critique they’re given is not a personal attack. (“You asked me for help. I am trying to help you.”)

I don’t want to dash this girl’s hopes and excitement by pulling out a red pen. But I also know that if she receives only praise for her work, that will hurt her in the long run. She needs a balance. (“I really like what you did with part A. But you might want to rethink part B.”) How do I walk that line of supporter and critic without turning this young woman off to a joy of writing?

For those of you who edit, teach, or have aspiring young writers in your family: what would be your approach to my conundrum?

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4 thoughts on “Dealing with the Young Writer

  1. Well, I did try that with my own young writer, the balance thing, but I feel that she was more injured by the criticisms that it clouded over the praises. She draws more now, and I haven’t heard anything on her writing.

    I think that all you can really do is try to keep the balance, maybe give a little more praises than criticism (if you can) so they don’t see just the criticisms. But also, I think it helps if they read more than just graphic novels. All they get is dialogue there, and they don’t really learn how to add tag lines or descriptions. That was my problem, where I would hardly describe anything and most of it was just dialogue and immediate view (not much on scenery).

    I also think that it depends on the person. If they really want to pursue writing, then a small criticism shouldn’t stop them.

    But, not to sound like a jerk, shouldn’t there be some talent as well? For all we know, she might be more inclined to be an artist, or a musician.

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    • I see your point; thanks!
      So many of us are trained to think that we’re awesome at what we do as young people (art, writing, whatever), that when we do get criticism, it can crush us. I understand that it’s important not to squelch anyone’s dreams…but I think I would have preferred if the adults I’d respected had been just a little bit more honest with me in the beginning than letting me think I was so great. 🙂

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  2. Hi Mayumi,

    I think it really depends on the capacity in which you read the stories. Does the young girl want a critique? Does her mother? Or, are they simply showing you what she wrote. My 9 year old and 7 year old are avid writers, but they are still learning and at that crucial stage of having found something they love to do. While I think their writing shows promise, of course there are places that need improvement. But now is not the time to point those areas out.

    No matter the age of your friend’s daughter, if this is her initial jaunt into the writing realm, I say hold off on the critique and simply tell her she has a great imagination. That wouldn’t be a lie, it won’t misguide her, and if she is serious about writing she will come into her own, on her own. Then the critiquing will be pivotal in her future.

    It is hard to bite our tongues when we see storytelling mishandled, but your guidance will matter more in the long run once she truly, sincerely makes that conscious decision that she is going to be a writer.

    Good luck! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kate. Those are good points I hadn’t considered. She’s not as young as your girls (she’s in high school), and I just want to save her some pain that I experienced later, when people really started critiquing my work. You’re right, though; she’s likely still too young for me to not be pulling my punches. 🙂

      Thank you!

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