Aspiring young writers

Naomi's tips for aspiring young writers:

Get a notebook. Choose a notebook or journal that inspires you. This will give you the added motivation you need to write every day.

Ban distractions. Turn off the TV and cell phone, and step away from the computer (unless you are using it to write!), then find a quiet place to work. Yes, if you are serious about writing and drawing, it is "work"!

Set aside "creative time." Write or draw at the same time every day, if possible. This will help you to develop a routine. It's like practicing a sport or preparing for a dance or music recital: You must dedicate yourself to getting better, which means doing it every day in your quiet space, even when you don't feel like it.

Get inspired by your life. If you want to write but don't know where to begin, start by taking a look at what you do and who you see...every day! There are stories ideas all around you! Think about the people you know: They could be characters in your story. What makes those people interesting? Write your observations in your notebook, and be as detailed as possible. Also think about experiences you've had with your friends and family, at home and at school: What happened? Did someone say something interesting, memorable, or mysterious? Can you remember quotes or jokes? Write your recollections down in your notebook, and then come back to those notes when you are ready to write.

Read, read, and... read! What types of books do you like to read, and who are your favorite authors? Make a list, and then let your favorite books and authors be your writing teachers! The more you read, the better your writing will be. As you are reading, listen to writer's voice-read passages aloud. You'll want to hear how the words sound and work together on the page. Think about how the story is structured, too. Is the story told as a flashback? Does the story jump around in time? How does that structure make the story or book effective-why do you want to keep reading? Ask yourself what you can learn from the writer's style, and the way the story has been told. Then give yourself writing exercises: If you could write an alternate ending to your favorite book, what would it be like? If you could introduce a new character, what would he or she be like? Thinking about what you like about your favorite books will make your own writing stronger.

Start simply. Your story is like a house: You are going to craft something solid and secure, with many interesting, one-of-a-kind rooms! Start with an outline: How would you like your story to begin? Do you have an idea of what will happen to your characters during the story? You'll want your house to have a grounded foundation-that means your story should have a clear theme and plot, and that your first paragraphs should be easy to understand yet interesting. You'll want to lure your reader in, and keep him or her reading, traveling into the many "rooms" you have created! Your outline is your blueprint as you build your story from the ground up.

Revise, revise, revise. It is rare to write a perfect, publishable first draft. Be prepared to write and revise, write and revise, and, yes, write and revise some more! Learn to like that process, and remember that the more you delete and rewrite, the better your story will be! Don't be afraid to cross out entire sentences (or even paragraphs) to make room for more clear and polished sentences and paragraphs.

Forget "failure." Every writer gets discouraged-the key is to beat back that feeling and keep writing. Some of your favorite writers received countless rejection letters before finally getting published. If you're stuck, take a break, and then come back to your story the next day. Sometimes you just need distance for a new idea to emerge. Persistence is key.

Find an audience. Don't be afraid to show your work to friends, family, and your teachers-and ask them for feedback! What do they like about your story-and what do they think can be improved? Don't be afraid of criticism. Take the most useful comments into account as you revise.

Submit your story...but don't stop! After your story is complete (and you have checked it for spelling errors), you may want to submit it for publication. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your work in print and sharing it with others! Consider magazines or literary journals that accept stories by kids. Write a short, one-page letter summarizing your work and why you think it should be published. Then send your story off, but don't relax! You have so many more stories to put on paper, and it's time to start a new project. Remember: Never stop writing!

Tips for parents:
It's important to encourage children's writing by reading to them daily, taking interest in what they want to read (no matter what that may be), and encouraging them to write daily. I wouldn't be overly focused on grammar and spelling in your child's early creative writing. I think it's valuable to encourage story-telling and the development of a narrative when a child is just getting started and testing out the creative waters. If a child feels hyper-corrected, or feels that writing is a chore or always homework (or something he or she is "failing" at), he or she may not see it as a safe place where his or her creative musings have an outlet. That will hinder experimentation, and writing is very much about experimentation. Once your child has written a story and you've pointed out what you love about the theme, characters, and plot, you can set to work pointing out, gently, grammatical or spelling issues that may need to be corrected. But, again, that shouldn't be the focus of your feedback or your critique. The focus should be on the positive, especially as your child begins to show interest in writing. It's incredibly important for kids to see writing as a safe space--yes, that writing takes work and is a craft -- but that they can trust that in early drafts, they can experiment with their writing voice and writing style. Hearing a "no" -- even for good, grammatical reasons -- could spill into some of that developing creative space and hold them back. Writing is all about having faith in the process and in yourself. As a parent, you can be such an integral and part of that process and have a hand at encouraging what may turn into a lifelong passion or profession.

About Naomi Kirsten:
Naomi is an editor at Chronicle Books. She created a book of comics when she was 8, and had her first short story published in a national magazine when she was 12. Getting published at that age was huge for her -- it made her realize that writing and working with words on a daily basis could be her future, and that what she wrote didn't have to be relegated to a journal or notebook. From then on, she knew she wanted to be a writer and editor. In high school, she continued to write features and editorials for her hometown newspaper, The Fresno Bee. Being encouraged to write as a child and young adult and seeing her words in print and read by adults had a profound impact on her. Her passions and writing aspirations had been taken seriously, and that made all the difference.

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