How to Encourage Teenage Writers
Previously published on BahaiTeachings.org
Many teenagers say they want to be writers, but how can we effectively encourage them to develop their talents and maybe even pursue writing as a career path?
Poetry, songs, comics, or stories help teens process and share their feelings and experiences growing up, and allow them to develop their perception of their own life story. As the Baha’i Writings explain, these early years are when “the mind is most questing and that the spiritual values that will guide the person’s future behavior are adopted.”
But while many people dabble in writing when they’re young, few actually stick to once they grow up. They lose interest, get discouraged, or become distracted by other aspects of life. After all, it takes more than just learning grammar to become a writer. Writing takes practice, a sense of purpose, and, although stereotypes may make you think of writing as a solitary activity, a community.
As a teenager, I was lucky to draw these from a multitude of sources: my family, online literary role-playing forums, the online fanfiction community, and National Novel Writing Month. These sources of encouragement helped me shape my aspirations as a writer — to learn more not only about the craft but about the industry and my place in it. It helped me value the input of experienced writers and see the value in writing beyond just the childhood fantasy of someday becoming a famous author.
In response to a writer’s question about how writing can contribute to the betterment of the world, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, offered the following advice: “Use your stories to become a source of inspiration and guidance for those who read them… You can show the evils that exist in society, as well as the way they can be remedied.”
As I reflect on my own experience writing for BahaiTeachings.org and other publications, learning about how to combine my spiritual values with the writing craft, I realize how valuable a space that combines all these elements of training, encouragement, community, and spiritual reflection could be for young writers.
That’s how The Young Writers’ Endeavor was born. It’s a three-week, free, online workshop for writers 12 to 18 years old, that explores specific writing genres and the spiritual values that lie at the basis of our work. I’m lucky to be working alongside an amazing team of volunteers, most of whom are college students like me. Between us, we’re studying writing, engineering, education, psychology, and music, and working as teachers, youth animators, and writers. We want to build a community of young writers who want to improve their craft and contribute to the betterment of the world. And we’re lucky to draw from the wisdom of a small cohort of Baha’i professional writers, poets, and artists who have lent their knowledge and encouragement to this project.
We see this project as the beginning of a conversation about the future of the arts. In response to a question from a Baha’i, Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1932 that, as we work to change the world, “a new era will dawn in art and literature.” Through this workshop, we hope to begin to explore what the literature of that new era will look like — and how we can develop our skills to elevate our work to that level, responding to the challenges the world faces today.
The second annual installment of The Young Writers’ Endeavor begins on June 27, 2020, and it will explore three topics: poetry, comics, and short stories. If you have any young writers in your life between the ages of 12 and 18, please encourage them to visit youngwriters.online to learn more and register! Together, we’re building a new age of art and literature, combining the diversity of skills at our disposal with the spiritual values that are the basis for a new civilization.