Mini-Edition: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Writer + Congratulations and Small Smiles
What a high school writing camp meant to me, congrats to our very own ALA Youth Media Award winners, + some small things making me smile
My dear readers & writers,
When I was sixteen, my mother handed me a circled ad from the newspaper, a small paragraph about a teen writing camp.
In hindsight, I usually refused writing programs because it meant having to share my work, which meant that a perfect, crystalline thing I had created would swiftly have its flaws revealed. Flaws I could not bear because I was unable to separate the art from the artist. Plus, my fantasy of being “discovered” and published at a ridiculously young age (no editing required, of course) would deflate quickly in the harsh light of reality. So my first instinct was to say no.
But she’d underlined the word “songwriting.”
At the time, while I wrote poems and stories, I was also beginning to discover singer-songwriters and had begun writing my own songs which I would practice at every opportunity: in the shower; on the walk home from school; anytime I thought I was alone but was, in actuality, driving my family insane.
As someone who’d played instruments growing up, I had a little more clarity about my songwriting work: I understood there was a lot I didn’t know. Whereas with other forms of writing, it was easier to live in a kind of blissful ignorance that what I was writing was raw but also perfect. Saying yes to a songwriting camp didn’t feel as hard as admitting my prose might need work.
So, with much encouragement from my mom and much eye-rolling on my part, I applied. And, for whatever reason, I got in.
Have you ever had a trip that left such a big impression that you’re not sure you’d be the same person without it? That was me and the Young Writer’s Workshop (YWW) at UVA. I wasn’t a camper — I was a writer surrounded by other writers. We were all weirdos who didn’t quite fit in back home because we sang to ourselves or wrote stories instead of going to parties or dressed/expressed ourselves differently or loved something or someone we weren’t supposed to. And there we were, being treated like young adults with value and valuable words to share. We were taught by professional writers, but also encouraged to write haikus on the paper placemats of the local Waffle House or conduct singing circles in graveyards.
I attended YWW for three summers. I learned I could stand up and sing or poetry slam or read my stories in front of people, if I screwed up my courage enough. I learned to read another person’s work, and my own, with an eye towards improvement. I read and listened to things by great writers and artists. I fell in love. I became more independent. I built songs and stories and friendships.
Those lessons and friendships have circled back through my life in more ways that I can count. Most meaningfully in recent years, eight years ago, author Annie Cardi, who writes funny, heart-breaking, snappy YA fiction, reached out to me in a professional capacity about a book launch for The Chance You Won’t Return before we realized we had in fact been suite- and classmates at YWW. She is now an indelible part of my writing (and DnD!) life.
We find each other, us wayward creative children, even years later, and have this instinct to connect and protect each one another.
One of my professors once told me: you can’t write in a vacuum. It took me years to realize how critical and precious writing communities are. And admit to myself what a privilege it was to be able to attend such a program. My family had the means to send me to writing camp and I had their support in finding my creative voice. Many creatives have to fight much harder to be heard.
If you feel alone in your writing process, especially if you’re just starting out, please reach out. I hope you can find community in this newsletter and I’m happy to point you to other great, accessible resources.
The world is waiting for your story.
And if you have a creative young person in your life looking for a safe haven, I cannot recommend Young Writer’s Workshop enough. They’re still running, just now on the Sweet Briar College campus, and are currently accepting applicants for summer 2022. I get nothing for promoting them; I just frickin’ love the work they do and the lives they change. They changed mine.
Share your formative writing/creative experiences with me or in the comments!
I am over the moon that two former clients and fans of the newsletter, Andrea Wang and Rajani LaRocca are award winners at this years ALA Youth Media Awards. Congrats to Andrea and illustrator Jason Chin on their Caldecott Award, Newbery Honor, and 2022 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature Picture Book for Watercress. Congrats to Rajani on her Newbery Honor for her middle grade novel, Red, White, & Whole.
Both of these authors have been featured in Book Marketing Now! Learn how Andrea Wang went from personal story to this (Caldecott-winning!) picture book and how Rajani LaRocca published SIX BOOKS in 2021, including this Newbery Honor.
My daily breakfast of almond butter oatmeal
Doing Lego sets as a family
The fact that it is getting lighter out everyday
Re-watching The Good Place
Finally getting my copy of Leviathan Falls (!!)
The Last Graduate finally coming up in my library e-book queue!
Finally cleaning off my desk (well, it was clean for at least a day!)
The dulcet tones of Noah Kahn
Stay warm and keep dreaming!