2017 Young Writers’ Award Judge Polly Shares her Experience as an Author

February 08, 2017

 

Polly Holyoke Young Writers' Awards judge 2017

One of the best parts of being a published author is having opportunities to encourage young people to write. When I was young, I attended a school with a wonderful writing program. It was actually cool to be a writer there. I remember receiving more compliments from teachers and friends for having a story published in our literary magazine than I did for playing well on any of my sports teams.

Writing and reading were so much a part of the school culture, my best friend Laurie and I decided to write our own book in study hall when we were in fifth grade. It was an exciting tale about two little girls (who looked remarkably like Laurie and myself) outwitting thieves who had come to a ranch to steal some prize quarter horses. I used to hate the boring study hall, but during the magical weeks we worked on our book, I loved it! While we were writing, it was almost as if Laurie and I were living the adventures we described in our sixty-seven-page opus.

Rustlers of the High Mountains was never officially published, but I will never forget the joy creating our first real story gave us. Because I wish more young people had a chance to experience that joy, I often visit schools and encourage students to write. I talk about young authors like Jake Marcionette , a twelve-year-old boy who wrote a book about his misadventures as a middle schooler. Just Jake was published in 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap and became a New York Times bestseller! I remind students that people also get paid well to write television shows and movies. Many of our current jobs will disappear as people and technology advance, but we will always need storytellers.

The sad reality is, despite heroic efforts by hardworking teachers, writing isn’t cool at most schools. Because state governments are trying to improve education through constant and relentless testing, teachers have started concentrating on expository writing to the exclusion of creative writing. I’m afraid that emphasis is murdering students’ interest in my field. I agree that being able to form a cohesive, convincing argument is a tremendously important lifetime skill. But when expository writing is taught at the expense of writing creatively, we are ensuring that millions of American students will see writing only as drudgery.

When schools force teachers to neglect creative writing, they are also losing a valuable way to increase their students’ writing fluency. I love teaching writing workshops. At almost every school I visit, the teachers are surprised when several of their “non-writers” produce pages of writing for me in just fifteen minutes because I’m allowing them to write on topics that fire their imaginations, like werewolves, robots and princesses.

I’m convinced we need to find ways to make writing more cool and fun for young people. That is why I was so pleased when Belinda Southgate, head of US Marketing for Explore Horizons tutoring centers, asked me to judge their 2017 Young Writers’ Award. Hundreds of young people around the Dallas, Ft. Worth area are going to have a chance to write a story about the future. I hope that many will experience the magic I first felt in fifth grade… the magic of creating characters and sending them off on amazing adventures.

By the way, if you do know any eager young authors, here are some practical writing tips you can pass on to them. There are three pieces of advice I often give to writers I meet at schools or who write to me.

  • First of all, they need to read as much as they can. Every time a young person reads a book, he or she learns new words, and words are the building blocks of stories. Reading also exposes young people to fundamental aspects of writing including plot structure, characterization and setting.
  • Secondly, I urge young people to write as much as they can. They can keep journals and diaries or post articles about their passions and hobbies on blogs. Young writers can also share their stories and novels through online writing sites or have their work published in magazines and journals. There are even writing camps now for teens around the country.
  • Finally, young writers need to unplug from all their enticing and distracting electronic gadgets like cellphones, games and computers to spend time daydreaming each day. Daydreaming is an undervalued skill in our society, but emptying one’s mind and letting one’s thoughts drift is a wonderful way to practice creativity.

To enter in the Explore Horizons Young Writers Award 2017, complete our online form.

 

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