In addition to working with adult writers and being an author in my own right, I teach teen writing camps and classes. These groups are special to me because I often see bits of myself in various young writers. I remember being that cocky, self-assured writer who thought that she knew everything and was alive and electrified with the sheer power of WORDS. I also remember feeling overwhelmed, writing my way out of dark moments and using poetry to try and make sense of the world. And yes, I remember wanting so badly to communicate with people, to let them know I was ready to be an adult.
There are as many reasons writers of any age take up pen or keyboard as there are writers. A love of reading, which may spark fan fiction because the characters are so ALIVE in the fan writer’s imagination. The burning desire to tell stories, because characters keep whispering that they want to live and breathe and act. A need to be remembered by generations in the future, that the writer himself lived and that life meant something. A personal cause the writer wants to highlight and bring awareness to. Even just the desire to entertain others.
But once you start writing, something changes. Often, you find that the pieces you create help you psychologically, whether you ever show it to anyone else or not. It becomes a positive coping mechanism. This works for fiction as well as nonfiction writing.
Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.”
Fiction allows us to feel these feelings – grief and otherwise – in a safe environment. It isn’t US going through the aftermath of some kind of trauma, or navigating a first love, or trying to figure out where we fit in the world. It’s someone else. Some guy who’s going through something maybe a little bit similar. Or some gal who’s our complete opposite – allowing us to escape our problems in a psychologically specific way.
I wrote my first novel in high school. It was horrible. I knew I wanted to tell a mystery, but I didn’t have much of a clue myself how to do it. So there were a bunch of characters bumbling around acting and talking pretty much like my actual friends.
But then one of my favorite teachers died. I had been a journalism student since freshman year, and she was the advisor, and she had helped me get a perspective on both writing and life. The concept of death terrified me at the time, and I was just a student. I didn’t go to the funeral. I’ve always regretted that. I had NO IDEA how to cope. I wrote a bunch of poems about death and dying. And then a year or two later, I wrote a short story that won the contest at the Golden Triangle Writer’s Guild conference, and was subsequently published in Byline magazine. There was power to it, and truth, looking at the horror of cancer from the sidelines, in the POV of a character who feels powerless to help anyone.
It took me a good decade to recognize WHY that story was so powerful, when many of my other fictions failed to connect with readers. But it was because it was honest. It was me, processing uncomfortable emotions on the page. We talk a lot about catharsis in the re reader – but it happens in the writer too.
This makes writing a lifetime sport. It can become a daily practice, as natural as breathing, or something sporadic, when ideas hit and need to be followed up on. Either way, writing reduces stress, keeps the brain active, helps with vocabulary building and teaches empathy.
In writing my Chocoverse books, which are over-the-top space opera, I found that comedy had to be balanced with some deeper real meaning. These characters had to be going through uncomfortable emotional moments, dealing with authentic interpersonal relationships and psychologically realistic interpersonal conflicts. That understanding comes from a lifetime of studying craft.
I’m always excited to help new writers take their first steps on their own journey.