The Importance of Mentoring Young Writers by Marcha Fox
I wrote my first story when I was in 1st grade. I had a scrap with my best friend, which I wrote up as a play-by-play narrative with illustrations. I made it into a tiny book, which I stapled together. By sixth grade, I’d graduated to science fiction stories written on yellow lined paper. These early masterpieces explained my teacher’s extraterrestrial origins. Writing stories came naturally. I was an only child whose best friends were books from an early age. Fortunately, my mother read to me, allowing me to learn to read before kindergarten. I remember sitting in first grade, mystified why other kids found “See Alice run” difficult.
Throughout elementary school I loved reading assignments and book reports. Essay questions, dreaded by others, were a breeze. Oddly enough, I wasn’t the star of English class. Grammar rules and diagramming sentences never made sense, even though I could easily commit my thoughts to paper. As a kinesthetic learner, examples of correct versus incorrect were most helpful. But never once was my nascent writing talent recognized or encouraged by a teacher. As far as I knew, there was nothing special about my ability.
Senior Lit in high school opened the world of symbolism and metaphorical meaning. Writing techniques I learned in that class have served me well to this day, such as not using the same noun, verb, adjective, or adverb twice in a paragraph. I loved books more than ever, and wanted to write one, but had no idea how. I’m sure if that teacher knew I’d eventually written several novels he’d be shocked.
Over the years, I edited and wrote numerous newsletters for several non-profit organizations. Everyone loves a volunteer who can write! I eventually became a stringer for a smalll-town newspaper, writing a weekly column of local happenings and numerous feature articles. To my delight, some made the front page! I felt like a real writer at last!
Eventually, I became friends with someone who was writing a novel. As her beta reader, I loved participating in the creative process. Writing a book became less intimidating–you did it one page, then one chapter, at a time. I had an idea and ran with it. From there, I attended workshops, took a few college courses, and read books about writing. Finally, I was doing what I’d dreamed of my entire life!
This was in the 70s when there were basically two publication choices, traditional and vanity. I ran the gamut of queries, sample chapters, and rejection letters, but eschewed the vanity route. When self-publishing became an option, I was on it like a duck on a June bug. Finally, I could get my novels before the world! At long last, I felt like an author! Sadly, I was retirement age. The journey had taken a lifetime. How different it would have been if I’d had a mentor.
It was tickled beyond belief when one of my pre-teen granddaughters wrote a book on Wattpad via her phone, of all things. Someone in my family had finally gotten some of my writer’s genes! I’m sure it didn’t hurt that her maternal grandmother had a journalism degree, doubling the odds. Then, last summer, I had the privilege of being a guest author at a middle school at the behest of their librarian, who just happened to be one of my most enthusiastic fans. One young boy I’ll never forget. Not only had he read all my books, but was writing his own! I was as excited to meet him as he was to meet an author! Thanks to Wattpad, these budding authors have a means for sharing their creative efforts. How I would have loved such an outlet at their age!
Today’s aspiring young writers are tech-savvy and probably aware of the options available. What concerns me are the ones who aren’t, or lack the confidence to try. This is where some direction and encouragement from a teacher or parent can mold a child’s future. While this is most easily achieved by English and Language Arts teachers, Social Studies and various other classes can do so as well. Reading and writing are essential to learning any subject. Encouraging a love for both can be life-changing.
How can you mentor a young writer? Here are some suggestions to get you started.
- Praise works wonders. Don’t underestimate how much a personalized comment in addition to a grade means.
- Give students a “What if?” premise,g., “What if a(n) ________ and a(n) __________ went to __________ and then ______ .” Reward students who really get into it.
- Make sure your school or local library has some books about the novel writing process.
- Point out plot development fundamentals and the components of the beginning, middle, and ending in existing reading assignments.
- Demonstrate character development by having class members list the traits of a familiar character.
- Define conflict, e., man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. self, using examples from popular movies or television programs.
- Introduce the archetypal “Hero’s Journey”.
- Teach proper dialog punctuation, e.g., commas, not periods for statements; don’t close-quote dialog continuing to the next paragraph; new speakers require a new paragraph.
- Accept book reports for extra credit.
- Invite a local author to speak on a regular basis, conduct a workshop, or help with a contest.
- Start a class newsletter written and edited entirely by students.
- Have an extra credit writing contest, journalistic or creative.
- Reward whoever identifies mixed metaphors or other grammar-related goofs.
- Identify humorous grammatical faux pas in a construed story or article.
- Start a story, then have each student add a sentence.
- Journaling is a great exercise in self-expression with numerous side-benefits. (Helpful for all, but often recommended by counselors.)
- Writing is a valuable skill. Encourage aspiring writers to become journalists or technical writers while they pursue their dream of being the next J.K. Rowling.
Just imagine how thrilled you’ll be if they actually are famous some day, and you can say you “knew them when.”
* * *
Marcha Fox is the author of the Star Trails Tetralogy Young Adult Science Fiction series. At the age of 35, she returned to college to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in physics and a minor in English at Utah State University. A 20-year career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas followed, where she worked in positions including technical writer, engineer, and eventually manager. Inspired by science fiction as a child to pursue work in a technical field, she hopes to instill the same fascination in young readers by including a hefty dose of accurate science in her stories, written in the tradition of classic hard science fiction.
Born in Peekskill, New York, she has lived in California, Utah, and Texas in the course of raising her family of six children. Now retired in the Texas Hill Country, besides writing, she pampers her two Bengal cats and a sassy tuxedo while trying to keep up with her friends and family, which includes seventeen grandchildren and at last count, five great-grandchildren.