By Saray Rodriguez
Teen writers! You are almost to the end of the school year. I can literally hear your countdown clock ticking. Exams are looming and you can feel the promise of summer in the air. You’re exhausted. Motivation is lacking and inspiration is scarce. So close to the finish line, this period of time may prove the hardest for writing. You have come far, so you cannot give up. Acknowledge your feelings and do not let them overwhelm you. You see, the beauty of writing is that it is a flexible, multi-faceted craft. However, if you need help navigating, use this creative guide to find a way to make writing work for you.
1. Character Work
Not all growth is measured in paragraphs. Sometimes, your progress for the day can be evidenced with planning. Who is your protagonist? What do they look like? Where do they come from? Do they double-knot their shoe laces? Need help “creating” a character? Try this R.A.P. Sheet developed by #TeenWritersProject. There’s about a million questions you can ask yourself to understand a single character!
2. Plot Work
Remember the rollercoaster diagram your English teacher showed you to explain the different elements of a plot? Think about your protagonist’s starting spot. Where do they wanna go? What obstacles can prevent them from getting there? You may find that outlining these events helps to get your pen started!
What songs give off your story’s aesthetic? Combine multiple songs that may reflect your narrative for the ultimate playlist to get you inspired and focused.
4. Pinterest Board
What pictures remind you of your story? For a relaxing brainstorm session, you can compile images of the setting, characters, food, creatures, adventures, and much more.
It does not matter the medium: pencil and paper, a virtual digital canvas, or AI (technology can be really helpful!), you can design maps, draw costumes, or even depict characters!
If something is not working, find something else that does. Discover ways to make it fun. What's important is to stay consistent: Good writing may come when the muse calls, but GREAT writing can only be accomplished through discipline. As my English teacher once said, “You can see the finish line, but you don’t stop at the finish line. You finish strong.” We’re in the final countdown.
You got this!
By Saray Rodriguez
“No one will ever read this!”
The words rang in my ears. Only this time, the venom did not come from my own mind but rather from a teacher. Our argument stopped abruptly. I stood paralyzed, and I paused my arguing. The article I had worked on for the past two weeks was completely and utterly shut down.
Sharing your work is scary. Getting feedback on it can be brutal. Writers are emotional (probably more than the average human). We work on things we care about. We bleed in ink. I held my article in an important place in my heart, so those words devastated me.
In a lifetime, rejection is inevitable, but somehow, when your writing is rejected, the devastation is amplified. It took me a long time to recover from those words. They cut deep, but I knew I wanted to improve as a writer. So I penned this four-step manifesto on realistic ways to celebrate your critique so that you bounce back with grace.
1. Take a Second.
It’s going to hurt. You may need a moment to collect yourself, especially if the person giving the feedback is your teacher, editor, or has some other important role in your life. You may feel anger, frustration, or offense. Take a second to process the emotions, for they are valid: it was your craftwork they judged. But do so carefully and internally, don’t burn down bridges. They are not judging you.
2. Get an Understanding of the Rejection
As hurtful as the delivery might have been, valid points are trying to be made. As the writer, you can choose to ignore it. I felt very inclined to ignore my teacher’s comments on my article, as I felt a sense of unfairness when she singled me out from my peers and did not critique them nearly as harshly. However, I knew there was no better “revenge” or “comeback” than to write writing a stellar article.
I begrudgingly tried to understand where her comments were coming from. I understood that my teacher’s declaration that “no one would read the article” was made out of anger, so I worked hard to reconstruct my confidence in my craft.
Although I disagreed that the topic was “not relevant to the audience,” I realized she had a point in that I needed more sources.
3. Recognize the Source of Your who your Critique.
Sometimes, when we want to perfect our work, we tend to ask multiple people for their opinion. This can be a problem because opinions are subjective. They can be great on occasion when we need to collect our thoughts but keep in mind that based on the topic, some experienced voices may hold more weight than others. Even so, at the end of the day, we can all learn something from everyone.
4. Take Your Time.
Recognize you may not bounce back immediately, and that is okay. For weeks after my argument with my teacher, I hated going back to class and felt a lot of anxiety prior to that class period. Your relationship with your critic may have been impacted by what they said, and amends may not be swift.
Remember, though, that if someone took the time to critique your work and give you feedback, it is because they also want to see you grow. So take their suggestions and grow. Flourish and keep writing in spite of them.
Saray is a podcast editor for #TeenWritersProject who loves reading, writing, design, traveling, movies, and theater. She is a high school senior.
By Lakshmi Sunder
Earlier this month, I was charged with choreographing a dance set to a poem I had written. This may not sound terribly exciting, but as someone whose “dancing” consists of cat-walking to TikTok songs at 3 a.m. and doing fake interpretative dances in the school hallway, choreographing a dance was rocket science. Like all writing, I had to transform my vision into a fathomable work of art. But this time, I was a rookie who couldn’t use similes or sensory details to get my point across to dance vets.
Here’s to hoping you can learn from my blunders if you ever find yourself working with an artist from another medium. Whether the artist is a painter, a singer, an actor, or, in my case, a dancer—these five tips can get you through:
1. Conquer the Embarrassment. Me, telling professional dancers to, “collapse into fetus” or execute those “walky-walkies on arms” was laughable. I had to remind myself of the mission the other artist and I shared. For each of us, that might require finding an awkward common language between stanzas and song lyrics or playwriting and paint. You’ll laugh about it later.
2. Learn the lingo. Try to learn some medium-specific language to save time and show that you really are putting effort into the collaboration. For me, this meant learning the ten fundamental movements of modern dance and incorporating those movements into my choreography that went line by line (and often word by word) with my poem.
3. Be Organized and Prepared. It can be hard to predict what, for example, an actor performing your script might need to bring your story to life. The best thing to do in this situation is to be prepared with all the materials you have related to your piece. For me, this meant creating a shared master Google Drive that included my poem, the choreography, an audio recording of the poem, and a past video of the piece being performed. I was even prepared to relocate in case the space we needed to practice in was unavailable.
4. Share the Trust. Admit to yourself that your vision for the work may not be entirely feasible. It’s okay to let go of some of your initial plans and be receptive to advice from the artist(s) you’re collaborating with, who probably know more about their medium than you do. For me, this meant being open to choreography changes or asking for advice. At the same time, know what aspects of your show you are unwilling to alter.
5. Express Gratitude. The dancers I worked with made pirouettes from poetry. Throughout our partnership, I made sure to thank the dancers for taking the time to amplify my creative voice. Even if the other artists are required to work with you or are benefiting from it, cultivate a relationship with a foundation of appreciation and trust. Once the project is over, consider writing a personal thank you note, or having flowers. This could encourage future productions full of promise.
By Lakshmi Sunder
As with every January, these first few weeks of 2023 have been full of promise. I can practically feel the positivity radiating off the world around me—the sweat dripping off the forehead of a gym newcomer, the pristine 2023 Planners peeking out of a student’s backpack, the soon-to-be-painted canvas propped against an artist’s wall.
This phenomenon touches writers as much as it does anyone else. Each year, I make a resolution to finish the first draft of a novel by the end of the year. But most years, this resolution doesn’t turn into a reality—largely because writing goes from a practice of excitement to an encumbrance. But, below are some simple steps to keep writing from becoming another chore in 2023:
By Lakshmi Sunder
Everywhere I looked on social media over the past two months, there were posts urging people to vote in the midterms. Though I am not able to vote just yet, I have friends voted for the first time in this year’s midterms. They confronted long lines and dozens of candidate names. But I noticed the pride in my friends’ faces as they placed “just voted” stickers on their phone cases. Midterms not only mark a change in American politics, but a change in teens who are voting for the first time.
I found myself drowning in the quick-paced ebbs and flows of my social media feed in midterm season. It felt that I was constantly swallowing snippets of emotionally jarring and discouraging information—from the rejection of a mail-in ballot to the loss of a much-admired candidate. To ground myself in my state and the general country’s political atmosphere, I’ve turned to writing. That, in fact, is what I am doing right now with #TeenWritersProject’s blog.
Writing as a tool for rationalization is not exclusive to me. The value of this practice in non-writing related fields is underdiscussed, especially for the sphere of politics. However, writing is arguably the most vital skill for a campaign. It is the middleman between candidates who understand the minutiae of legislation and the everyday people who vote for them.
Writing underpins the electoral process—before candidates even declare their intentions to run and long after a person is elected. From opinionated ad campaigns to unbiased journalistic reporting, writing is the vehicle for Americans to exercise their right to vote.
So, if you’re a writer who is also vested in politics, consider a career in which you can use your writing to bolster a cause or candidate you’re passionate about. I know multiple people who have gone into writing-adjacent political fields. It’s possible! Below is a list of potential careers to get you started on your journey toward bridging art with advocacy:
While it might be difficult to get started speechwriting for electoral candidates in high school, reach out to peers rfunning for school-wide officer positions and ask if you can help with their election speeches, or join debate events like Oratory and Congressional Debate to learn how to write your own speeches. Also, check out this free Harvard course on public speaking and rhetoric.
A key part of an election is advertising. This is the reason why teenagers’ social media feeds have evolved in recent weeks to fit information about the midterms and races to watch out for. Look out for youth-led organizations who support candidates that align with your values—for example, a local city council member’s “teen team” or like organizations. Then, ask if you can get involved in a social media push by interviewing peers on why they would vote for this candidate.
Another organization that can give you experience with this is Junior State of America. This organization gives you nonpartisan discussion and deliberation skills in the realm of politics, while also providing a platform to run for state- and nation-wide officer positions or assist with another member’s election.
3. TV Writing
The first televised US debate was in 1960 (fun fact: historians pose that Kennedy might’ve won that presidential election because he looked better on television). Since then, television has only become more instrumental in documenting the outcomes of political races.
Writing, namely TV writing, holds an important space in this area. As a TV writer for political news channels, you could work to make reporting unbiased but engaging, writing scripts on the spot as votes get counted. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced environment. Talk to the broadcasting team at your school to see how you can report on school-wide news, whether that be through daily announcements or monthly newspapers.
4. Informative Writing
Information deprivation can contribute heavily to a lack of voter turnout. With the growth of social media, this problem has waned among younger generations, though this also allows election-related misinformation to pervade unsuspecting users and influence their vote.
As an informative writer for a news outlet, you could work either as a journalist gathering information on elections firsthand, or a person who puts this information in a readable and accessible format. This is likely more achievable for those just getting started in the informative writing spaces, and there are hundreds of youth-led organizations looking for content creators. You can help run our social media by creating socially relevant writing-related content that matters to you!
5. Creative writing
Perhaps my favorite way to write about the midterms is through a creative writing lens. To cope with often disheartening and never-ending news, I turn to poems that weave my own identity with society, or I build dystopian worlds that reflect the darker aspects of our reality.
Creative writing can be an excellent way to tap into the pathos of an audience, often saying more than statistics alone can. This is something that anyone can do with practice! Write a piece about a social justice topic you care about and share it at a local open mic or gather a group of peers who are also interested in “artivism” and workshop with each other.
Finally, of course, it is always an option to submit your content, essays, articles or creative works to us for publication consideration in The #TWP Quarterly, our quarterly lit zine.
By Lakshmi Sunder
Banned Books Week has been practiced since 1982. Since then, the number of books that have been censored has only burgeoned, increasing dramatically in recent years. In the first eight months of 2022, there have been 681 attempts to censor 1651 different books, more books than were censored in 2021. These books include cornerstones of American literature and history—novels like The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye, and The Diary of Anne Frank—along with more surprising texts like Harry Potter and The Lorax.
Now more than ever, it is imperative that we advocate against the censorship of books that appeal to more diverse audiences. The majority of texts that have been banned are those by authors of color and queer authors. School curricula is already lacking in its diversity, even though school is a key space to unlearn systems like white supremacy and heteronormativity, from kindergarten picture books to AP® Literature classical epics.
We cannot diversify our curricula if censoring “controversial” books (books that push against our preconceived notions) become the norm. We cannot diversify our curricula if authors and the groups they represent are being robbed of the chance to amplify their voices and become current cornerstones of literature.
While our ultimate goal should be to systemically undo censorship, there are also practices we can exercise as individuals:
1. Start a “Banned Books” Book Club. Get together with some peers and support marginalized authors who have recently had their books banned. Excellent examples include Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer (the most challenged book two years in a row), Jonathan Evinson’s Lawn Boy, and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. Meet at a consistent time (perhaps once a month) to read and discuss your thoughts on these censored texts.
2. Join Youth-led Organizations. Organizations like Diversify Our Narrative can be an excellent outlet to advocate for anti-racist curricula and schools and push against censorship. You can start a regional chapter or join one that has already been established.
3. Petition Your District Superintendents to Reconsider the Censorship of a Book. Start a social media account that promotes a petition to advocate against the banning of a specific book in your district or school. Get as many students and faculty as possible to sign the petition. Once you have a sufficient amount of signatures, reach out to your district superintendents/school heads or attend a school board meeting to campaign against this censorship.
4. Create a “Little Free Library” of Banned Books. Reach out to local social justice centers and ask if you can set up a little free library of banned and diverse books outside their facilities. Compile banned books (you can ask students at your school to donate books) and put them in a box in front of these community centers. Any passerby can take a book or add one!
5. Write a Letter to an Author of a Banned Book. Write an encouraging letter to an author of a banned book, and promote their work on social media accounts and in your community. Request to do an interview with them, and reach out to publications (especially those that support marginalized writers) to see if you could publish a review of that novel in one of their issues or on their blog. Good publications include Apogee Journal, The Acentos Review, and our very own, The #TWP Quarterly Lit Zine!
These are just small ways for you, as a literary citizen, to make a huge impact on the freedom of choice when it comes to what you let your mind explore though literature.
By Elizabeth Comas
A melody strung together with instruments of all kinds—from pianos and guitars to drums and horns. Music is a beautiful piece of art that can make us feel different emotions. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Combining performing arts and literary arts to create something inspiring! And not only that—every song is unique, with different rhythms, lyrics, instruments, voices, and moods.
Music can make us feel bigger than something that is. You ever dance to a song or nod your head to the beat? Or imagine a made-up scenario to the lyrics of the song? These small things are not appreciated that often, in fact, underground musicians don’t get too much recognition. The reality is music is all that. The people that do enjoy music or regularly listen to it outweigh the ones that don’t.
Arguably, many frown upon the idea of a career in music. They don’t see it as a “real” job. However, music brings joy to millions of people and makes us feel distracted. Sometimes, a distraction can be just what we need. I know from experience that music can save lives, especially those songs with a theme or message behind it. When I was in a rough place after my pet died, I listened to music to help me cope, specifically emotional songs. It made me feel understood and I didn’t feel as alone. It may seem contradictory to listen to sad songs when you’re sad enough as it is but for me, it gave me an outlet to feel better. I didn’t feel alone in the world. I felt connected. Music is more important than one thinks, and the amount of time spent making a melody woven with instruments is powerful.
Music also can serve as motivation to get work done, believe it or not. For instance, in a 2013 study called, “The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response,” by Myriam V. Thoma, Roberto La Marca, and Urs M. Nater, it’s stated that “Listening to music prior to a standardized stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system (in terms of a faster recovery), and to a lesser degree the endocrine and psychological stress response.” Clearly, with a reduction in stress, it can encourage people instead of just being bored in silence and make the time go by faster, stimulating the brain to work harder. There are so many benefits of music to the listeners, yet music is not appreciated enough.
Music is more than just songs. It’s words, it’s writing, it’s inspirational. It combines math, fine arts, reading, and writing. Not just one thing or two things, but multiple things. It’s beautiful.
Putting on a pair of earbuds and closing my eyes, I hear a melody. Simple, yet complex. Basic, yet elaborate. Calm yet chaotic. And for once, I can relax.
By Lakshmi Sunder
Books featuring diverse characters—POC and queer main characters—have increasingly been accepted in the mainstream and popularized through platforms like BookTok (think: The Song of Achilles or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo).
While this is an admirable step in the right direction, many of these books are ultimately tragedies. As characters reckon with their identities, they spend much of their “hero’s journey” being saved by someone else or not saved at all. Happy endings are a rarity.
It is crucial that we do not sugarcoat what it means to be marginalized, but it is just as crucial to show marginalized characters feeling joy and the typical kinds of sadness—AKA the classic pitfalls of life which are unpleasant, but distinctively not tragic. Let’s see more novels with queer teens falling in love—ones that don’t end in their deaths; let’s see more novels with POC characters that don’t only combat white aggression, or have it be combatted for them. Below is a list of ten such books:
If you have any titles, send them to us! We'd love to add them to our goodreads bookshelf!
By Lakshmi Sunder
Going back to school also means confronting the darker parts of American life, including the prevalence of school shootings and other gun-related violence.
Three days after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which took the lives of 19 students (the youngest of whom was eight-years-old) and two elementary school teachers, there was a National Rifle Association (NRA) Convention in my hometown of Houston. More specifically, there was an NRA Convention three blocks away from my high school.
Well-known names were at the convention, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz and former President Donald Trump; Governor Greg Abbott of Texas was going to attend the convention, but instead he had to go to Uvalde—about four hours west—to honor the lives lost there. He sent a video message to the convention’s attendees instead.
In anticipation of a potentially life-threatening situation on the day of the convention, May 27th, a school administrator tweeted, “Your student’s safety and well being is always our top priority…Please assist by picking up your students in a timely manner…If your student drives to school, please encourage them to immediately leave downtown upon dismissal…”
NRA attendees were also in anticipation of a potentially life-threatening situation: during Trump’s speech, there were no firearms allowed in the center.
My friends and I looked longingly out the window on the fourth floor last Friday, hands pressed against the glass to guess at what temperature protestors were braving in the Texas summer. We praised passersby who had protest posters in hand, walking towards the convention center, even as we were encouraged to stay away from it.
"She's wearing a drawstring bag and a visor. She’s ready for whatever," one of us would say.
"If anything bad happens, at least we’re on the fourth floor," said another.
It was silent for a moment.
"I wish I could go," we all said as a helicopter passed by, a banner tacked to its tail that read, “NRA Go Away.” It became clear that day that we would rather risk our lives than wait for the inevitable to happen. Hundreds of protestors felt the same. But as teens, instead, we used our voices as storytellers to share and express how we felt about what was happening a stone's throw from our high school. We wrote blog posts, articles, short stories, memories, diary entries, or poetry about that day. Most of our writings would be published. None of our experiences would be forgotten.
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#TeenWritersProject is a Dallas-based, international, nonprofit 501(c)3, tax-exempt organization committed to making writing accessible, engaging and fun for teens, especially those in vulnerable populations. Books, magazines, movies, stories, films, plays, songs, discussions, posts, writers, or anyone in the writing and publishing industries mentioned on this website or on our social media channels, may contain content, subjects, topics, or premises that may be too mature or may seem offensive for sensitive or easily triggered audiences. Please note that our mention of these aforementioned media and/or people, etc., does not necessarily constitute our endorsement, recommendation, or support.
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