For some, writing seems like a clever way teachers can torture students without the ruler. For others, like those at Western New York Young Writer’s Studio, writing is a joy.
Anna Kane, a sophomore at Wilson High School, was 4 when she realized she wanted to be a writer. Anna was watching a TV show and saw that people could submit their stories. “I just remember saying, ‘I could write something like that,’ ” Anna said. “I would draw pictures and my mom would caption them for me.”
Anna is a member of the Young Writer’s Studio, which encourages the love of writing whether it is centered on poems, articles, short stories or novels. It is a space not for grading and criticizing, but for freedom and improvement.
Since the studio found a permanent home on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore, more opportunities have become available.
“I like that we kind of created our own space,” says Cardinal O’Hara junior Mary Catalfamo. “The personality of the studio is really evident here.”
“It’s a lot more open,” said Elyse Cinquino, a sophomore at Kenmore East. “There’s a lot more freedom with it.”
Among these opportunities are author visits. K.W. Wilson, a children’s author, recently visited the elementary session at the studio.
“When we established a stand-alone location, we received some media attention that made local authors aware of us, so more are reaching out to share their experiences,” said Angela Stockman, the founder of Young Writer’s Studio. “As an organization, we’ve made that more of a priority this year, too.”
Last month, Kate Karyus Quinn, a Young Adult author published with HarperTeen, spoke to members of the secondary session.
Quinn grew up in Western New York, attending Sweet Home High School and then Niagara University. She made her decision to be a writer in second grade, and falling in love with theater only enhanced her writing abilities. Theater taught not only character motivations but also how to handle rejection, she said. Quinn attended film school in California, but after having two children, found herself back in Buffalo.
“I needed to get that creative energy out, so I started to write,” Quinn said. “For the first time, instead of just starting a book, I kept writing.”
Staying motivated can be a hard task for teen writers as well. Countless beginnings are never concluded. Many ideas are never even put to paper. For some, it’s a fear of copying someone else’s work.
“If you start comparing yourself to other writers, you might stop,” said Miranda Lefebvre, a freshman at Sweet Home. “There’s that constant feeling that you don’t want to take other people’s ideas.”
“It’s a difficult sort of thing,” Quinn said. “You don’t want to be too outside of what everyone else is doing. You have to stay within a certain box, but trends do get overplayed.”
Borrowing ideas and style from other writers is one stage of the journey in developing writing skills. It can be a daunting prospect to come up with ideas that are 100 percent original. Many teen writers publish something called fanfiction – a new genre that is written by fans of a book, movie or some other media and features characters and places from that media. More and more, teens are publishing online, and the majority of it is fanfiction.
“When I started writing online, it was kind of a weird experience,” says Emily Weich, a sophomore at Wilson High School. “I wasn’t looking for somewhere to publish my work. I thought that it would be cool to join and see what it was all about.”
A popular website for reading stories and books – both fanfiction and “originals” – is a site called Wattpad.com. Wattpad, though not strictly for teens, has an age requirement of 13, and according to the website has more than 10 million stories and millions of users.
“When I told my friends I wrote stories on Wattpad, I was shocked by how many were hiding the fact that they owned accounts too,” said Olivia Haber, an eighth-grader from Pennsylvania. “Having talent isn’t something you should be afraid of – you should embrace it. You never know; your writing just may inspire someone who needs it.”
Many writers are thriving online. Others still want the more tangible hardcover or paperback to hold in their hands and say: “Look, I wrote that!” Young writers are being published all the time in magazines, newspapers and anthologies.
“My goal ever since I was a child was to publish my writing,” said Studio member Tish Albro, a freshman at SUNY Fredonia State. “I’ve been writing a lot of poems and I’m hoping to eventually publish a book of poetry.”
The Young Writer’s Studio welcomes writing of all kinds, and encourages writers to pursue whatever it is they wish for. For many, though, publishing a book can seem like a dream.
“In the future, it would be cool to have a book published,” Anna said. “I don’t know if I’m ready for it right now.”
“I think everybody wants to publish but they don’t think they’re good enough,” Miranda said.
“It’s sometimes very difficult for teenagers to envision themselves as published authors unless they get to meet published authors in the flesh and identify themselves with those people,” Stockman said. “Otherwise, authors maintain a status where they’re similar to movie stars. It makes publishing seem out of their reach.”
Visiting authors give advice and testimony. Quinn told studio members about her publishing journey and also gave advice for getting through the process.
“I was on the Internet until my eyes were dry,” she said. “It was just so much to learn.”
It wasn’t until her third full book, “Another Little Piece,” that Quinn became published. It took two years to go through the publishing process.
Many authors have been published at a young age, and not just online. Beth Reekles, a 17-year-old Welsh girl, published an award-winning book on Wattpad and received a three-book deal with Random House. British author Samantha Shannon, 22, published her debut novel, “The Bone Season,” in August. Christopher Paolini wrote the first draft of the best-selling fantasy “Eragon” at age 15.
“Agents don’t care what your age is,” Quinn said. “I think marketing people are probably going to make a big deal that you’re a teenager.”
Melanie Izard is a junior at Sweet Home High School.