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Monday, May 16, 2016

Writing Advice for Middle-School Writers

Owl9710 asked: Do you have any advice for young writers like middle schoolers? I love your posts, you post such cool things for writers both young and old!

Thanks Owl! Here are my thoughts:

1. Write for fun.
I put this as the first point because I think it's the most important. If you love to write, write and have fun. Write as much as you want and whatever you want. If you want to write a nonfiction guide on keeping an aquarium, great. If you want to write fanfiction based off your favorite show or book, go right ahead. Science-fiction? Mystery? A love story? Sure. Anything you want. Explore your stories and characters. When you get closer to the professional world, writing can get more complicated and it sometimes feels like work. It's important to have lots of fun now, so that you can pull from those experiences when things get tough. You need to enjoy writing itself first. You don't have to finish all of your stories, but try to at least finish some.

2. Read for fun
Everyone who is in school has to do required reading. And sometimes you don't like the book you have to read. Hopefully you do. But whatever the case, make sure you get to read for fun. Read the kinds of stories you like to read. If that's fantasy, read fantasy. If it's comic books, read comic books. Whatever you want. It's okay to branch out a little bit too, but reading what you love will help you see what kind of stories you want to write and how other writers tell stories. I love fantasy stories that have an element of mystery in them, and I've loved them since I was a preteen. Reading them helped me get an idea of what I wanted to do in my writing and of how it was done.

But really, this idea isn't just for books (even though I have this section titled "Read for fun"), it extends to other forms of fiction telling. Watch t.v. shows (yes, I gave you permission to watch t.v.). Watch movies. Play video games (if you like video games) that have story lines or interesting worlds. All these things, and even things like listening to your favorite music, can help you learn how to write better stories. Think about what you like about your favorite entertainment. Maybe also think about what you don't like.

Growing up I read and re-read and watched and re-watched my most favorite books and t.v. shows, and not only did it help me figure out what I wanted to write, but it inspired me. And that inspiration can be a big help when you sit down to write.

3. Take a creative writing class, if available
Lucky for me, my middle school offered a creative writing class as an elective. Some of the things I learned in that class were building blocks that I took with me all the way through college and beyond. If your school has a class, look into it. If not, there will probably be one available in high school.

4. Learn from your language arts/English classes
If you're lucky, your language arts class might have a creative writing unit or some assignments, but a lot of mine didn't. That's okay. Learn grammar and punctuation and sentence structure and literary terms. It might not sound that fun and exciting, but if you know it, your writing will be much better than if you didn't learn it. Also, if you are reading novels in class, even if it's not a novel you like, try to do a good job on the assignments your teacher gives you about it. You can still learn valuable tools from looking at other books, even books you don't like.

Remember, too, that your teacher might not necessarily be a creative writer herself (or himself). I remember thinking my teachers "knew everything" about becoming an author. In reality, some of mine knew next to nothing (I later learned). They knew literature and language arts. So if they say something or give advice that rubs you the wrong way, remember that they probably aren't authors. What they may say may apply to what they are teaching, but not necessarily what you want to write and do.

So, those are the four main points I think, from most important to least important. If that's all you want to focus on, awesome. Seriously, that's perfect. But if you want more, here are some other things to consider:

5. Share your work, if you want.
You don't have to share what you write with everyone (or anyone). Don't share it with people who think writing or reading is "dumb." But maybe you have some friends or family members you feel comfortable sharing it with. In middle school, I was lucky to have a lot of friends who liked to write stories of one form or another. And a third of my band class ended up reading an ongoing comic my friend and I wrote back and forth to each other in middle school. Sharing your stories with the right people will give you positive feedback and motivate you to write more.

There are also websites, like Wattpad, where you can post your stories up online. I didn't post stories online when I was in middle school because sites like this didn't exist, but I did in high school. It felt great to have people read my work and tell me what they liked about it and that they couldn't wait to read more. A word of warning though, you will also sometimes get people who will not like your story, and they might tell you so. Some of them can be pretty harsh, so I only recommend this if you are 100% sure that such comments won't stop you from writing. Be honest with yourself. If you aren't ready, don't do it. It's not worth it. Another word of warning: some stories online are really . . . weird . . . inappropriate? So watch out for those. Most sites have a rating system. I would always stay away from the hardest ratings.

But people on these websites can sometimes give you pointers because most of them are writers too. This is the kind of advice that you might not get from friends and family.

6. Practice some basics
There are a few creative writing "rules" you will learn in just about any creative writing class. You can start practicing some of them now, if you want. One of the very most important things to learn to do in creative writing is to appeal to all five senses. This means that when you are writing, make sure to mention sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and what things feel like. Doing this helps put your reader into the story.

Another one of the first rules you will learn is "show, don't tell." This means that instead of just telling us that "Suzy was tired," you show us by having her yawn and rub her eyes. Instead of telling us Scout is a disobedient dog, you show us by having him dig holes in the backyard, jump on people's laps, eat food out of the garbage, and barking in the middle of the night.

You don't have to do these rules all the time for everything, but if you want to challenge yourself, you can try them.

7. Find resources
I remember starting college and thinking that I wanted to be an author but had no clue how to get published or where to go to even learn how to get published. I didn't feel like I was getting any professional guidance. So here are some other places you can learn about writing. All of these are geared more toward adults, but there is no reason you can't read or listen to them. Don't try to understand everything at once--it'll be too overwhelming. But just listen and read and take in what you can. It will help you get familiar with terms and give you some ideas. It's also cool to hear actual authors talk about the process.

Writing Excuses Podcast - this is a podcast run by bestselling writers, including a fantasy author, horror author, romance author, and comic writer. You might want to start with the earlier seasons, like why not season 1?

Author's Think Tank - I blog for Author's Think Tank, and so do other writers. They also have a podcast where they interview people like James Dashner (author of The Maze Runner)

Writer's Digest - This is a writing magazine. You could get a subscription to it, but you can also find writing tips on their site.

MyStoryDoctor - Has weekly writing tips.

You don't have to follow all these. You can just follow my blog, if you want. But if you want other places and more writing tips, these are some places you can check out.

Finally, a fellow author told me about this book on writing that is written specifically for middle grades. You might want to get a copy. I haven't looked at it (just found out about it), but I hear it's good. You can check it out here.

And that's it. Hope this helps.


  1. Great post, September! My middle school-aged self would have loved it.
    I can also say that Writing Magic is a great book resource. ^_^

  2. Thanks so much! This helps a lot. :)

  3. I am 38 and when I was in school I never had the opportunity to take a Creative Writing class. I here about them in my favorite shows and it makes me angry. I loved to read all my life. I just wish i can afford to take classes on Creative Writing.

    1. Hi J.C. Yeah, unfortunately they aren't offered everywhere. For adults, they can get pricey. But sometimes you can go to writing conferences and sit through a whole bunch of classes in a matter of a few days! But if that is still too expensive, there are also a lot of resources to learn from online now, and books you can buy on the topic. In any case, that's too bad you missed out on that experience.

  4. My name is J. C. Jenkins Jr and i published the last comment.


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