If you’re a teen who loves to read, you have the foundation for being an excellent writer. One of the best ways to develop your craft is to join — or start — a writing group.
Writing is a solitary activity, so building a community is a wonderful way to connect and collaborate. I love the inspiration that I get from my writing group and from working with teenage writers through the mentoring organization Girls Write Now. In addition to matching adult writers with teenage girls who love to write, GWN hosts monthly genre-specific writing workshops, similar to writing groups.
Professional writers use groups to workshop their novels, memoirs, and screenplays. But for busy teenagers, a great way to utilize a writing group is to work on creative exercises.
Get Your Group Off the Ground:
- Who: Round up a great group of people who love to write and want to get better at it. In my experience, four to eight people is an ideal number.
- What: What kind of group do you want? Are you focusing on fiction or nonfiction? Long-form projects or exercises? If the latter, will these exercises be done in-group or as homework?
- When and Where: Pick a regular meeting time and place. Writing takes practice, and without a scheduled commitment it’s easy for a group to fall apart. Weekly or biweekly meetings keep the momentum going. Is there a room at school that you can use? Is one person’s house conveniently located? Or is there a pizza place or bookstore café where you can buy snacks and spend an hour or two?
- How: Decide if there will be a group leader. Small groups might not need a leader, but in larger ones it may make sense to put one person in charge. This can be a rotating position.
- Confidentiality: It’s very important that your writing group be a safe space. At your first meeting, establish the rules — namely, that whatever is shared will remain in the room and without judgment; there’s a difference between feedback and judgment.
Kickstart Your Creativity:
Now let’s talk exercises. The idea behind these is to get the creative energy flowing with a single topic — or “prompt” — that everyone interprets in a unique way. It’s a lot of fun to hear the wildly different directions people take with a single premise.
If you do these during your sessions, you might set a time limit of 15 minutes to give everyone a chance to share.
Here are some ideas to get you started; many can be adapted for fiction or nonfiction:
- Opening Lines: Pick a sentence from a book or news article and have everyone use it to start their story.
- Overheard: Between meetings, jot down funny lines that you overhear in public; use one of these as a launching point.
- Photograph: Have someone bring in a photograph, not of someone you know. Everyone writes a story based on the image.
- Round Robin: This is a fun, collaborative exercise. Set a timer for three minutes or so and have each person begin a story or opinion piece. When time is up, pass the story on to the next person, who writes for three minutes. This keeps going until each writer has worked on each story. If you need inspiration, pick a theme like Halloween, music, rumors, or birthdays.
- Pen Pals: Everyone writes a letter from a famous character — anyone from Huck Finn to Katniss Everdeen to Paddington Bear to Juliet Capulet — without signing his or her name. The rest of the group has to guess the character.
- OpEd: If your focus is nonfiction, write about what matters to you. Animal rights, gender equality, reality TV — anything you feel strongly about is great fodder for an essay or journalism piece.
In order to get better at polishing your work, take your favorite exercises-in-progress and flesh them out between meetings. You can then share these with the group for more feedback.
These are just some ideas to get you started; in fact, there are endless possibilities for creative writing prompts and for how you structure your group. So use your imagination, have fun, and get writing!