Writing in a library means that participants have gone out of their comfort zone to perform an intimate act of creation among both friends and strangers. It’s really quite brave!
by Ally Blumenfeld
All across the country, libraries are offering writing programs for adults and teens, ranging from formal workshops led by local writers to unrestricted opportunities to free-write. While it seems natural for writing to happen in a place with associated with reading, writing groups are about more than putting pen to paper. Writers gather to discuss the craft, give and receive feedback, and participate in the experience of sharing. Writing in a library means that participants have gone out of their comfort zone to perform an intimate act of creation among both friends and strangers. It’s really quite brave!
Writing groups can be exceptionally challenging and enriching for teens. Maddy Santore, Young Adult Librarian at Paterson Free Public Library (PFPL), told me about her experiences with getting teens writing and sharing in an urban public library.
First: it’s easier than you’d think! Maddy often begins Writing and Drawing Group meetings by offering a unique 20-30 minute prompt to get the teens thinking creatively. One time, she wrote down various places, settings, characters, and situations and had teens draw one of each at random. The challenge was to create a story or drawing using all four features; the rest was up for interpretation. One of her favorite stories was one about a superhero lost in a grocery store on Mars.
There is rich diversity among the teens at PFPL, and as in any group, a variety of comfort levels. The rules of a teen writing group should be flexible and forgiving. Teens aren’t required to share their work, though many will. “There might be one or two who hesitate,” Maddy explains, “but when they see the others sharing, they often do, too.”
The rules of a teen writing group should be flexible and forgiving.
Maddy joins in and writes, too — and the teens expect her to share! For her, it’s a chance to become more than just a proctor while they write, and to make herself seem more accessible than most other adults in the their lives.
When it comes to giving feedback, there are no imposed limits on what teens can and cannot say to one another. Most often, teens will offer suggestions rather than criticisms, focusing on their own ideas and finding similarities–ways to relate–to others’ work as opposed to finding faults within it. The teens genuinely understand and respect the courage it takes to share their work. They are remarkably willing to open up to each other. Many have a deep understanding of the healing, joy, or escapism that writing and drawing offer.
At this stage in these young writers’ lives, writing is a hobby, and so participants can enjoy the freedom of a low-pressure environment where the act of sharing is valued more than the need for improvement.
At this stage in these young writers’ lives, writing is a hobby, and so participants can enjoy the freedom of a low-pressure environment where the act of sharing is valued more than the need for improvement. Maddy believes that it’s simply “a chance to stretch themselves creatively, to draw or write something they might not on their own.”
Since the club’s inception in November, teens have been writing and drawing just as much in their free time, but will now often show their work to Maddy and ask for her opinion. The Writing and Drawing Club helps these burgeoning writers and artists appreciate the art of feedback, and the value of sharing.
At the Incubator, we love creativity exercises, so if you’re interested in hosting a teen writing workshop and don’t know where to start, we HIGHLY recommend Lynda Barry’s wonderful book What It Is. She believes anyone can write and draw– and we agree! Check out more about Lynda’s class, The Unthinkable Mind on Open Culture.