10 Writing Tips for Kids and Teens (Plus Workshops and Other Stuff)

I always say I’m not a role model for kids. I’m more inclined to teach them what’s right through wrong examples. Kids look at me as a buddy and not as an authority figure — I’ll chalk it up to my “fun-size” height, and humor and temperament bordering on juvenile. And I’ve become the type of adult I hated when I was a kid. That’s karma right there… or just bad character writing, so to speak.

But apparently I’ve done one thing right. I’ve been noisy enough about creative writing (online and offline) that three people have asked me for advice on how to get their teenage children started with it.

Syempre, feelingera nanaman ako, diba. Kung ano-ano ang pinagsasasabi ko. 😜 Then again, my input could help other people — one niece told me she’s now a staff writer for her school paper, and I heard that obvious pride I remember feeling the first time I saw my byline on print.

Remember that these are the things that work for me, and maybe you/your kid could do better with other tactics. A good chunk of the advice on here can also be found in creative writing textbooks and memoirs (which I’ll write about next!). And I realized the items I’ve included aren’t just for kids — they can be for writers of any age.

The 10 rules of writing

  1. Write. Stop talking about wanting to be a writer, and start writing. Of course, your first tries will be bad, but keep writing anyway. It’s learning by doing.
    • Schedule your writing time, and stick to that schedule. Do you want to succeed? You must take it seriously.
  2. Read. Read a lot. Read everything. And read whatever you want — don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re reading trash. Figure that out for yourself.
    • Read banned, “weird” and “grown-up” books, too. Don’t stick to your recommended age range. I know someone whose mom read him H.P. Lovecraft‘s stories when he was a kid. He turned out just fine.
  3. Be observant. Story inspirations can come from the littlest or weirdest of things. Look at the details, and watch the people around you.
  4. Work on finding your voice. You’ll start out imitating your favorite authors first, for sure. Eventually, you will have to learn to speak as you.
    • Don’t be afraid to offend people with what you write. Someone’s always offended about something, anyway. But there’s also a huge difference between being outspoken and being a complete asshole.
    • In the same vein, don’t aim to please everyone, because you won’t.
  5. Get out of your head. Find your people. They could be at writing workshops, BFA/MFA classes (for when you’re older), or online communities (e.g. NaNoWriMo, Facebook groups, #romanceclass, #HeistClubWattpad). They could be family members, friends, teachers/advisers, significant others, or even total strangers.
  6. Don’t be too precious about your work. Get beta readers. Control your ego. Learn to hear and accept harsh criticism, and to roll with rejections. You won’t always churn out great work; and hear praise all day, every day. It can feel soul-crushing but remember, there’s nowhere to go but up.
  7. Market/Promote your work. Make your own noise because you can’t ever expect anyone to do it for you.
  8. Be kind to your fellow writers. You’re all in the same boat. Help and support them when they need to be helped and supported, and even when they don’t.
  9. Don’t ever think you’re too young to be a writer! Think of it as getting a great head start on everyone else. Read the publishing stories of The Doorkeeper Anthology‘s Scott and Ethan Chua or Eragon‘s Christopher Paolini for inspiration.
  10. Keep going. Writing (whether as passion or profession) can become difficult at times, it won’t earn you a lot of money, and you’ll wonder if it’s all worth it.
    • TL;DR: It is.

But wait, there’s more! 😄

Practice moves

  1. Write for your school paper. You’ll get the fundamentals there:
    • Following deadlines, word counts, and style guides
    • Learning to write about many things, not just about those you’re interested in
    • Brevity, or putting in as much information as possible in just several short paragraphs
    • Sticking to the basics: what, who, when, where, why, how, next
    • Working with people you like and don’t like
    • Searching for good stories
    • Accountability for your article’s errors and typos
    • Criticism from your editors and readers
    • Printing process and distribution.
  2. Keep a journal. I’m talking about an actual notebook, and you writing in longhand. It’ll train you to declutter your brain, get your thoughts out and in order, and practice writing for someone (real or imaginary).
  3. Don’t want to get hand cramps? Start a blog. I don’t care if it’s set to public or private — it can accomplish the same goals as keeping a journal.
  4. Do creative writing exercises, especially if you feel burnt out or struggling with writer’s block. They’re fun, and they can lead to unexpected results. You’ll find plenty online, like this list from Write to Done.

Get out there!

  1. Attend literary events. There’s the annual National Book Store event Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, the Manila International Book Fair, and Komikon/Komiket/Indieket. The big bookstore chains regularly sponsor book launches and author talks. Smaller stores like Solidaridad and Mt. Cloud also invite authors to launch and talk about their books. Go to these events, meet your favorite authors and fellow fans, and ask plenty of questions!
  2. Join contests, and send your work for publication. Magazines, publishing houses, journals, and universities issue calls for submission all the time. Try out and see what happens!
    • The Philippines Graphic always accepts fiction and poetry submissions. Read these guidelines. There was also Rogue‘s attempt at copying McSweeney’s via Katigbak’s (named after the late writer Luis Katigbak), but I don’t know if it’s still active. (Edited August 18, 2020: Rogue went under in late 2018, so the McSweeney’s copycat didn’t get anywhere. I don’t think it even published a single story. The Graphic also retrenched its editors in 2020, no thanks to COVID-19. I’m not sure if the magazine itself is still staffed or funded.)
    • I think Visprint should the first publishing house you submit your (edited and beta-reviewed) novel-length work to. I like almost everything it publishes, and it’s built a strong following for all their authors (not just Bob Ong). (Edited June 13, 2019: Visprint’s closing in 2020, and not accepting submissions anymore.)
    • I’m not too knowledgeable about literary journals, particularly for YA, but I do know about the CCP’s ANI, and Cha. You’ll definitely find more journals online and in print. Too bad LONTAR‘s on its last issue now.
  3. A college friend of mine who’s now based in Vancouver — his debut novella’s coming out in September, btw (Edited June 13, 2019: It’s already out on Amazon!) — told me to use Submittable to discover international publications soliciting literary work. Smart move, if you ask me.
  4. Of course, you can self-publish your story. Just be ready to do all the work, from editing to financing, selling and stocking.

Summer workshops!

Again, the big universities (and some in Visayas and Mindanao) have their own annual national writing workshops. But if you’re still starting out, it would be best to go small and quick first.

  1. I highly recommend Storywriting School, headed by playwright and Palanca Hall of Famer Joem Antonio. And look, there are crash courses you can take this summer! If I weren’t already in an MFA program, I’d go for the sci-fi and crime-fiction courses, easy.
  2. Writer’s Block Philippines also has a Feature Writing 101 course lined up. Perfect for kids who are more interested in media work.
  3. Fully Booked has the Young Writers’ Hangout and Wonder of Words workshops next month!
  4. Ayala Museum‘s summer lineup has something for child and teen writers! 
  5. Indie publisher 8Letters holds frequent writing contests and events, as well as the popular “Indie Publishing the Write Way” workshop. Check its Facebook page for updates.