“If I didn’t write I’d probably explode.”
That's how Rachel Douglass, tutor at the School for Young Writers, describes what she loves about writing.
“It’s kind of like floodgates – it’s good to be able to get things that have happened out on paper – it’s really rewarding seeing them finished.
“I like turning all these abstract things in my head into something someone else can enjoy as well.”
Rachel has been writing for eight years, and was a long-time student at the school.
Now 20, becoming a tutor was a “natural progression”.
“I enjoy teaching and it’s really important to get kids involved in creative writing. Giving the kids that want to do it the opportunity that I had and to learn what I learnt is really good. There’s so much potential out there.”
53 items from 43 teenagers were included in this year’s Re-draft, The polar bear ward.
Re-Draft is an annual competition for teenage writers. It is open to all and each year a book containing the best entries received is published.
Copies of the latest edition of Re-Draft are available from libraries, booksellers and the School for Young Writers.
Email the School for Young Writers.
The Wandering Game, created by novelist Alan Bunn, is one of the tools Rachel uses to get students into creative writing mode.
“The idea of it is to go out wherever you are and observe the world around you, making up similes and metaphors along the way. We’re tuning up those skills in the writer.”
Often these short observational ideas will become haiku or short poems. The idea is to make the process of writing a natural one.
“I encourage them to write about ordinary life. There’s a lot of poetry and a lot of exciting things in everyday life. That’s the best thing to write about because they know a lot about it. The middle and senior groups will look at film scripts and song writing …”
Many of the students aim to get their work published in the annual Redraft writing competition. Winners get their work published in a book. Rachel has been published in six of the seven books.
“Seeing their work published and having friends and family see them is special," she says.
Rachel started writing stories, but says with poems the process is quicker and the turnaround is faster – which is better for students, she says.
“I say to them: How long did it take J. K. Rowling to write one book? Three years – do you really want to spend that long on a story? Do you think you could?”
Helping students present their work to others is also important.
“Getting them to critique and share their work and not being afraid to stand up an speak in public is a big part of it,” she says.
Rachel shares a quotation when asked for advice for young writers:
“I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said
'all writers have an inbuilt bullshit detector'. At the beginning mine wasn’t very good. Through the school I’ve got a lot of skills to go through my work and redraft it myself. Now I can get things finished and I know how to do it.
“Also (the school gave me the) time for writing – a lot of kids are so busy these days – I don’t think I would have got as far as I have without that time."
A more professional approach to her writing has developed over the years.
“Learning that you can put things aside and come back to them – to give yourself that distance. And criticising other people’s work, constructively, has helped me with my own work. We did a lot of that when I was a student.”
You can join the school term by term or for a year, by correspondence and a growing number of schools offer workshops run by School for Young Writers tutors.
"Find somebody that you trust to give you honest feedback – that’s where writer’s school comes in – sometimes that what you need. Especially with teenagers because they can be son angsty, we need to teach them, very gently, to cut that crap."