Advice for young writers from our contributors

In honor of National Encourage a Young Writer Day (April 10), we asked our editors and freelancers to share what inspired them to become writers, and what they wish they knew then.



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In honor of National Encourage a Young Writer Day (April 10), we asked our editors and freelancers to share what inspired them to become writers, and what they wish they knew back then, and more. Their answers are very different, but all uniquely insightful. We hope you find something to inspire and encourage you, especially if you're a young writer.

 

Morgan Phillips

TulsaPeople City Editor


Morgan Phillips, TulsaPeople City Editor

What are your earliest memories of writing?

In third grade, I got to write and illustrate a hardcover book as a school project. I don’t remember the topic, but the experience stayed with me. By the time I was 11, I was writing extremely descriptive short stories about a character named Anna who lived in a garden. They had a lot of adjectives, but not a lot of substance.

Did you get any advice as a young person that helped you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remember the advice so much as the encouragement from parents and teachers who recognized I had some writing abilities and cheered me on. That was important to help build my confidence in my writing and in all areas of my life.

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

I wish I would have spent some more time in college studying creative writing in addition to journalism. I think it might have helped strengthen my features writing and given me a better foundation for 'writing for pleasure.” After years writing in Associated Press style, it’s difficult for me to write purely from my imagination. It’s something I want to improve.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you write, and how do you get past it?

The biggest challenge is the most fun: organizing my story concisely while making it entertaining. Writing a feature is like putting together a puzzle. Whatever sticks in my mind the most is where I begin. Sometimes that means starting the article in the middle of the story, then going back and writing the lede. Other times I know where I want to end up, so I write the ending first. Then, I go back and figure out how to get there.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young writers?

When you’re stuck, ask yourself, “How you would tell this story verbally to a friend?” Start there, then go back and tweak the language as needed. On the subject of editing: Get used to being edited. It’s not personal. Proof your own work, but don’t trust yourself to find every typo. Writers don’t always catch their own typos because their brains are focused mostly on the meaning they’re trying to convey.

 

 

 

Tim Landes

Freelance writer


Tim Landes

What are your earliest memories of writing?

As soon as I learned to draw letters, I started writing stories. As a small child I used to draw pictures and write notes to my mail carrier, Freddy.

Did you get any advice as a young person that helped you decide to be a writer?

I had numerous teachers throughout my public education years tell me how great of a writer I was, but I didn’t listen to them. I was majoring in pre-dentistry and had a comp teacher tell me I should change whatever I’m doing to focus on writing. That time I listened. Thanks Dr. Hugh Foley!

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

No matter how hard you try, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to misspell something, use a wrong word or omit information you’ll only realize would have made it better when you look back at your work. It’s OK. Maybe even great as long as you use those experiences as learning moments and don’t beat yourself up too hard over it.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you write, and how do you get past it?

Sometimes the biggest challenge is scheduling an interview. People can be anxious or reluctant to talk. Don’t feel bad about reaching out in every avenue possible as often as you can. If you can’t interview that person, look for other ways to tell the story. Sometimes stories die. Sometimes they change. Roll with it and be open to exploring different angles. In terms of fiction writing, my biggest challenge is having the guts to release it to the world. I’m still working on it, and I know if I want to reach my goals, I’m going to have to get better about it.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young writers?

As long as your story connects with one reader, you’ve done your job. It might be your mom, dad or grandma. It might be a stranger. You never know who will be impacted by what you write, so keeping putting them out there.

Read. Read. Read. Read as much you can. Spend time exploring writers who have a different style than you. Spend time reading different genres. You’ll find your writing getting stronger and hopefully find yourself asking different questions. Also, don’t wait 36 years (or longer) to read Joan Didion.

 

 

Jamie Richert Jones

Freelance writer


What are your earliest memories of writing?

I wrote a book of haiku poems in 5th grade and was chosen as one of the representatives for Carnegie Elementary to the Young Authors Conference at TPS Service Center. Since writing is such a quiet, solitary process for me, I remember being overwhelmed at the number of people who were talented at writing. This was before the internet so there wasn’t as much opportunity for exposure. Honestly, I’m still intimidated in the midst of other writers. It took a long time for me to believe I deserved a seat at the table.

Did you get any advice as a young person that helped you decide to be a writer?

In the early 2000's, I attended screenwriting courses at UCLA's Extension Program in Los Angeles and dreamed of being a screenwriter. However, my husband and I had moved back to Oklahoma by 2006. So those dreams were packed away with the rest of my stuff.

That’s when a good friend contacted me. She was working on a degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California and was drowning in her workload. She asked if there was anyway I would complete an assignment for her creative writing class because she had a capstone project she had to finish. By that time most of my confidence as a writer was gone, but I agreed to do it. The assignment consisted of an image of a man and they were tasked with creating a ten-page story from it. So I got to work. Upon completion I nervously emailed it to my friend, hoping not to embarrass her or fall short of her expectations.

A week later she called and said, “What in the world did you write?”

I panicked. “Did you get a bad grade?”

My friend said, “No! There are over 200 people in the class, and my instructor picked the top five to read. Yours was one of them!”

She hadn’t read the paper before she turned it in, so when they called her name she had no idea what to expect. That part makes me laugh every time, but it was just the boost of confidence I needed. Shortly after that, I applied and was accepted to the Professional Writing program at OU's Gaylord School of Journalism.

What’s something you know now that you wish you has known when you first started?

I can easily get paralyzed over finding the perfect word. Many times, I have stayed up all night stuck on a single sentence. At OU’s Professional Writing Program, I had an amazing instructor named Mel Odom. Part of our curriculum for Novel Writing was to submit 4000 words a week, which was about 20 pages double-spaced.

He stressed that nothing needed to be in final edit form. That means we weren't graded on punctuation, spelling, etc. The point was to impress upon young writers: We don’t always have the luxury of thinking all night about one sentence. We have to learn to work under time constraints, a skill I’m still honing.

It was equally challenging and freeing for me to hand off the 4000 words each week knowing they weren’t perfect, but perfection wasn’t the assignment, completion was. Self-governance is a skill that is incredibly important in a writer’s toolbox.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you write, and how do you get past it?

My biggest challenge is a blank slate. I’ve learned I work better within imposed parameters, which is a little counterintuitive for creative thinkers.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young writers?

When I started writing I pursued long-form formats like screenwriting and novel writing. However, as the mom of two young boys, I've found magazine writing and copywriting to be more conducive to my role and responsibilities to my family. So to young writers, I would offer that it's important to be open and flexible in your pursuits. They might open doors you never even considered. Every word you write enhances your writing abilities, regardless of the format.

 

 

Anna Bennett

TulsaPeople Digital Editor


Anna Bennett, TulsaPeople Digital Editor

What are your earliest memories of writing?

I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing, but that’s a credit to my mother’s belief in the value of creative expression more so than any natural ability of my own. Before I could physically write, I would often dictate stories to her, which she would type up on our old school mid-90s Mac and then print out so I could illustrate. In her eyes, I’ve always been a writer.

Did you get any advice as a young person that helped you decide to be a writer?

I was very fortunate to be surrounded by encouragement, both from my parents and from my teachers. It wasn’t until much later in my schooling I received any criticism of my writing — and by then I had quite the ego to deflate. But the fact that my teachers and parents were able to look past the sheer indulgence of my many short stories, which often included elaborate lists of non-human characters that would put Tolkien to shame, to see that my passion was a spark worth encouraging.

Plus, not gonna lie, I’ve been totally hooked on seeing my name in print since I was 8 and won a writing contest in Muse magazine.

I remember my 11th grade AP Language teacher Mrs. Hayden was the first to not be fooled by my flashy prose and know-it-all demeanor. She pushed back, and in the process, I learned how to think more critically. I think it was the first time I considered the importance of substance over style and even execution.

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

Editors are your friends. Nothing they do or change is personal, and rarely is it a reflection of your skill as a writer. Of course, it took me actually becoming an editor to understand this. It’s also helped me be a lot less precious about the whole thing. You can always write more words.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you write, and how do you get past it?

Despite creative writing being my first love, my fiction writing skills are extra rusty. Maybe it will be a practice I return to later. But it is, indeed, a practice.

I definitely still get hung up on completing things, because even though I’ve come a long way, the desire to be perfect is a tough beast to slay. Starting is easy. But ending it? Not so much. Often the only way I get past it is because I’m already way past deadline, so the necessity of having copy turned in overrules my need to continue fussing over it.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young writers?

Find what works for you. There’s a lot of advice out there that may be great for one writer, but may be totally wrong for you. Don’t be afraid to respectfully disregard that which is not helpful to you.

 

 

Anne Brockman

TulsaPeople Editor


Anne Brockman, TulsaPeople Editor

What are your earliest memories of writing?

My earliest memories of writing involve school projects. I believe it was in third grade when we were tasked with writing a book. Mine was titled “Friends Forever” and it was about two girls — one in Oklahoma and one in Russia — who were pen pals. The pen pal theme continues because during the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 I enrolled in a pen pal program through the U.S. Postal Service. Desiree and I corresponded for years via pen and paper. Today we stay current with one another through Facebook.

Did you get any advice as a young person that helped you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remember any particular advice. I remember that grammar was one of my favorite classes in school. My father was a journalist. He often helped me edit papers for school and told me that I was doing a good job.

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started?

You’re going to make mistakes. But the great thing is that you will learn from those mistakes, and I bet you never make the same one twice.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when you write, and how do you get past it?

The biggest continual challenge for me is to think beyond cliché. One of my first editors was a true cliché stickler. Clichés are easy to fall back on and something that you are always trying to avoid as a professional writer. When interviewing someone, I also try to ask questions that won’t be easily answered with a cliché. When drafting stories, I might get my thought process down on paper with a cliché at first, but part of my editing process is to look for those and replace those where appropriate.

Do you have any advice or encouragement for young writers?

Pay attention to your instructors and mentors. Read as much as you can from as many sources and authors/writers as possible. Be inspired. Think beyond convention. Write, write, write.

 

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