Friday Surprise: How To Be A Young Writer

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This is my desk. I blame the elves.

This year,  I gave myself a birthday present: the time to read all I want this month. I promised myself that I wouldn’t get mad if the dishes are not “done” every evening or the tax forms languish. Admittedly, it looks like my desk was attacked by demented elves, but I refuse to worry about it until February.

I have read all the poems that have been posted in the Brighter Light contest so far. And then I started thinking about other poems by writers under the age of 20 – young writers. I read through copies of “Stone Soup” and Highlights for Children.” I found more kids’ poetry in collections from the library and our books at home.

What struck me was the originality of these poems. I found myself saying, Wow I would never have thought of that, over and over. Take this poem:


A cheetah has metal girder teeth
it goes hurling down through the jungle
throwing out its fear*

Panthera leo -zoo -yawning-8aNow, I have heard cat’s teeth compared to many things: lions teeth to daggers, tigers’ to sabers, kittens’ teeth to needles. But cheetahs’ teeth and metal building girders! How wonderful to think of that!

Or take this stanza from Sylviya’s poem (she’s the young writer in the Yellow Ninja team) about hair:

Black is shiny like the blouse
my mommy never wears.
Shiny, glossy, smooth
like our kitten’s fur
when I squeeze her
to get some kisses.

I have all the usual associations with black: knights, stallions, nighttime, sadness. Sylvi on the other hand thinks of an unworn blouse – this says so much, so specifically, about how she feels about her mother, and their relationship, and beauty, that feel as if I am standing with her as she sees her mother’s hair.

5984380533_2816ee14a5_bAdult writers spend a lot of time trying to peek around the edges of all the rules we’ve learned and ways we’ve been taught to think. We have heard the overused metaphors, memorized the tens of thousands of rules of plotting, and tried every poetic form…until we have forgotten what the world looks like to us.  Adults envy young writers, I think; we are so used to comparing happiness to a warm puppy that we forget that happiness can also be a new Band-Aid, or a herd of manta rays, or a battered leather jacket with a broken zipper.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean that poets shouldn’t read other poets, that essayists should never read novels, or that fiction writers should live in huts in the woods with no windows or visitors. We can learn a lot about how language works, how form works, what structures can work for stories, by reading and experiencing many things. But how do we do this and still keep our fresh perspective – our own voices?

What we can do is…write. A lot.

Ggb in soap bubble 1If you’re a younger writer, writing now means that you’ve started a thread that will connect you to the writer you will be as an adult. For an adult, writing a lot gets the “junk” out of our systems, so we can uncover the pure shimmering connections to our former selves. We can write ourselves into to the world in which it’s fun to pop glass bubbles, where spiders’s legs are as fine as spun glass and tap dance skitter-skatter, where there’s beauty in wearing our helmets and where bicycles have invisible wings, where birdhouses are farms or fairy homes or as safe as warmth, and where dragons love rocks and pebbles make our planet, where we are both ourselves and baby turtles,and where adults and children are connected by words, and birds, and love.**

So, I say, go to it.  Go, you yourself, and write ~ ina

*by Darren Coyles, aged 7, first published in Children as Writers:21st Year 1979, republished in Beauty of the Beast, ed. Jack Prelutsky, Knopf, 1997

**All of these images came from the Brighter Light challenge entries. There are many more than I could list and each one is as wonderful.


6 thoughts on “Friday Surprise: How To Be A Young Writer

  1. Such an interesting, intuitive posting Ina … It’s so true, the way we seem to become disconnected from our inner child selves fairly early on and then the filters are in place and our metaphors are forever more difficult to access and certainly prescribed or in a much narrower list. It’s good to be reminded, especially by children, that there’s this whole range of possibilities if we’d just let ourselves, our imaginations in particular, relax and go … or as you say at the end, “go to it” – I plan to give it my best shot.

    • Thanks, Sharon! I find it really interesting to watch how children put words together – they have such freedom! I’m learning a lot, to say the least 🙂

  2. Oh, Ina, I’m so flattered. well, Silviya should be, in fact. Only, she is not fully aware what this is 🙂 I didn’t even remember she said that. Of course I changed it a little. And I know exactly the blouse, I was surprised Silvie had ever seen it, because I really don’t wear it. I don’t like wearing black. So, in a way, she got me unprepaired with that idea.

    And this post is so gentle and graceful, I really enjoyed it.

    • Silviya has a real knack with a single image that says a lot – it is one of my favorite things about your poetry as well – something simple and unexpected with a lot of meaning. Please tell her how much I enjoyed that.

  3. This was a terrific posting, Ina. I often wonder if I was ever able to write like a child. I was never really allowed to be one in the usual sense of the word.My perceptions have seemed always to come from the adult pov. I still have wonder, but to express it as a child has eluded me for more years than many have been alive. I’m happy for those who can do it, who can turn and see the world through a child’s eyes and then write it down.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Thank you Claudsy! I have large blank spots in my memories of childhood for really stupid and awful reasons, and I feel blessed that my son has helped me sort of reformulate how childhood must have been for me. I’m glad not alone in the struggle…

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