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Rooting Deep to Soar High: A Clinic for Teen Writers

Rooting Deep to Soar High: A Clinic for Teen Writers

soar high

by Amanda Dykes

Greetings, Mount Hermon blogosphere! It’s such a joy to pop in and spend some time with you.

I’m currently coming up for air from the storm-tossed sea of 1810, plunging into the trenches of 1917 France and the Great War, and soaking in the Texas sun in 1940. All right here in January 2020.

Such is the life of a writer—and you guessed it, I’m talking about the novel that I am finishing editing, the next novel I’m beginning to write this month, and the novella I wrote sandwiched between those two, which I need to edit this month. Whew! The life of a writer is nothing if not exciting and slightly wonky in the time-space-continuum.

A little about myself: the bio you’ll find on bookish things says I’m a drinker of tea, a dweller of redemption, and a spinner of hope-filled-tales. I’m thankful to currently work with Bethany House Publishers.

In real life (i.e. outside “the page”), I recently returned from a behind-the-scenes NASA event in which I got to tour rockets, hear from scientists, sample the cookies the international space station is going to be cooking up as the very first baking experiment in space, and (of course) watch a rocket launch up to the space station. It was—pardon the pun—out of this world!

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that means two things: You are a writer (Hooray! So glad you’re here.), and you might be considering attending the teen pre-conference clinic at this year’s Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. (Hooray! Double-glad you’re here; read on to find out why.)

I’m excited for the chance to answer a few questions that Susan Stewart, blog content manager, sent my way about teens and their writing. Stick with me and you’ll quickly find why I keep saying things like wildly creative, and what my (potentially controversial) opinion is on college degrees and their correlation to writing careers.

Why mentor teens?

So much LIFE is unfolding for teens, and it’s a thrilling time as they begin to discover their God-given gifts, and seek ways to move forward in this world, using those gifts to light up the dark corners and change this world for the better. Even as a teen, it was my dream to one day work with teens, and that dream came true as an English teacher and longtime youth worker. Teens bring such insight, humor, fun, and hope to this world.

You’ve been a teacher. What do you wish wasn’t in every writing curriculum? Some people might ask, “Don’t kids learn to write at school?” What’s the difference between what they learn in English 201 and your clinic?

What a great question! I am passionate about both teaching writing and teaching story. There is a big, big difference. Writing (as taught in schools) is a tool that can equip teens for whatever field they one day choose. The nuts and bolts and structure of essays, sentences and the like, help build that logic muscle, which is applicable no matter what their chosen field. The ability to communicate effectively, compassionately, and persuasively can move mountains in our world today. So, yes, I believe learning writing in schools can be fantastic.

Now, as to story…this takes it a step deeper. This takes those nuts and bolts, holds them up, gives them a good jingle in invitation and whispers to the imagination—“Now, take these and build something magnificent that will stay in hearts forever.” Story is found in novels. Story is found in nonfiction. Story is found in poetry. Story is found in our very heartbeats.

Remember that heartbeat. That is what will mark our writing clinic. We won’t be studying grammar, essay structure, etc. We will be putting our heads together to discuss stewarding the gift of writing as a powerful, inspiring, healing tool in our world. Talking about each teen’s ideas, hopes, and writing pieces, looking at their strengths to give encouragement, and inviting them to offer them up to God, the author of our very lives, to see what He would have us do with them. We will give constructive feedback—“iron sharpening iron”. We will talk about the highs and lows of the path of writing, how to handle both in a life-giving way, always anchoring our identities deeply to the unshakable fact that the God who gave his very life for ours, is the God who entrusted these dreams and gifts to us. His is the opinion that matters.

Our hope is to be, by the end of the clinic, a tight-knit circle of sojourners who can encourage one another in these truths.

Oh! And what do I wish wasn’t in every writing curriculum? Well, I’ve got some thoughts about Romeo and Juliet, and why there are possibly better works to explore as a first introduction to Shakespeare, but that’s a topic for another day, so we’ll leave “fair Verona” alone for now. 😉

How can a young person get a good start on a writing/publishing career?

Tips for a young person to get a good start on a writing/publishing career:

  1. Don’t be afraid to dream these dreams that God’s placed on your hearts.
  2. Don’t be afraid to hold those dreams with open hands, and seek actively for His timing, His calling, His will. He may hold just as much purpose in calling you to write a letter to a friend, as he does in calling you to write a gigantic novel. See these callings through His heart, not through our human ways of measuring significance. Don’t be afraid of Him saying “wait”. Don’t be afraid of Him saying “go”. Just trust Him, keep close to Him, and as long as He says to, keep working.
  3. To keep working, keep reading. Widely. Fiction, non-fiction. Writing craft books, stories that capture your imagination.
  4. To keep working, keep writing. Five minutes a day, or one hour a week, or whatever regular chunk of time you can carve out.
  5. Seek out ways to hone your writing. Through trusted/qualified critique partners, or a writers’ conference or class, or a high-quality online writing course.

Do you believe a college degree is necessary? Why or why not?

This could be a controversial answer, but my answer is that no, I do not personally believe a college degree is necessary to become a published or successful writer. Now, let me qualify that: I do believe that actively seeking out ongoing and in-depth learning is necessary to that end. That learning may come in the form of books, conferences, conversations, close study of other works, or, yes, college (or other) classes.

I also believe that the path to publication looks different for everyone. Some may find taking writing classes at the college level helps them hone their writing craft and opens doors to publication. Great! Some may find that they are not called to college but are still called to writing. Great! The bottom line is: Our God is wildly creative and personal. No two paths to publication look the same.

If He calls you to college—go. If He does not call you to college, do not go. Many factors will play into this—especially conversations with your parents, who will have wisdom and guidance to offer as they speak into this decision, and you seek their counsel. But please, whatever He leads you and your parents to together, rest easy knowing you can trust His unique calling on your life and your path to publication, if that is what He has in store for you.

How will you push the young people out of the nest, so to speak? In other words, what two, three, or ten things will you tell them to do when they get home to become a published writer?

Attending a clinic is an immersive, transforming experience, and can leave attendees feeling inspired, overwhelmed, teeming with momentum, or wondering where to go from here. We’ll talk together about what to do with all of these potential experiences, as well as offer time to seek God’s leading for what they uniquely are to do next.

In our individual meetings, teens will be given ideas for steps to take next, depending on their individual genres, goals, hopes, and where they are on the writing journey. Judging from my previous interview answers here, you can probably already guess a few of those:

  • Seek out God’s wildly unique calling on your individual life.
  • Based on that, seek out continued in-depth learning (we’ll talk about plenty of specific resources).
  • Possible practical next steps forward might include:
  • Finding or forming a trusted critique group (we’ll talk a lot about one of the most famous critique groups ever, The Inklings, and how that community and “iron sharpening iron” mentality led to world-changing works.
  • Submitting polished work to publications (magazines, online magazines, etc.) depending on genre.
  • Querying agents when the right time comes
  • Taking a step back to really listen for God’s calling, if He hasn’t revealed it yet. Again, His timing and plan for each of us is wildly unique, and we want to recognize that wait is just as exciting, energizing, and weighty a calling as go—and what to do while you wait.

We’ll discuss independent publication as well, and how to move forward if that is the route you are called to. The process is vastly different in some ways, though very much the same at the heart of it: Seeking God’s leading for sharing the message He’s placed on your heart with the people He intended it for when He entrusted it to you.

We’ll discuss the idea of platform—the positives and pitfalls of this concept.

We’ll discuss marketing, and how to approach it full of heart, with the mindset that it is finding creative ways of connecting an audience you hope to serve, with the message you have poured your heart into.

Amanda is presenting the first Pre-conference Mentoring Clinic for teens, Rooting Deep to Soar High. This clinic requires an application. You can find all the details here.
(Note: This clinic’s availability is dependent on whether we have enough teen registrants. If this clinic interests you, we invite you to sign up as early as possible. If we don’t have enough registrants by March 2, we will let you know of other options.)

Amanda Dykes

Amanda Dykes, a novelist for Bethany House Publishers, is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales, grateful for the grace of a God who loves extravagantly. She has a soft spot for classics, stacks of storybooks in blanket forts with her family, and rainy days.


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