Young Writer Mentoring

Available in Franklin, Hampshire, Berkshire and Hamden counties, Massachusetts

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet
Stephen Mitchell trans.

Deborah Savage as a young writer at age 15.

Life makes us work hard for our dreams. For most people, the dreams they have in their youth eventually drift away, supplanted by the more practical demands of jobs and family. For them the loss may seem inevitable, the demands of the dream too great. But for some young people—often those who are artistic and creative--such a loss would be unbearable. For them, the desire to pursue a particular dream is not a choice. They are driven by that “strong, simple “I must.”

I mentor young people as they begin to consciously explore and grow into the sometimes difficult, demanding but always meaningful commitment to a writer’s life. Like the young poet who sought out Rilke for advice, encouragement and inspiration, young writers need a mentor who can help them develop the resources essential for staying true to that inner impulse.  

As someone who has identified as an artist and writer from early childhood and who has consciously chosen to live according to that identification, I have a life-time of experience and understanding to offer as a mentor. I am a published novelist and illustrator, and have for long periods of my life supported myself on my work in a society that does not particularly value or support the arts. With encouragement as well as the honesty born of experience, I help guide young writers as they navigate the practical, emotional, artistic and philosophical issues and questions connected with the choice to live as an artist. 

I also provide the professional support and guidance of a writing instructor for young writers beginning to develop in their craft. The real work of writing—and the key to any kind of success at it—involves looking critically at your work, revising it and rewriting it through multiple drafts. I have taught writing and literature at the college level for over twenty years and I have a deep knowledge of the craft both as a writer and an instructor. As a mentor, I encourage young writers to push themselves beyond their sometimes-romantic notions of what it means to be a writer.

It is important for young writers to have the experience of preparing a piece of writing for submission, composing a cover letter and sending their work to a publisher. Whether or not it is accepted for publication, they will gain an understanding of an essential part of the writing process. There are a number of small literary magazines that specifically publish work by school-age writers both in printed form and on-line. Local newspapers will also sometimes publish a piece written by a young person. I explore with young writers the various opportunities for publication and help guide them in choosing the most appropriate publications for their work. As well, there are many summer writing workshops, camps and conferences geared toward school-age writers.  I will work with young writers through the application process, help them choose and prepare samples of their work, gather letters of recommendation and write a cover letter.  

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” is a quote attributed to the famous painter Pablo Picasso, but the wisdom of his words applies to any creative artist.  Writing is hard work. It is often very uncomfortable work. So while talent and a passion for writing is certainly important, it is absolutely essential for young writers to learn the habit of working even when, and especially ­when, they are not inspired and they don’t “feel like” writing. The best way for  young writers to learn to write is for them to WRITE as much as they can, and to READ as widely and attentively as they can. No teacher can replace the first-hand experience of reading the works of other authors and of writing, writing, writing.

I have a broad knowledge of books in many different genres. As a mentor, I introduce young writers to books that will delight them, challenge them and present them with new possibilities as writers, from classic and contemporary literary novels to creative non-fiction, from graphic novels to poetry, from detective fiction, science fiction and fantasy to memoir and essays. I help them learn to read as writers, to notice the techniques authors use to create moods and tone, to listen for each author’s unique voice, and to apply what they learn in their own work.

I work one-on-one with young writers in their homes or, with their parents’ permission, in my own home, at a café, in the library or even during a walk in the woods. I read their writing in depth, discuss it, encourage them to work on it and suggest ways to improve it. I listen to them talk about their dreams. I share stories of my own experiences as a writer and artist. I offer practical advice, professional suggestions, intellectual stimulation, artistic insight and emotional support and understanding. Whether we work together for a few weeks or for a decade, and whether the young creative person ultimately becomes a writer or not, the experience of working seriously with a mentor can be unique, thought-provoking and valuable.

Letters From Young Readers

There is nothing more exhilarating or humbling for me than getting a letter from a young reader telling me how much one of my books has affected her and changed her life. I think this may be one of the most wonderful aspects of writing novels for young people, for it is more often when we are young that we are transformed by something we read. Those books we remember from childhood and adolescence stay with us for the rest of our lives and in some profound and real way shape who we become as adults. I believe this is because we recognize in those early readings something that is perhaps still latent within us--a potential, an echo of our future self. Those stories that so deeply move us as young people give shape and words to what is as-yet unformed and unrealized within us, and so they are our guides, the maps to who we will become. More famous authors receive thousands of these letters (imagine the author of the Harry Potter series); I have received a relatively few. But numbers do not matter. The letters I have been sent from those unknown young people, almost always girls in their mid-teens, have stayed with me just as my books have stayed with them. They seem to be the voice of my angel coming through the words of an adolescent girl., reminding me to stay true to my vision both in my writing and in my life.