Twenty years as a secondary school teacher acquainted me well enough with the originality and freshness which young people can achieve in their writing, but there was also frequently an underlying hesitancy and a scepticism, especially among boys, of how valuable a part of their education it really was to be ‘writing stories’. The fact that they were surrounded by ‘stories’ of one kind of another, battering at them to do this, be that, or buy the other and forcing them into decisions about what and who to believe, seemed not to occur to many. ‘Stories’ are a formidable proportion of what the modern world is about, and even more so as the media becomes ever more diverse and accessible.
The young remain the major targets of a lot of what the media turns out. Many, if not most, see themselves as passive in this process, ready to accept and follow what appears most convincing, interesting or thrilling. They are the readers, the consumers, the audience, for stories, largely happy to concede that they do not have the skills or experience to be the creators. Even the genre which has become known as ‘young adult’ fiction is not necessarily brought into being by young adults themselves. Perhaps that is the natural order of things, a logical hierarchy. Is there really a case to be made for young people of school or student age to be creating the ‘product’, as much as consuming it?
Two reasons in particular spring most obviously to mind. Everyone ultimately seeks their own ‘voice’, some form of expression which authentically represents them as a separate individual. Many will express this in appearance, in speech or in musical taste, but those forms tend to be about accepting membership of one group or another by looking like them, talking like them or listening to the same kind of music as they do. For those wanting to identify a truly individual voice, one which will begin to define them as adults, fiction can offer immense possibilities. It is a way of assimilating and regurgitating all the influences, the pushing and pulling pressures, which constantly surround them, in order to identify what makes sense and what doesn’t. Young people also inevitably need ways of being able to discriminate between genuine offers of help and information and people who simply want others’ money or obedience to feed their profit or power-seeking motives. All films, plays, videos, books, Kindles etc. are put together by people with an agenda. Their agenda may be nothing more sinister than providing interest or entertainment, or faithfully representing some well-known ‘classic’ from the past. But sometimes there is more to it than that. They want their listeners, audiences etc. to accept some political or religious view of the world, to adopt one code of beliefs or reject another. Only a true individual can decide what does or doesn’t suit their nature, convictions and beliefs, and both reading and writing fiction can be a useful way of disseminating and understanding the myriad influences trying to influence or control young people.
Secondly, there is no escape in the modern age from examinations. They have a crucial part to play in the lives of the young, and they demand a range of specific skills without which all future career prospects can be irreparably damaged. Amongst the skills required is the need to organise a variety of material in a limited time and effectively complete tasks while working against the clock. The recent return to a greater emphasis on final examinations makes these skills even more essential. Short fiction, to precise word limits and with content sufficiently interesting to make people want to read it, is the kind of discipline which will help inculcate such skills into the daily preparation regimes of examination candidates.There are also many outlets for the creative fiction and poetry offerings of the young. Almost every school, college and university produces magazines, and fiction will often be included, both in print and Internet publications. Even if students are not following creative writing courses, the study of English at all levels inevitably involves the reading and writing of fiction, and many students can have the advantage of professional feedback on their work which their elders find difficult or expensive to obtain.
Precise information on which competitions will be offered to young people particularly varies greatly from year to year, but many literary festivals, writers groups and local arts organisations do offer age restricted competitions for various age groups under the age of 25, and success might well lead on to further publication. Print magazines and e-zines directly aimed at young people are also widely available, and frequently they are looking for material not only for young people, but also by them.
Singer Song Writer
In the case of poetry, which sometimes tends to be seen as an irrelevant art form by students who find themselves having to study it, there are connections with music and lyrics which perhaps have a more immediate impact on the young. Many of the more famous and prominent songwriters are widely accepted as poets in their own right, and success in this creative area might well have immense implications for the future careers of students. The number of band members and individual artists who have emerged from colleges, art, music and performing arts schools and universities testify to the fact that achievement in the creative arts can have massive consequences.In short, creativity can be not only gratifying and fulfilling for people starting out on occupational paths. It can also point them in directions they will follow for the rest of their lives.