“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu
I attended a writers’ event last night, and I was encouraged by the promise in the room. The baton-passing is in strong hands, creative minds, and agile legs. What am I rambling about? The young!
I started writing when I was very small, and growing up in Nigeria, there were no outlets for me and my budding-writer kind to take our dreams to the outer realm of creative exposure. Except for my elementary, junior high, and high school teachers who recognized my talent, there did not seem anywhere else to go with all that talent.
When I taught English, I always tried to pay it forward by exposing my students to writing competitions and other outlets. More recently, when I heard of the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project for the young, I immediately sent e-mails to all the parents of my previous middle school students encouraging them to align their budding writers with that literary outlet.
Granted, a lot of people give J. K. Rawlings credit for increasing the number of pre-teens and teens who started reading voraciously and devouring dictionary-volume books. There is another wave of pre-teens and teenagers who inspired me last night—the ones who can actually write from the wells of inner inspiration, not forced, coerced, or threatened.
These students won awards last night, and as the presenters read the excerpts from the pieces that won the awards, I rested assured that literature would be in excellent hands, that the baton has been passed on successfully, even as we older generation toil and pound words into obedience.
I heard flowery language enough to make me want to cry, something I seem to be doing a lot lately. As I listened to each piece, something moved in me; recognition dawned; smile spread broadly, and something within shifted as genuine respect, not grudgingly, but readily.
The little event last night mirrors a grander and more widespread one as writers, publishers, promoters, and those at the helm of literary and scholarly penmanship recognize that the young have a voice.
Every year, professional authors, hobbyists, writers, educators, creative leaders, and others (who have vested interest in the young) seek out budding and unheard voices. We recognize the names of these literary giants who won awards as young writers: Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, Bernard Malamud, Carolyn Forché, Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, and many, many more who won or did not win awards but who wrote from their hearts with technical skills, creative take on words, originality of thoughts, and personal voice.
Below are some online outlets for budding/emergent writers who wish to enter writing contests and competitions. Placing this list on my blog is not an act of endorsement or approval. When in doubt, parents and students, my advice is “caveat emptor.”