International Youth Day: Salt authors’ top writing tips for young people

International Youth Day: Salt authors’ top writing tips for young people

International Youth Day, organised by the United Nations, is held each year on August 12 and focuses on the qualities of young people, their place in society, and the challenges they face today around the world. 

Writing creatively offers a wide range of benefits to young people that contributes to their personal, intellectual, and emotional growth. From developing your expression of thoughts and emotions, your communication skills, or even finding a life-long passion – exploring creative writing is something every young person should try out. 

Salt has asked three of their authors for their tips to young people who would like to practise and develop their writing skills. Whether you have an interest in poetry, short stories or novels, or you are still working it out, these are their top tips: 

Alison Moore – write as ‘The Monster’ 

Alison Moore has a number of awards under her belt, and saw her award-winning debut novel The Lighthouse shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012 - the UK's most prestigious award for fiction in English. 

Alison, also a children’s writer, put pen to paper at a young age, and has shared that her biggest obstacle while learning to write was exploring themes of conflict. 

She said: “I veered away from it as if I didn’t want to get in the middle of it, so my protagonists always stayed too safely at the edges of their own stories and the conflict was left unexplored, undeveloped. 

“Eventually, not only did I realise that I had to go there but that, when I did, I had a huge amount of fun writing those bits. In fact, now, it’s my favourite part, where tensions between characters begin to show and I can not only explore but exacerbate the conflict, to make more story happen. 

“One of my workshops for schools, which focuses on The Monster, looks at conflict, point of view, and resolution. One of the exercises involves writing a scene from the point of view of your protagonist and then from the point of view of your other character, your ‘Monster’ character, which I feel is not only a great way to explore different viewpoints but helps the writer get right to the heart of the conflict, which is to say right to the heart of the story.” 

Neil Campbell – keep a notebook handy

Neil Campbell is a short story writer, novelist and poet. Over the last twenty years of writing stories and being an active reader, Neil has learned what does and does not work for him - which for him, has not included many writing exercises. 

He said: “For me, ‘write what you don't know’ is terrible advice. The best advice, for me, is ‘write what you know’. It's also important to reach a point where you stop asking for advice and make your own decisions about your writing because eventually nobody knows your writing better than you do. Some of the worst advice I ever received was on a creative writing course, but that advice was really useful to disagree with. 

“Inspiration can constantly be found in great novels and short stories. Reading them always gives me ideas for my own work, which is why I have never understood the concept of writer's block. 

“I've also learned to not be overly influenced by the writers I love and just to try and develop my own approach, which involves taking more time over each story. Also, keep a notebook for ideas. I have notebooks filled with ideas for stories and novels and there will never be enough time to write them all. 

“I'd tell my younger self not to be in such a rush to get a story finished. I was always itching to write the next story and so some stories weren't as good as they could have been. Also, find a girlfriend who doesn't take it personally when you want to be alone to write.” 

Chris Emery – make a connection 

Chris Emery, has been writing poetry since he was at primary school. Music and emotion have been key to developing his work. 

Chris said: “Use the magic details – your people, the names of things you love, your places – to bring vibrancy to writing, rather than abstract nouns like Love and Beauty, Heaven and Earth. It’s important to locate poems in a real world (even if you make it up) – it doesn’t matter if no one knows whom you’re addressing or where they live – we’ll all fill in the blanks. Details make poems resonate. Details make a connection.

“Remember to find the music and find the minimum distance to the source for maximum effect. Use the fewest words to reach the poem’s core – and don’t lose sight of its centre – it makes the poem spin. Don’t kill poems with vocabulary, either – use the right words; simple ones are good enough. Remember, poems don’t have to be true, noble, political, or kind – but they must stir us. They must have emotional resonance for us care for them. Remember, they’re not ad campaigns or charity appeals; well, not always.

“Ensure to make your poems worth memorising – because those we remember are the ones we carry with us all our lives. They’ll pop out of our subconscious when we need them. They make us who we are.

Salt Publishing | Great books, all the time

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