Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We Need Many, Many More Juvenilia Panels

For the last decade or more I've heard talk of kids "publishing" their writing. Sometimes that meant little books cranked out in grade school classrooms. Sometimes it meant school literary magazines. Sometimes it meant publications that existed for the sole purpose of publishing student writing. Sometimes it meant teenagers paying to have their work self-published hoping they would become the next Christopher Paolini. Sometimes it meant a reading teacher contacting me for advice on where one of her intermediate school students could get his work published.

I've probably mentioned before that I really can't get behind the child publishing thing. School publications are one thing, but anything beyond that is probably gilding the lily at best. Writing prodigies are few and far between. Few writers, of any age, perfect their craft without years of study and work. Suggesting to kids that they can take short cuts to publication is doing them a serious disservice.

So I was delighted to see at Justine Larbalestier's blog a post called The Juvenilia Panel. It seems Ms. Justine was part of a panel whose members read aloud their early writing. Their very early writing.

She says a couple of the panelists read "teenage monstrosities so bad that we wept on account of laughing so hard. WEPT!"

She also says, "Sharing our crappy writing from when we were beginning writers has the salutary effect of making it clear to those what aspire to be published writers but aren’t there yet that we published folk didn’t step fully formed from Zeus’s head. There was lots and lots and lots of bad words and phrases and sentences and stories and novels written before we were good enough to be read by anyone other than our doting parents."

Exactly.

There's a great deal very young writers can be doing and should be doing as part of their training. Reading, for instance. Reading about writing. Taking writing classes. Going to writing workshops. Going to hear writers speak. Forming writing groups. And writing, of course. That goes without saying. All of this kind of effort will go a long way to making young writers forays into the real writing world less painful.

My own juvenilia? I do have a few pieces from grade school that are notable, no matter what their quality, because they indicate my interests haven't changed much. But as a teenager, I didn't finish much writing. I liked to think about being a writer, but at that point I wasn't too keen on sitting down and doing the work. If I were on a juvenilia panel, I might have to read work from my twenties, which would be seriously humiliating.

Nonetheless, I really think juvenilia panels are a marvelous idea.

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