PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston

I’ve supported many worthy causes throughout my life. In addition to monetary donations to charities, I’ve baked elaborate pastries to be auctioned off at a scholarship dinner, left canned tuna, dried beans and boxes of pasta for my local food bank, and brought gently used clothing and household goods to thrift stores. However, this year I made a new donation – myself – to what I believe is a very worthy cause. I began a volunteer program for students at a local high school.


It began when a teacher who offers a creative writing class at the school contacted my writers group. Several of her students wanted to pursue writing, either as a passion or a career path. However, they needed guidance and she asked if we could help.


I took the helm and gathered several writers, all published authors with years of experience, to begin a mentor program. Students in the class send us pages to critique and we supply feedback, guidance, and (I hope) encouragement. We began the program with a class presentation, where each of the volunteers had seven minutes to discuss some aspect of writing. I will share my contribution with you:





Writers may differ in how and what they write, but most will agree to that be successful, all writers must know some basic principles. Here are three key ones:


I           Develop the writing habit:

Write and keep writing. Too often, writers will get a few pages or a chapter written and then go back and tweak them, over and over, until they have it ‘right.’ Or they’ll stare at a blank page, waiting for inspiration. Resist the temptation. Keep going, even if it isn’t perfect, or brilliant. Even if it isn’t good. Things may change as you progress in the story, but you won’t know that until you have more, or all of it, written. It’s why many writers begin with a ‘vomit’ draft, where you get it all out now and clean it up later. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you start out with, only what you’ve got when you’re finished. That’s what rewriting is all about. Develop the writing habit and practice it regularly. Finish what you’ve started, then begin again.



II         Develop the grammar habit:

Master the rules of writing. Learn how to use grammar and punctuation, because once you do, you can consciously break the rules without it seeming like you don’t know what you’re doing. To learn how todo it right, get a dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide.Then pick a style, any style, and stick to it. There are many ‘right’ ways to write. You can debate over whether to write 2017 or twenty seventeen, if a comma is needed after the next-to-last word in a list, or whether next to last should be hyphenated. For example, the current trend is to leave out commas except when they’re needed to make the point clear (“Time to eat, Dad” vs. “Time to eat Dad”) or put a pause in a sentence. Which style you use matters less than whether you’re consistent about it.



III        Develop the fearless habit:

There’s a tendency to keep your work private. However, you won’t know how people will react to your work unless you have the courage to share it with them. Join a critique group or find like-minded writers to form your own group. Meet with people who’ll read your work and offer genuine critique, which is different from criticism. You will do the same with their writing. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn from evaluating others’ work. If you’re reluctant or afraid to show your work to others, don’t be. You might think that having someone read your work and tell you it’s bad would be the worst thing to hear, and you’re right. However, it’s not because their comment is hurtful, but unhelpful. What’s bad about it? If someone can point out what isn’t working in your story, and how to fix it, that isn’t negative. As for useless comments like, “It stinks”, ignore them.


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It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. They’re anxious to learn and receptive to our feedback. I can see marked improvement in their work already. We’re on summer hiatus now, but all of my volunteers are looking forward to resuming the program this fall. A few of the students have real potential. Perhaps in the future, after they’ve been published, some of them will pay it forward and help a new generation of young writers.


If any of you are interested in starting a mentorship program for young writers, there are many opportunities to help in your community. Check with your local public or private schools. Community organizations like the Boys And Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth groups might welcome your help as well. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll learn through teaching others.


You’re welcome to contact me at for more information.



Miko Johnston first contemplated a career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a television and print journalist before deciding she preferred the more believable realm of fiction. She is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at:

22 thoughts on “PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston”

  1. All good points, Miko. But the one that especially hits home with me is to keep writing and not edit as you go along. That was the best piece of advice I ever got way back when. I’d also add that the students should read, all kinds of things. That seems obvious, but unfortunately not everyone who wants to write wants to read others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Paul. The writing habit came from my personal experience as well. My original list included ten habits, including #7 – READ!, which emphasized the importance of that habit for inspiration as well as education, but I had to keep my presentation brief.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Miko–and what a terrific thing you and your cohorts are doing for young people. Your three habits are good reminders for all of us, and I loved your comma example! You have inspired me to explore mentoring programs in my new community. Thanks!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Good post, Miko. (notice comma before your name (smile)) Your mentoring is inspirational, and your points about writing are ones to revisit…especially for me, and especially “the writing habit.” I’m a very slow writer, partly because I indulge a constant rewriting tendency. Good reminder!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is truly what writing is all about. Not only the writing one does oneself, but getting others into writing and reading and sharing the love of books. Whether it’s teaching new writers the craft or lighting that spark under a few who didn’t know they had that latent talent inside is what makes it all worth while. Good job, lady.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I know the joys of helping young writers to a lesser degree, Miriam. I loved seeing the 3rd-6th graders in my short story class in Malawi, listen, then write and turn in stories fearlessly. I didn’t have a lot of time for follow-through, like your group, but it was still amazing. Right now, I’m mentoring a young Italian girl whose work is really promising. (I hope to share it with WinR’s and other author friends soon). She was so willing to take my suggestions and re-work her story, making it so much better (and I hope learning the principles involved).
    Paying it forward – I like your title and your idea. Keep up the good work. And, if they allow it, share some of their work sometimes. I’d also be happy to feature some of their pieces on my “Here’s How It Happened” blog. (Unless they want to submit to a contest or publication themselves.)

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I never would have had the courage to tackle my first novel without the help and support of other writers, including many of my fellow WInRs. Working with the students is a way to show my gratitude.


  6. Thanks for all three hints. Goodness sakes, as you know, I’ve still not learned to let go and stop re-working my first chapters. I’ll try harder to be good and just write from the top of my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Many times I haven’t felt like writing, but I make myself write SOMETHING and then I get into a groove and come up with new ideas as I go. The ideas may be good or bad ones, but I wouldn’t have head them if I had given into my reluctance.

    Thanks for “Paying It Forward,” Miko (comma!). A friend in my local Sisters in Crime chapter teaches a creative writing class at our local jail. She’s impressed by the talent of her students.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s so much talent out there but sometimes people need a bit of guidance and encouragement. My students’ work ranges from lighthearted fantasies to harrowing tales of loss and sorrow. I’m sure your friend heard some interesting stories in her class as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting effort with the school students, and the “Thee Habits….” essay. I fully agree with the first habit but I have a totally different method of building the habit. Additionally my philosophy on building the habit centers around a specific writing genre. I’d be happy to go into more detail if you have any interest.

    I’ve tutored in math and Social Science for middle school, but have never tried the writing topic or high school. I have been able to get a few adults writing, and presently have one regional board of directors considering setting up a program for adults. It’s great fun, opens the writing world to new talent, and teaches me a great deal.

    Good show, Miriam!

    Sent from Outlook


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gordon. You’ve always been willing to share your knowledge and experience with other writers as well as open to learn from them. You’re right – when you teach, you learn as much as you impart.


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