by Miko Johnston
No tutelage or reflections on my writing today. I’m attempting to reboot – physically, emotionally and creatively. Instead, I want to know what you, our readers, have to say.
My original idea for this week’s blog post was to ask you if you’ve incorporated any of the recent turmoil in your writing, or if you’ve chosen to sidestep it. I see that topic very differently now than I did when I first wrote this piece.
Back in 2018 I began a mentoring program for a local high school’s creative writing class*. Along with other published authors, I offered critique and encouragement to these young writers. Alas, a combination of budget cuts and Covid put the program on hold for over a year, but it has been reinstated. I recently received sixteen submissions from the current class and as I always do, I read each entry before dividing the work between the volunteers.
In the past, many of the stories mirrored themes from books and television shows that were popular, filled with paranormal characters ranging from vampires to dragons. Other plots were taken from everyday life – going to school, hanging out with friends, getting dumped by a boyfriend, and family squabbles. One or two pieces dealt with darker subjects, usually following a death or other traumatic loss, but the majority had a light tone and many were flat-out funny.
The class assignment was to write a piece of flash fiction. With their submissions came a note from their teacher, informing me that prolonged isolation from school, and each other, had made her students shy and hesitant to share their work, so it lacked the usual peer review. I assumed the writing would be rough, and it was, but not in the way I expected.
I was shocked but not surprised at the bleakness that pervaded every single submission. At least half included nightmarish scenarios, and most involved death or dying. I felt saddened because I knew this was not an attempt to be “artsy”, but a reflection of the reality these teens face in uncertain, and even frightening, times.
My volunteer mentors’ purpose is to encourage and uplift young students in their writing, but somehow a verbal pat on the back for a good story or vivid imagery doesn’t seem enough. Nor do I want to push them into further gloominess. Does expressing dark thoughts on the page exorcise demons, or give them life?
We may have enough time for a second round of submissions. Should I ‘interfere’ and suggest writing prompts that would prod them into some more positive thoughts, or let them write what they want? What would you say to these teens?
*see “WORD FOR WORD”
Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including LAst Exit to Murder and the soon-to-be-released Whidbey Landmarks. The fourth book in her series is scheduled to be published later this year. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org