January is all very well but September has always felt like a much more exciting New Year to me. Probably because of the stationery. So what better reason to buy some super sharp new pencils and… start a Creative Writing Club?

If your school doesn’t have one already, there are SO many good reasons for starting one.

  1. It’s hugely beneficial educationally and psychologically to be creative. You’ll be giving your students such an important gift.
  2. It’s also an amazingly relaxing, heart-warming, and bonding experience just to sit in a room with a bunch of people quietly putting their thoughts on paper. And when they share those thoughts with you it’s honestly such a privilege and a joy.
  3. It’s SO much fun! Teenagers have incredible imaginations and ideas. My group inspire me constantly by coming up with stuff I could never have thought of. My mind is regularly blown.
  4. You get tea and cake!
  5. You get to hang out in the library after school like the cool kids in The Breakfast Club.
  6. It doesn’t cost a thing!
  7. It’s super easy!

Seriously, it is. If you’d like to set up a group but you’re worried that it’ll be a lot of work, or that you have to be a writer yourself, don’t. It’s so easy. In fact, the less you do, the better your group will be. I think the worst thing you can do is march in with a lesson plan and a PowerPoint presentation. It’s tempting to do that because we worry that if we don’t control things, nothing will happen, or if there’s a silence we need to fill it. But creativity happens in the gaps. In the unstructured, daydreaming, free time that teenagers get less and less of as they go through school.

All you need to provide for your group is time and space (and cake, obvs). If you’re new to this, have a look through the early posts on this blog, where I outline what I do with my group. It mostly involves letting my young writers bring their own ideas and letting them get on with it, but there are also some resources for writers who like writing prompts, or writers who want advice with things like character building, idea generation, dialogue writing etc.

But honestly, I’ve always got the best results by letting my young writers just pursue their own ideas. They’re always much more enthusiastic about those ideas than they are about any prompt or exercise I could give them. And if you give them five minutes to think, they always come up with something they want to write. It’s such a gorgeous thing to witness the light suddenly come on in someone’s eyes and see the real world disappear for them as they dive into a new one.

I beg to differ, Boromir.

And all you need to know about writing is how to listen and tell them what you loved about their work. There’s advice on that here too, but really it’s very simple. If you’re a reader, you’ll be fab at it. And your feedback and encouragement could mean so much to them.

I was a young writer once and I would have loved to have had writer friends and someone to encourage me but my school didn’t have a writing group so it was quite a lonely experience. I created this website because I know what these groups could mean to kids like me. So this is my annual plea to teachers and librarians to start your own club! Please Please Please!

And do feel free to email me if you have any questions or worries about starting a group or just want to chat about it!

And if you’ve already got a group going, yay, and here are some opportunities you could tell your young writers about:

  • Fighting Words NI have expanded their Write Club sessions so that, as well as the zoom groups in Prose&Poetry, Journalism and Playwrighting, there’s now an in-person group starting tonight 4.30-6pm at the Skainos Centre on Newtownards Road! Write Club is always free and all teens are welcome.
  • Fighting Words are also running a free story-writing workshop for 12-18s at the Skainos Centre on Thursday 22nd September 6-8pm. Participants will invent characters and create an original story set in Belfast and brought to life by an on-site illustrator! Book your place here.
  • The Paper Lanterns Journal of writing for and by young adults is always open for submissions (and if you have a club, why not subscribe to the journal! It’s always so inspiring for young writers to see published work by people their age, and they’re based in Ireland!)

Hope you all had a fantastic summer. I was off camping for two months and I actually really missed my writing group! It’s been great to get back to them and read what they’ve been writing. (One of them finished a whole novel! My inner teenager is in a state of deep awe.)

I shall be back with more opportunities and 1990s based memes and in the meantime, all my best to you and your young writers for the year ahead

Happy New Year to all the Writing Clubs! (Or if your NY resolution is to start a writing club, Hooray and Welcome!)

I kinda love New Year because I love making resolutions, decisions, new timetables, schedules and stupidly ambitious plans. It doesn’t even bother me that I know by now that most of these will last about five minutes. Because I also know that even if I completely fail to achieve them, I’ll still end up achieving more than I would have done if I’d made no resolutions at all, and I consider that a brilliant result.

Astronomically incorrect but whatevs

Most of my resolutions revolve around writing, even if it’s just ‘eat and sleep more healthily so I have more mental energy for writing’ which is top of my list for this year.

For me, character is everything in a story, and I generally find that when I’m stuck with my plot, it’s because I don’t know my characters well enough yet. Plot comes from character. People want/hate/fear something and that leads them to do something, and that’s all plot is.

So when my young writers are stuck on plot, I always tell them to try going back to their characters and finding out more about them. Character interviews are really helpful when you’re first getting to know a new character, and there’s one here you can use, but when you get deeper into the plot it’s helpful to start really interogating a character’s motives.

I find these 6 Questions To Ask Your Charactersreally useful for that. And you should use them for all the most important characters in your story, not just the main character.

Exciting news! The BBC Radio “Two Minute Tales” Christmas Competition is back!

This competition has become so popular it’s now in its third year and I’ll be judging it again with novelist, playwright, and BBC National Short Story Award winner, Lucy Caldwell.

There are three age categories covering ages 5-16 and you have to write a Christmas themed story in just 300 words. Finalists will be performed by a professional actor on the radio and winners will have their stories animated on the BBC Radio website!

The website also has a brilliant Creative Writing Kit, including games and activities to help you come up with ideas and write your stories so do check that out (in fact, it’s fun and useful even if you’re not entering this competition).

Remember, 300 words is not a lot of words but that doesn’t make it any easier! A short story still has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a novel, so make sure every single one of your words is working hard for you. Be ruthless and cut any that aren’t!

The closing date is 12th November

So do pass this on to your young writers, and for more writing advice on super-short stories check out:

This post on last year’s Two Minute Tales Competition

This video on how to write Flash Fiction



September already! How did that happen?

Luckily the tireless folks at Fighting Words have spent the summer dreaming up new opportunities for young writers! This is definitely one to pass on to your writing clubs and English students:

Journalism Club is a free 12-week course for teens with mentoring from professional writers, editors and publishers. This will be such a great experience. Fighting Words workshops are always brilliant, they’re a hugely supportive and friendly bunch and I know the kids who’ve done their playwriting programs have really loved it and ended up putting on amazing plays with professional actors in the Lyric!

So if you know any aspiring journos, send them this way! Who knows where it could lead?

And if your kids prefer prose, poetry or plays, Fighting Words’ Write Club is continuing via Zoom and all teens are welcome. As well as our fortnightly creative writing sessions, we’ve been doing virtual ‘field trips’ to the Dublin Write Club for Q&A sessions with professional writers including Roddy Doyle, which has been such a treat! And being on Zoom means geography is no barrier so do spread the word to all your young writers (or indeed any adults who’d like to volunteer to work with Fighting Words)!




I think all the NI schools are wrapping up now so I’d just like to say a massive well done to everyone for getting through this absolute melter of a year!

I do hope your writing groups have provided some relief/entertainment/therapy/comradeship and above all inspiration through all that’s happened. My Fellowship is coming to an end and I’m so glad I set this up online because I’ve loved hearing what you’re up to via Twitter and it’s been a joy to be able to connect and share here when we’ve had to be so distant.

Just updating with a link to a writing tips YouTube channel – Writing with Jenna Moreci. I was told about this by a teen in my writing group who’s found it really helpful.

Jenna Moreci is an American YA dark fantasy and sci-fi writer and she makes short (and hilarious) videos about loads of different aspects of writing. They’re really very funny and entertaining as well as informative. (Some adult language and content so this is maybe for older teens, or if in doubt check them out yourself first).


These are great tea-break fodder and might be good for your writing group to use over the summer to keep them inspired! Check them out!



Just to let you know there are more Tiny Masterclasses up on the Seamus Heaney Centre site (including one by me!)

Thanks to some wonderful Creative Writing students at QUB, we’ve got 5 minute videos on Point of View, Food Writing, using Memory to start a story, using Sound Maps for inspiration, and Writing Flash Fiction. I’d never even heard of a Sound Map but it’s a fascinating way to look at the world (or listen to the world)!

So if you’d like some bite-sized writing prompts for your young writers, look no further, check them out here!


This is an exercise for writers who feel completely paralysed by the prospect of a blank page. Blank pages can be scary for any writer. They’re so pristine, so empty! And you’re thinking What if I spoil this lovely clean page with my silly rubbish? What if I can’t think of anything to write at all?

You might also have lots of great ideas but the idea of putting them into words is scary. What if I spell everything wrong? What if I can’t think of the right words?

But you can make your brain feel safer by breaking the task down into very small chunks and this is one way to do that. It’s a bit like the Snowflake Method but it has emojis and is therefore way more fun:

It’s World Book Day! And a much quieter one than last year but that’s OK, we can read quietly.

We can also write! Fighting Words NI have been busy bees this year, creating videos of creative writing workshops for schools to use (more on that later), and I’ve asked the writing students at the Seamus Heaney Centre QUB to contribute five-minute ‘Tiny Masterclasses’ of their own favourite writing tips, tricks and exercises for young writers, schools and homeschoolers to use.

As you may have heard, there are two kinds of writer in this world: planners and pantsers.

Planners like to plan out their story in advance, down to outlining every scene before they put pen to paper.

JK’s plan for Order of the Phoenix

Pantsers like to hit the page running, with maybe only the vaguest idea of where this story is going and write ‘by the seat of their pants’.

Continue reading “The Snowflake Method (since it’s snowing)”

Great news for these dark winter days! No, not the vaccine (TBF, that’s pretty cool too), but our new online Write Club!

I was disappointed not to get to go out and visit as many writing groups as I would have liked last year (stoopid covid!) but I’ve been lucky enough to be working with Fighting Words NI instead so I have got to hang out with some teen writers, which has been brilliant. And now we’ve moved our fantastic teen writing group, Write Club, online!

You may know that November is National Novel Writing Month (or #NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo began back in 1999 as a challenge to write a novel (or 50K words) in a month. Today thousands of people around the world sign up for the challenge each year.  It’s free, and there are forums, support groups, apps to record your wordcount, places to discuss your progress and keep you accountable, hashtags and a big website full of advice with a section specially for young writers.

This might sound like a huge task but the idea is not to produce War and Peace in a month, it’s just to bash out a messy first draft, or most of one, that you will edit later, and it’s a way to do it along with a bunch of other writers who you can moan and celebrate with and who will motivate you to keep going. The time pressure can actually be a great way to silence that inner critic, since you won’t have time to listen to them, you just have to get words on the page.

Two treats in fact! Two fab new writing opportunities for young people.

Fighting Words are a powerhouse when it comes to encouraging creativity, and they are once again running their scriptwriting program, The Right Twig. This is a series of workshops where 8 young people (14-18) get to each write a short radio play over the course of 7 sessions that will then be broadcast with real actors, directors, and sound designers!

They’ve done a couple of these workshop series already, but for the stage. They were put on at the Lyric with professional actors and I was honestly stunned at the quality of the short plays they produced. It’s an absolutely brilliant program where professional writers help the kids, who are total beginners, to develop an idea from scratch and write a whole play. I can’t recommend this highly enough, the kids get so much out of it.

Before we all go off for the summer, I’m so excited to post this interview I did with NI teen writer Dara McAnulty!

Dara is 16, and his first book Diary of a Young Naturalist, which was published in May this year, is about conservation, activism, writing, being autistic, being bullied, his school, his family and most of all, his deep love of the natural world.

When I started this year as Children’s Writing Fellow I had no idea what to expect. But I bet none of us expected to be ending the year like this!

It’s been an absolutely mad year but also really wonderful and I just want to say thank you so much to all the schools who’ve contacted me and used the blog. The thought that there are new creative writing groups being set up around NI makes me so happy! I hope they run for years and give lots and lots of young people opportunities to be creative, and all the benefits that creativity brings.

I did a BA in English and Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast and I loved it. But I did it as an adult because when I left school I’d never even heard of a degree in Creative Writing. There wasn’t a course in Belfast, as far as I was aware, and no one told me anything about it at school.

These days loads of universities offer creative writing, including QUB (hurrah!) so today on the blog I’ve got Glenn Patterson, author of many many wonderful books, and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens, who has kindly agreed to answer some questions that might help you make your decision. Thanks Glenn!

Glenn is a man who knows how to do an Author Photo

Why should I study creative writing at university?

It might sound like an odd thing to say, but first and foremost studying creative writing will make you a better reader. By thinking about – and talking about – your own writing, and the writing of fellow students, you will have a new understanding of how other, published works came into being: the decisions their writers made along the way. It will, undoubtedly, make you a better writer too, or help you to see how to become the best writer you can be. But being a good reader – someone, that is, who is alive to language, its uses and abuses – strikes me as no small benefit in a world where you are constantly assailed by text of one kind or another.

Hope everyone had a relaxing half-term. If we couldn’t go anywhere, at least the weather was nice. We’ve all been missing out on lots of things lately. I was really looking forward to going to the West Cork Literary Festival in July, where I was going to be interviewed by a specially trained team of teen interviewers! Luckily the clever folks at Graffiti Theatre managed to do the whole thing online instead.

The kids had training sessions with Graffiti Theatre and YA writer Cethan Leahy and then they Zoom interviewed 3 YA writers:

Juno Dawson

I’m delighted to be involved in another exciting writing opportunity for secondary-age students in NI, and I’m particularly thrilled about this one because it’s for essay writing!

Which you don’t see a lot of outside the classroom. I was always one of those odd kids who actually loved writing essays as much as I loved writing fiction. The general consensus about doing English Lit in school is that everyone loves books until you start making them write essays about them, and I completely agree, that can be off-putting, especially when it feels like the whole point of the essay is just to test what you know and it has to fit into a certain easy-to-mark structure that doesn’t allow any room for creativity. Continue reading “Essay Writing Competition: Discuss.”

At Christmas I got to be a judge for BBC NI’s Two Minute Tales competition. Kids wrote Christmas themed stories that could be read aloud in 2 minutes and the winners were read on the radio and animated on the website.

It was so much fun to read the stories (there is some serious writing talent in NI). We did the final judging in the BBC offices and they’d dressed the room up for Christmas! (Note the awesome TV fire. Don’t know why I bothered tiling my fireplace TBH.)

Today on The Blank Page we’ve got special guest, Shirley-Anne McMillan to tell your young writers how to make their own Zines! She’s even made a video!

Zines are basically mini books you can make yourself, on any topic at all. I’ve never made one but it looks like so much fun I might give it a go.

Shirley is a YA writer from Co. Down and I’ve LOVED every one of her books. She likes to tackle big issues like LGBTQ+ rights, social injustice, teen pregnancy, living in care, and she’s as much of an activist in real life as she is in her books so she’s the perfect person to give us some tips on how to use Zines as a way to respond to injustice and maybe even change the world.

Next up in my series of special guests on The Blank Page is the multi-talented Myra Zepf! Myra writes for children and teenagers, in English and Irish. Her latest picture book has been adapted into a beautiful dance performed at the Ulster Folk Museum and her verse novel for teenagers is up for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award.

She was the first Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland and with 5 (!) teenagers at home, she’s the perfect person to share her advice for young (or young at heart) writers in these strange days we find ourselves in. I think (after I deliver my parents’ shopping) I’ll be taking her advice today myself!

Thanks for being here (in a virtual, socially-distant way) Myra!


I’m sure that in the worry and uncertainty of the last couple of weeks, afterschool clubs are the last thing on anyone’s mind! But since the schools are closing and students are looking at weeks of working at home, I’ve made a list of some online resources that might entertain, help them feel less isolated, and allow creativity to continue to flourish. And being creative might even help those who are feeling anxious about what’s going on to express and deal with those feelings.

And it’s all a matter of perspective. We can believe we’re prisoners in our own homes or we can pretend we’re JD Salinger, shunning the press and writing our next classic novel!

Continue reading “Self-Isolating or Reclusive Genius?”

Today I’m thrilled to welcome local writer Jo Zebedee to The Blank Page! Jo is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy author and knows much more about these genres than I do, so if you have any young writers who are into Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you could pass on these tips to them and introduce them to a local writer at the same time. Thanks Jo for sharing your expertise!


For older writers (or group leaders) who’d like to do some serious study into story theory, I highly recommend KM Weiland’s site Helping Writers Become Authors. It’s absolutely chokka with useful information about how novels are structured and how character arcs work.

It’s quite in-depth and might be too complex for younger or less serious writers but something that I thought would be useful to any young writer was her list of the different types of characters in a story.

I’m very excited because today on The Blank Page I have a special guest post by a special guest author!

Caroline Busher is the Irish Times best-selling author of “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” and “The Girl Who Ate The Stars” (Poolbeg Press). She’s also done a lot of work with young readers and writers with dyslexia.

Welcome, Caroline! I do my best to make my writing club a welcoming and inclusive space but I admit I don’t know a lot about things like dyslexia that might make participation more difficult for some kids, and I imagine many writing group leaders might be in the same boat. So I thought I’d ask Caroline to give us some of her expert advice and she kindly sent me the following guest post (thanks Caroline!)


As it’s WORLD BOOK DAY (!!!) I’ve been writing articles for a couple of newspapers about encouraging kids to read, which basically means me banging on about getting parents to read. (If you treat reading like it’s ‘Kids Stuff’ or ‘Homework’ or ‘A Less Valuable Use of Your Time Than Facebook’, then your kids will see it that way too.)

It occured to me that we could say the same about writing and creativity in general. I was also inspired by this blog post by the wonderful NI children’s writer, Sheena Wilkinson.

This exercise is based on the notion of the ‘Elevator Pitch’ and it’s just a way to get the imagination going.

The Elevator Pitch is based on the idea that if you ever happened to get in a lift with a top publisher/director/agent, you could tell them the idea for your brilliant book/film/play in the time it takes to get to their floor.

The lift scenario is quite unlikely (agents probably take the stairs for exactly this reason) but every writer is supposed to have their elevator pitch ready to go at all times.

I think it’s a little odd that script-writing doesn’t come up much in the curriculum. I suppose technically Shakespeare plays are scripts but it never felt like they were being studied as scripts, and they certainly weren’t related to creative writing in my experience.

But when you think about it, scripts are maybe the form of writing most familiar to kids. They probably have a lot more exposure to TV and Movies than novels or poetry.

Hope you had a great half term!

This is a quick poetry writing exercise I found on Ted Talks. It’s an 18 minute video in which he explains the three steps for writing a 2-line poem. The audience write along with him and produce their 2-line poem (I did it myself, it was fun) so I played it for my writers and invited them to write along.

About half of them decided to give it a go, others were working on their own stuff. Of the half that started, a few dropped out along the way, one turned hers into a piece of prose instead, and just one completed a poem. She then turned it into a longer poem.

As I keep saying, you really don’t have to be a writer or teacher yourself to run a writing club for young writers. All you need to be is a facilitator. An enthusiastic cheerleader willing to listen and applaud.

The time and space and attention you provide are the important things and that’s all your young writers really need, so never be put off by worrying that you don’t know enough about writing or teaching writing. You don’t need to.

Continue reading “8 Ways To Make Your Story Boring”

When I studied creative writing at Queens we were visited by my favourite writer, Marilynne Robinson, who also teaches at the Iowa University’s Writers Workshop. The IWW have produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and 6 recent US Poet Laureates, among many other honours.

Robinson said she is asked by every university she visits, “What’s the IWW’s secret, why are you so successful?” And she always answers, “We don’t grade.” And, without exception, their faces fall.

Blackout Poetry is so simple and so much fun and you can end up with really beautiful results. It’s also great for helping nervous or blocked writers get going. In fact writers often use it as a way to kick start their creativity.

It’s also known as Found Poetry or Erasure Poetry and the basic premise is that you start with a page of text, then you black-out the words you don’t want, leaving a poem on the page.

Obviously you don’t want to be taking sharpies to the library books, so you can photocopy a few pages in advance for the kids to work on.

Today I have a poem for you, but before that I want to give you an update on how the Blank Page project is progressing.

January has been a crazy month, but a good one. The response to the blog has been incredible. The fantastic people at the school library service helped to get the word out to all the schools during the first week of January and within about ten days all 25 of my resource packs were spoken for! There are brand new creative writing groups being set up all over the country as we speak and I can’t tell you how thrilled that makes me!

The other piece of good news is that I might be able to rustle up some more packs! I managed to get some of the resources cheaper than expected, and then the ever-wonderful David at No Alibis bookshop gave me a hefty discount on the books just because he likes to support all literary endeavour especially encouraging young readers and writers, and my saint of a husband did all my website stuff (isn’t it good!), saving me hiring a tech-expert, so there is some funding left over. So if any more schools would like a pack for their writing club, do get in touch. And if you’re using the blog for tips and resources, remember to subscribe for notifications of new posts.

Continue reading “Portable Poetry”

Dialogue is one of those marmite things that you either love writing or hate writing. I’ve noticed that writers who love writing dialogue (e.g. me) tend to write a bit like scriptwriters. I often write the first draft of scenes in pure dialogue, and I can reach the end of the scene without ever deciding if these characters are indoors or outdoors, under the sea or on the moon, wearing wetsuits or PJs.

I hate writing physical description of places, people or actions and I usually have to go back when I’ve finished the scene and fill all that in. I like spoken words and the stuff going on inside the character’s head, but not so much the external world.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are probably writing forms that your young writers have never heard of, but which might be the key to unlocking their writing. Conversely, there might be genres of storytelling which your young writers are familiar with that you’ve never heard of or thought of as stories.

We’re so used to rolling our eyes at ‘screen time’ that I think we tend to pit it in direct opposition to all that’s good and holy, (i.e. page time).

But TV, movies, comics, video games and D&D are all forms of storytelling. If you actually play any of those fantasy computer games, you quickly realise they have more complicated world buildings and casts than Lord of the Rings. And story structure is surprisingly universal across all these forms of storytelling so you can learn a lot from all of them.

When your young writers are stuck, or want to know how to improve their story, or why it’s not working or why the plot is unbelievable, or why the dialogue is clunky, and they look at you like

And you’re like

Don’t worry. The answer is this:


Doesn’t matter what the problem, 99% of the time the answer is character. Character is everything.

I’ve had lots of emails this week from people saying they’re considering starting up a group, which I am THRILLED about!

Some start up advice: I think it’s great when the kids feel that the club is ‘their’ club. It’s hard to freely express yourself if you don’t feel comfortable and in control. It’s like trying to relax in someone else’s house. So I think it’s lovely for kids to feel that the club is their ‘tribe’. It makes the members closer friends, and I know our group has become a safe space for some of them where they can be themselves in a way they don’t feel comfortable being in school, and that’s an incredible gift to give anyone.

So here are some ways you can encourage the kids to take ownership of the group:


Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and that there were lots of New Year’s resolutions along the lines of ‘Will start a creative writing club in school.’

Today I have another quick conversation starter based on the opening lines of books. But first, now that we’re all settled back into the new term (no? Still eating chocolate Santas in your PJs? Is that just me?) can I let everyone know that I have some shiny (and free) resource packs to send out to schools for their writing groups!

For a bit of light relief at Christmas, you could try this exercise I put together for the writers I work with. We had a lot of fun with it:

Pretend you’re writing the author bio for your first novel or short story or poem. You’ll find an author bio in every book and it’s a little known fact that, although the bio is written in the 3rd person, the writer usually has to write it themselves. It can be serious or not so serious. Naturally, I like the funny ones best and I’ve included some of my favourite examples below. Several of them are by Terry Pratchett, because he is the KING of this.

Sir Terry

Author bios tend to follow a rough pattern:

I wrote last week about how some people (particularly girls, it seems) are paralysed creatively by a need to be perfect. I’ve come across this in several young writers. They have terrible trouble getting started because they’re reluctant to deface a blank page with anything that isn’t flawless.

I had one writer who suffered badly from this, and the problem was compounded by the fact that everything they wrote turned out badly (according to them anyway). Every week they’d fight through the anxiety to produce a little paragraph that didn’t really go anywhere but was nevertheless full of beautiful phrases and interesting language.

I would, of course, praise the language and originality and tell the writer how great they were, and every week, they’d go, ‘Hmm. But it’s not really a story, is it?’ (It wasn’t. It didn’t have a beginning, middle and end). ‘And it’s not a poem.’ (It wasn’t. It had no structure.) ‘It’s not anything, it’s a failure, it’s rubbish.’ Cue head hitting desk dramatically.

This was very distressing for me because I just couldn’t get this writer to believe in their writing and I was very afraid they’d quit altogether.

Following on from the post on how to give feedback, I’ve been thinking about having the confidence to read aloud, and the role gender plays in this. There’s a fascinating Ted Talk by Reshma Saujani on this subject.

Saujani suggests that girls are socialised to avoid risk and failure, to play it safe, get top marks, while boys are taught to aim high, jump in, play rough, give it a go.

“We’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.”

She cites a study done with bright 5th graders who were presented with an assignment that was too difficult for them. At this level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject. But even so, the study found that the higher their IQ, the more likely the girls were to quit, while the boys were more likely to try harder and therefore did better overall.

There’s a reason writers are neurotic heaps. Creative work involves putting little pieces of yourself on public display and inviting people to stomp on them. For teenagers that may be even worse because what people think of you is all-consuming and social media has made you accessible to everyone.

Any writing group will include kids who are busting to read their stories and kids who would literally rather die. I don’t think anyone should be pressured into sharing their work, but there will be kids who would like to but just lack the confidence, and there are ways you can help them.

First, be aware that there’s a difference between lack of confidence and introversion. Some kids want to be drawn out; for others maybe the writing club is the only quiet or private time they get and they don’t want to share their work.

But if they are shy, there are things you can try.

This post is about the nitty gritty of running a group and the little details that can make all the difference. You’ll know best what will work for your group, this is just how we run ours:


We have 2 hours, broken up roughly as follows –

  • 20 minutes to chat and get settled
  • 1 hour of quiet writing time
  • 30 minutes to read aloud and give feedback


One of the things we stress is that it’s their club. When we started, we drew up a ‘group contract’, giving the kids the opportunity to say what they wanted from the group, including things like ‘you can sit where you like’ and ‘shoes need not be worn’. (They could also come up with their own group name.) Changes and issues are run past the group and agreed by them.

Over time the contract has boiled down to one rule, which is ‘It’s up to you what you write and whether you write, but you can’t disturb anyone else’s writing time’. Generally that’s the only rule we’ve needed. If someone doesn’t feel like writing that’s fine, we all have days like that. They can read, draw, do emergency homework. But they can’t disturb anyone else.

The rules apply to the adults too. We don’t use their meeting time to have a chat because that would distract the kids and I feel it’s also a bit disrespectful. We’re at their club, not in our classroom.