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.