Best Teen Writing Group Around


A few months back, I got a call from my branch librarian wondering if I knew anything about writing groups for teens. A father was searching one for his daughter, who had a deep interest in creative writing and could find nothing available for her, except adult writing groups, which he didn't think would work. At the time, I couldn't find anything either, and then Shelly Rayborn contacted me to speak to the Teen Writing Club at Canal Fulton Public Library. I arrived in Canal Fulton (population 5,749...or so) and had lunch in the Dragonfly Tea Room down the street, which might seem off the subject except for in my mind, writing and food are pretty well inseparable, so there I was. It is a wonderful tea room and gift shop, and if you are going over to Canal Fulton with your teen, or if you are a teen going over to Canal Fulton, I highly recommend it. Doesn't matter if you are a guy. The two most important guys in my life (my dad and my husband) love tea rooms and have joined me in tea rooms in London and Thorpe Abbotts, England; in Dublin, Ireland; and Findlay, OH. We love tea rooms. The Dragonfly is in keeping with the best, both its dining room and its gift shop.

After the tea room, I headed over to the library, a lemon-yellow place as small town lovely as any, and there, I just fell in love with the Teen Writers group and with their librarian.

Teen Writing Contests

As many of my readers know, I am really down on writing contests for children and teens. I have written about this at length in my blog, "For the Kids Who Want to Create, Not Compete."  I have not yet written this: I believe that much of the impetus to hold writing contests comes out of the competition model of sports. And yet, in most incarnations of the sports model for young people, leading up to the competition is practice, modeling, and guidance. For the vast majroity  of the creative writing competitions I have seen for youth, there is no practice, no modeling, and no guidance: the entries are primarily from children who have scribbled down the first thing off the top of their little heads. For another sorry minority, these works have been improved upon by their parents before being sent in.

To be fair and to give teachers their due, the best entries tend to be from young people who had a teacher leading a class of them through writing and revising. But to be honest, most teachers I  know are so beleaguered by testing mandates which never ever value creative writing, that with sinking hearts, they don't get around to much story and poem writing for class. Here's a salute to the teachers that do, including the Stark County teachers who submit their work to the library's annual contest and a shout-out to Dawn Neeley Randall of the Elyria schools who is a teacher of all middle school language arts beyond envy.

Shelly Rayborn and the Teen Writers of the Canal Fulton Public Library


Shelly's group is active, ongoing, and long-standing.  When I went around the group asking them to
Shelly Rayborn, Canal Fulton Librarian
introduce themselves, each teen was able to articulate what s/he wrote and why, what writing meant to them, individually and as a group. And when a person was shy, their group mates spoke up and added to their list of talents. They were all unabashed about naming their weaknesses and what they needed to work on too-- a sign of writers and not dilettantes. Writing can be the most lonely of the arts, and one meaningful purpose of a good writing group is to offset that loneliness.

Another is to learn. I had told Shelly that I wanted my presentation to involve what they felt they wanted to learn, and they had sent me these topics:

1. How to develop a good world
See Spine Poems here
2. What makes a good main character
3.  How to be consistent throughout your story
4.  How to be original (and not rip off other people's ideas)
5.  Any Publishing advice            
6.  Tips for writing poetry

Clearly the group had already been at work, clearly they had some specific things they wanted to learn. In the course of the workshop, I learned a lot about what they had tackled under the guidance of Shelly, who is up to the minute with what teens are reading and writing and what's out there to try. When I mentioned the Spine Poems, which I had just tried this spring during National Poetry Month, I found the kids were all ahead of me on that one. In July, they are creating memes and turning them into buttons to wear. Teen writers can get as entrenched as any of us in writing their same thing over and over, and I love to see them being nudged to try the new while staying at work on their grand opus.  And each teen seems to be working on an opus, in addition to Shelly's prompts.

And that's what makes this group a model one to me. I see other teen librarians doing a great job with a writing exercise here and there, innovative and interesting ones that I'd like to try. The Canal Fulton Teen Writers Group does that but also has a regular meeting schedule and a connection among themselves and their adult leader that is clearly productive.

The last thing Shelly reminded them was to get their entries in for the library's writing contest. And you know what? These teens were ready for one. I have no objections whatsoever.

If you know of other teen writing groups in Northeast Ohio, do tell here in the comments. I suspect there are young writers who'd like to find them.

Canal Fulton Teen Writers Meeting Space

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