“Just don’t put my name on the spine.” Jessie eyed me, laptop half-opened, waiting for my promise.
She’d come such a long way.
I’d first met Jessie in second grade. Back then, she’d hidden under the table while our class wrote and rehearsed a collaborative play. Even though she tried to hide it, I could see her creative spark. From her safe zone under the table, she’d toss out an idea here, a character there. I could see she had stories to tell.
When Jessie finally dared to start her first novel, at first, the writing process was joyful. Then, as her family and friends became more excited about her project, telling her they couldn’t wait to read it, she froze. Finishing the book would require taking credit for this story. Her heart-felt beliefs about how crucial creativity is for all people––for herself––were woven throughout the plot. Handing the published novel over to a reader would be like stepping into that spotlight she’d avoided, exposing her heart for all to see.
Even though I promised her that she could publish under a pen name if she chose, she decided to abandon her book.
Watching Jessie walk away from her writing broke my heart. Society of Young Inklings was supposed to be a place where writers found their voices, not a place where they abandoned them. In fact, I’d started the organization because I’d been so much like Jessie. As a young person, I’d had stories pouring out of my heart. Like Jessie, I had a fierce inner critic, one that kept all those stories bottled up inside me. Unleashing my own voice had been a battle, and it had made all the difference.
I knew Jessie would have to make her own choice. So, I checked in with her now and then. It took her about a year, but she did finally make the choice to pick her writing back up. Eventually, she finished the draft of a novel, revised it, and moved into the publication process. Every step along the way required renewed determination, the willingness to share her heart more and more.
Near the end of her project, Jessie was asked to give a speech for her fellow students. By overcoming her fears, win by win, she’d built the resilience necessary to stand up and share her profound voice.
Whether they dream of becoming novelists or not, all youth have important stories to tell. Many of them struggle, like I did, and like Jessie did, to tap into that voice, to dare to unleash it, to open themselves how that voice might impact the greater world.
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Thank you, so much, for helping youth writers thrive.