Young writers all across the Pope County area came together, eager to tell their stories and unleash their creativity, as the Pope County Library Teen Writers program kicked off its second summer session in 2017 led by local author, Brandy Nacole.
Originally from Dover, Brandy found her passion for writing at the young age of 7. Although she never dreamed that she could make a career doing what she loves, she is now preparing to release her tenth novel.
Five years into her published writing career, Brandy is determined to use her love of fantasy to help others, especially teens, who struggle to cope with the burdens of life by teaching them how to find solace in creative writing. “It’s been a crazy journey. It was kind of a vision for me,” Brandy said. “Teenage life can be so awkward. Sometimes you feel like you don’t fit in, sometimes you try to fit in too much, and you kind of become overwhelmed. You’ve got bullying, you’ve got politics, and you’ve got all kinds of things that can mess with your life.”
During her high school career Brandy struggled with an eating disorder that led to her being hospitalized, but she was able to let out her emotions through her writing and the characters she created. Her dream is to show local teens that writing can help them deal with life if it is something they are passionate about. “When I reached out to the library I asked if they had a teen writing group, and what could we do to make it possible,” Brandy said. “I told them my vision and how I just want to help kids learn how to write, how to get it out, and how to be there for one another because we can all relate to one another.”
Regardless of how busy teenage life had become with school and the multitude of extracurricular activities that are now offered, Brandy knew that a judgment-free space for teens to express their emotions was still necessary. “I want to give them a place to come,” Brandy said. “I’m trying to teach them how to write. They want to learn about character depth, and I do that, but I also want them to realize that you have to write what you’re passionate about. I tell them all the time if you have something going on in your life, write about it. If you’re getting bullied at school and you don’t want to talk about it, write a character. Let what’s bothering you inside, out. And that’s what I really try to incorporate. Tell the story that you feel needs to be known.”
Coming up on its third anniversary in September, Teen Writers Group has evolved from a simple dream to a reality with the support and resources offered by the Pope County Library. Brandy said the library has really done a lot to help bring this program forth. “The library really did help me put it together,” Brandy said. “If it hadn’t have been for them there’s no way that I would’ve been able to do this because they offered the location, they help advertise and they are very supportive.”
Elizabeth Lilley, adult and teen services programming clerk, works alongside Brandy to make sure the Teen Writer’s Group runs smoothly, and even fills if when Brandy can’t attend the meetings. “I make sure we have the keys and can get into the building. That’s probably my most important role because we can be a little loud sometimes so they probably don’t want us hanging out in the library,” Elizabeth said laughing.
Elizabeth said she thinks the program is a good way for teens to see they are not alone and that they can be successful in their writing. “This is such a good outlet for them to be able to express their emotions,” Elizabeth said. “I know we’ve had people come in and share their poetry and a lot of it is really deep and really meaningful to them. I think it’s good that they have somewhere they can share that and be able to talk about their feelings.”
Elizabeth explained how the teens continue to grow since they’ve joined the program. Although, what they like and what they write about changes, she has noticed that they are beginning to understand how to think through a story and how to grab a reader’s attention. “It’s been a very positive environment and positive vibes going around,” Elizabeth said. “It really is a fun thing that they get to come in and share their ideas. Sometimes we just get to hang out and talk to people that know what it’s like to have a story inside them.”
The class is welcoming, the atmosphere relaxing and a bit silly. The goal is for the program to be teen led so it doesn’t feel like another day at school. Elizabeth said that they want to be a place where the teens can share what they write and feel comfortable doing it.
The teaching structure is flexible and the program offers an open space for teens to work out their emotions, collaborate with each other and receive constructive criticism.
Elizabeth noted the changes that she has seen among some of the student writers, and she admired how the teens have grown in skill and style in their writing. “We also do more technical writing with the grammar, and the editing, and the stuff that will make it easier when they are going back to edit their first draft,” Elizabeth said. “It’s also showing them how to write a first draft and showing them it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can fix it later. just get those ideas out and then worry about all of the details.”
Apart from having the expertise of a published author, the program offers a variety of resources to help the teens develop their skills and harness their creativity with activity based exercises and online sources that promote networking, provide feedback, and offer tips from other authors. “I know we’ve had some of them participate in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month in November,” Elizabeth said. “We also try to do a lot of games to involve writing and storytelling. Sometimes we’ll bring in something called super fight which doesn’t really sound much like a writing game, but it’s about understanding the character you’ve put together.
Elizabeth continually searches for different creative writing opportunities and contests that are free for the teens to enter in hopes for them to get recognized or published. “I try to look online and try to find writing based scholarships, essay contests or anything like that,” Elizabeth said. “Something they can do to try and get published or earn some money for college or just earn some money in general. If they want to go to college and get a degree in English or creative writing, we want to help them get there and make that more accessible for them.”
The program also offers a book club meeting on the last Tuesday of the month to see what each teen is reading as opposed to specifically assigning books. Then the group discusses why each book was or was not a good read, what made it that way, and how they can learn from it as writers. Elizabeth said that she coaches the students to read if they aren’t writing and to write if they aren’t reading because the two activities go hand in hand.
Brandy instructs the students to just sit down, follow their heart and to not worry about it being right the first time. She said that she encourages the teen writers to trust their instincts and to know that she is always available to help even when the teens are writing outside of the program. “It’s very rewarding for me to see them grow and to see their writing come out. It’s also flattering, to be honest, when they come to me for advice,” Brandy said. “I’ve met some of them before class to work with them, and they take my opinions very seriously and that’s what matters to me. I want them to know that I am dedicated to them 100 percent. I give them my contact information that way they can email me, text me, whatever.”
Brandy said that she hopes to see the Teen Writers Group grow in size, but she worries about not being able to reach each individual on a personal level. She said she wants to make sure that she is there for every eager writer that comes her way, and will offer more classes if necessary. In the meantime, the class will continue to laugh, joke and get carried away with their stories.
More information can be found on Facebook at PCLS Teen Writers Group or by calling 968-4368.