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Advice to a Young Writer

By Jacob Saenz

As a not-so-young writer myself, I feel I’m still figuring things out myself, but I suppose that’s one of the great things about writing. No matter how old you may feel, there’s still room for growth as a writer. Below are some tips on how to be a better writer both for you and myself.

Read. Read. Read!
If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a great reader, a voracious reader, and a ravenous reader. Read any and everything; books, news articles, biographies, comic books, scientific research papers, etc. Let your mind soak up all it can when it comes to words.

Write Daily (if you can)!
Give yourself time to write throughout each day, even if it’s only for a few minutes. The important thing is to get your pen onto paper or, keystrokes onto a document if you’re on a computer. Even if you only have time to write down one sentence, the act of writing will gather momentum and more words/thoughts/images will come to you as you write. Keep writing until you no longer can.

 Go for a Walk
If you find yourself stuck while writing, try going for a walk outside to clear your mind. There’s something mystical and magical in nature that can sometimes help the brain think things through. Maybe the wind helps sweep away cobwebs in your mind. Maybe the sun sheds a light onto dark corners of your cranium. Whatever it is, taking a walk can help clear your mind and allow a new insight into your writing. If you’re stuck, leave the house with only a pen and paper and take a little stroll in the neighborhood or your local park.

 Read Aloud
As a poet, I like to read my work aloud to myself when I finish a draft of a poem. I find that reading it aloud tends to help me locate places or parts of the poem that aren’t working, at least sonically. Try reading your work out loud to yourself when you’re done with a draft. And if you have a trusted friend, have your friend read your work aloud to you. You may find some interesting revelations in the voice of another reader.

 Write What You Know/Write What You Don’t Know
This can be a clichéd piece of advice but it’s true: write what you know. A lot of my own writing is autobiographical, based on my own childhood growing up in a neighborhood full of gang activity. Lately, though, I have been moving away from my own personal history and I am allowing my writing to become more imaginative. Allow yourself to take your writing into more imaginative places even if it’s not based on real life events. Imagine if you had to live your life with a dog’s nose. Imagine if your parents were secretly aliens. Let your writing take you into the known and unknown parts of your mind.

You can read some of Jacob's poems here.

Do you have additional advice for young people? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Poet and editor Jacob Saenz was born in Chicago and raised in Cicero, Illinois. He earned a BA in creative writing from Columbia College in Chicago. Saenz has been an editor at Columbia Poetry Review and an associate editor at RHINO. He works as an acquisitions assistant at the Columbia College library and has read his poetry at a number of Chicago venues. A CantoMundo fellow, he has also been the recipient of a Letras Latinas Residency Fellowship and a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship.