Changing Hands Bookstore is launching a virtual writing workshop for teens ages 13-17, with the first four-session series beginning Friday, April 9.
Sessions will be led by Suzanne Young, author of the New York Times bestselling YA series The Program, a dystopian romance with a suicide-prevention theme, and Girls with Sharp Sticks, a newer series that confronts pressing ethical questions.
Young is also a high school teacher at Gilbert Early College, a Leading Edge Academy school in Gilbert, where she provides online-only instruction in English language arts. (Leading Edge opened an optional online-only school a few years ago, she says, putting it “ahead of the curve” when the pandemic hit.)
The workshop she’s teaching through Changing Hands is called “Skip to the Good Part: And Other Strategies to Help Finish Your Story.” Participants will write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry through a variety of exercises, then discuss and edit each other’s work in a creative and supportive environment.
“The hardest part about writing a book is finishing a book. Sometimes the words just flow… and other times there is a brick wall you have to bust through first,” says Young, who will share “high interest strategies” she’s learned “to get that story finished.” (Spoiler alert: Her tips include note cards, “occasional tears, and tons of chocolate.”)
Young will emphasize that everyone has their own writing style. “My tips can be adjusted to fit your style,” she says. “I use note cards to physically see some of my plot holes. Writing your story out of order (skip to the good part) keeps up your enthusiasm for the story. The middle is sometimes very daunting.”
Her goal is to help writers “keep up that enthusiasm to finish the story.” She’s a big believer in “fast drafting, saving [the polishing] for the next round.” That’s also the theory behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November, which encourages writers to draft an entire novel in a month. “NaNoWriMo is not going to result in a novel you’re ready to send to publishers,” she says. “It’s more about putting yourself aside, getting out of your own way, and learning to finish a project.”
Her 90-minute classes also will touch upon “looking forward, thinking ahead about what you have to do, and learning how to follow through and polish what you’ve done. A lot of young people, especially during this pandemic, have been writing about their feelings, through poetry or journaling. This is about helping them organize those thoughts and stories into something coherent and finished, a reflection of these trying times.”
Which came first, teaching or writing?
Young started writing in middle school, spinning “murder mysteries starring my friends.” In college, she majored in creative writing. Originally from Utica, New York, she drove to Arizona after she graduated because “I was tired of being cold all the time. I wanted to be warm.” She started out writing short stores. In 2009 she wrote her first novel and in 2010 published her first book. Since then she has published 18 novels under prestigious labels including Penguin, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster.
The Program, in 2013, is the one that took off. “I was teaching [in a classroom] at that time,” she says. “It’s a story about a suicide epidemic, and a government that responds with treatment that erases your memories.” Ultimately a book about hope, she says, The Program makes clear that “overlooking, masking, erasing trauma does not heal it. You have to confront it.”
When the book hit the New York Times bestseller list, Young took a call from her agent while her students were at an assembly. “I told my principal after my agent called with the news. She came on the intercom and made an announcement. The doors to the assembly burst open and all of my students came running out, crying, ‘We did it, Miss Young!'”
The students from that group of seniors are still in her life, helping her with author events and book trailers.
Young has done a number of her YA book launch events with Changing Hands, including a recent virtual launch of her latest, Girls with Rebel Souls. It’s the third, and last, book in her Girls with Sharp Sticks series. Young describes the book as “a near-future thriller about group of friends in boarding school. When one girl goes missing, they all discover truths about the academy and about themselves. It deals with some important issues: how teen girls are treated in society, and how friendships with other girls can be a force to combat that.”
Ever the teacher, Young says she writes for “the reluctant reader,” plotting stories that “make you not want to stop reading the pages. If you’re teaching kids to love reading and writing, you make such a huge difference in their lives. I’m most proud of that connection.”
About Young People Write
The Changing Hands virtual writing workshop for ages 13-17 runs 5-6:30 p.m. on Fridays April 9, 16, 23 and 30. Cost is $100 per person plus a $5.99 processing fee. Register here.