Writing for teens – workshop with Celia Rees, Cheltenham Literary Festival

I had the good fortune to attend a workshop today with award-winning YA author Celia Rees, on ‘Being a writer and finding your voice’. The three hour session covered a lot of useful hints and tips, which I thought I’d summarise for you lovely peeps who couldn’t attend!


You’d be surprised how many writers start a novel without knowing if it’s a book for children, teens or adults! So your first step is to know who you’re aiming your book at. Then consider what your genre is. It’s important to have these things clear in your mind before you start.


Yes, it seems so simple, but if you don’t write you’ll never become a published author! Celia recommended that we try the Pomodoro technique, where you set yourself a goal of writing for 5,10,15 minutes each day, and make sure you stick to this. Once you make a habit of writing each day, you’ll find it a lot easier to fit this into your daily schedule and there will be no more excuses as to why you’ve not written your bestseller.


You must know your market. If you hate reading YA fiction, then you really shouldn’t be writing it! You need to know what’s out there, what are the current and upcoming trends, and learn from other authors. Reading other people’s work will improve your own writing, so read, read, read!  And make notes. It’s SO important!


Celia suggested we keep a notebook with us at all times to jot down thoughts, so you don’t forget them. I think we all do this in some form or other, but it’s a good reminder. In addition, keep a scrapbook of images, poems etc that give you inspiration for your book. She showed us several journals stuffed with postcards, photos, poems for her novels THE FOOL’S GIRL and SOVAY. She referred back to these during her writing, and it’s a really good idea if you get stuck and need a spark of inspiration; I’ll certainly be doing it from now on!


One of Celia’s best tips was to consider ‘how can I make my book bigger?’. She didn’t mean in terms of length, but in plot. Where’s the drama? Are the stakes high enough? She suggested taking a number of ideas and bringing them together in one book to give it substance. If you find your book is lacking punch or isn’t keeping people interested, it’s probably because it’s not ‘big’ enough. So add more conflict, raise the stakes and do something really dramatic! 


A big part of the workshop today focused on ‘Voice’, the thing that makes your book unique and stand out from the rest of the slush pile.  Celia stated you should never try and force a ‘teen’ voice, as teenagers see right through this and find it a total turn off. So, like, totally don’t force it biyatch, it’s so not cool, like whatever, right? ;-p

She made us do 3 exercises, which I found very useful so why not give them a try yourself:

1) Take an event that happened to you today, and in five minutes write down everything you were thinking during that time. Don’t be shy, write it all down exactly how you were thinking it, even if it’s a rambling stream of consciousness – you’ll be surprised how scattered your brain is, how you go off on tangents, how nasty or vain or self-loathing you can secretly be. But most of all, you’ll reveal you true, inner voice. This is your basis to work from.

2) Now shut your eyes. You’re 15 years old, and you’re on your way to school. Remember everything about how you looked, who your friends were, your route to school, how you felt. Now write your journey to school as your 15 year old self. You’ll be quite stunned to see how angry, self-absorbed, melodramatic and intense your teenage self is! And hey presto, well done, you’ve now written the basis of your teen protagonist.

3) Now grab a friend. Get them to write a line of dialogue down on a piece of paper. Now you write a response. Keep doing this for five minutes. This execise is a great way to explore dialogue and see how ‘real’ people talk.

So that’s it for now, hope you found it helpful!

Laters peeps.


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