Publishing Outlets for Teen Writers

Students in my Literary Arts program are required to submit their creative projects to the outside world:  writing contests, literary magazines, or local, regional, and national publications. I believe students should experience submitting their academic and creative work for publication for the numerous tangential lessons, including close reading for submission guidelines and preparing their manuscripts with formatting dependent on those guidelines. Researching a possible venue for an article or essay, studying submission guidelines, and actually submitting their work to a contest or a publication is great training for budding writers.

Each year I introduce them to websites such as New PagesWriters Digest  and Poets and Writers,  which has a searchable index for numerous possible venues as well as a database of articles on both fiction, poetry, and non-fiction craft issues. Students have also submitted their work to contests like Scholastic Art and Writing and the National Council of Teachers of English’ Norman Mailer contest, which awards, as part of their prize package, the chance to be published. There are also local contests (local for me is Kentucky) such as the Kentucky Poetry Society contests which publishes the winners in their literary magazine. Students also submit to our school literary magazine or school newspaper, and really industrious students can even self-publish their work and distribute it.

Another indirect benefit of seeking publishing outlets is that students begin to read online literary magazines searching for potential submission spots. I tell them not to just send their writing like a plague of locust out upon the land, but to make a smart, targeted, well-research submission. One of the first things I ask students when they are considering submitting to a venue is: Have you read their publications to know what kinds of work they publish? Some online venues have hyperlinked back copies or send free sample copies.

Another lesson of submission for publication is the soft skill of fortitude.  The goal of submitting a piece of student writing to the real world is not necessarily to get published, but merely to understand the process of submission.  However, when one does get a response, either publication (yeah!) or rejection (seriously?), there is value in getting that first rejection slip.  Students join the ranks of great writers, like Rowling, Gaiman, or Melville, who were rejected numerous times.

Publishing Outlets

Here are a few of the publishing outlets I suggest for teen writers:

  • Amazing Kids Network Magazine is an online publication that features work by both middle grade and teen writers. They also host interviews with mentor writers and have monthly writing contests.
  • The Claremont Review publishes young writers and artists, aged 13-19, from anywhere in the English-speaking world.  Twice yearly, they accept fiction, poetry, drama, graphic art and photography.
  • Creative Kids Magazine publishes poetry, fiction, personal narratives, humor along with fantasy, historical and science fiction. They publish four print issues and maintain a website of work written by teen writers.
  • Hanging Loose Magazine.   A division of Hanging Loose Press, the subscription magazine supports and publishes teen writers in their monthly magazine. They accept poetry and prose from high school students and will offer feedback and editorial advice if requested. If work is accepted, writers are paid a small stipend and two copies of the magazine wherein their work appears
  • Rookie Magazine This is a publication especially for teen girls, and I love the funky graphics of this site, which posts writing and art from their readers.  Rookie also hosts over twenty categories of posts from “eye candy” to “you asked it” sections with writing on music, style, clothes, and fashion.
  • Stone Soup has been around for more than 40 years and is now available in both print and web versions.  The readers and writers of this magazine are 14 years or younger, so only freshmen writers might want to pursue a publishing spot with this publication.
  • Teen Ink.  Since 1989, teen writers have found a publishing opportunities at Teen Ink, who considers submissions for their online and print magazine, as well.  Teen Ink also provides feedback on novels as well.
  • Teen Lit  distributes free books to teens in exchange for a review that is edited and then published on their site.  They also publish short stories, poetry, and essays on their site, and host a discussion board, a writing community, and a treasure trove of writing links for craft and inspiration.
  • VOYA or Voice of Youth Advocates Magazine  is a journal that promotes YA literature and reading. The magazine invites teen writers to contribute to the magazine through poetry and art contests, as a book reviewer, or by submitting a manuscript for the Notes from the Teenage Underground column.
  • YARN or Young Adult Review Network is an online literary journal the publishes fiction, poetry and essays for Young Adult readers, written by established authors and teen writers

Online Writing Communities

Another way students can reveal their work to the world is to join an online writing community.  In these communities, participants submit their pieces for discussion and ranking by other members.  If students are old enough and responsible enough to have a Facebook page, they also may enjoy joining online writing communities.  Several of my students have used one or more of the following to publish their work:

  • BookCountry is an online writing community with a crisp look where students can read and review others’ works as well as learn about the craft of writing and pick up a few publishing pointers.
  • Figment has a lot of bells and whistles including a blog called “The Daily Fig,” which features posts about craft, inspiration, plotting, manuscript formatting, and much more. There are also multiple forums and a feature called “Figment Chat” where members can chat with published authors and writers.
  • Go Teen Writers is a supportive community with a seriously well-stocked archive of craft articles about plot, characters, point of view, and much more. Maintained by YA authors Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson, and Shannon Dittemore, the site is well-designed and generous with resources for teen writers.
  • Scribophile is less a social media site than it is an online workshop site where community members share their work to get and give feedback as well as trade information about writing.
  • Wattpad is a streamlined social media site for writers and readers.  If student create a profile, they can post chapters of their novels and read the work of other writers for free from more than 20 different genres.
  • Writer’s Café is a similar social media site that hosts a blog and has a neat publishing tab with a searchable database of literary magazines and writing contests.
  • Write the World is my new favorite teen writing community.  A nicely-designed, global, non-profit organization that works with teachers and student writes all over the world, they offer writing groups for peer review as well as competitions, writing prompts, and expert feedback.  This site also provides resources, writing prompts, and lessons for teachers of creative writing.



Personal Universe Deck: An Oldie, but a Goodie

Personal Universe Deck is a great way to tap into kids’ linguistic whimsy and their sense of playfulness with words. Plus kids get a personal deck of 100 word cards they can keep all year long or for the rest of their lives. The Personal Universe Deck as a writing exercise has been attributed to American poet and playwright Michael McClure .  This archived one-hour 1976 lecture where McClure takes poetry students through the process is a must-listen before you lead your students through the process.

This activity has been tweaked and adapted many times to teach a host of writing and language skills.    Sometimes when we have an afternoon where a fire drill, a pep rally, or some school wide test has jangled our nerves and squandered our sacred time, I ask kids to pull out their universe decks and write a poem using four of their cards. Sometimes I ask each student to throw three cards into a basket, then I pull out ten cards, write the words on the board, and we each write a short story or scene based on the words.  The key to doing this well is allowing each student to build her own universe in words. Their universe; their words. I usually take about five days to allow kids to develop their deck.  Each day, as a bell ringer, I take kids through one stage of creation.

 Day One: I ask kids to write 100 concrete, specific words in ten minutes (or longer, depending on the class) that represent their individual, personal, beautiful universe.  All words need to be words each kid loves, words she thinks are beautiful, words she thinks exemplifies who she is, and words that are in some way associated with the five senses.  The words should also represent their good side and their bad side, as well as their past, present, and future.

I model this on the board:  “Okay, start with free association on clean sheet of paper.  Start with the first word that occurs to you.  Lilac. I don’t know why I just thought of that, but my grandmother had lilac bushes in her yard, and I’m trying to keep in mind my past, present, future. Each word needs to have some significance to you, so lilac. That’s a smell word, right?  And now I’m standing in my grandmother’s yard by the lilac bush, and what do I hear? How about thunder? Yep, I visited her in the summers, and storms popped up a lot.  That would be a sound for me. Now, just start writing concrete words and follow the associations.  I remember touching the cool, rough concrete of my grandfather’s dairy barn.  Barn is one of my words.  That might be a touch word for me.  Don’t just write down anything to finish the assignment – find words that are beautiful to you, that represent your universe, that are concrete.”

Day Two: Same thing on Day Two as Day One:  we create another 100 words.  This second day of free assocation will be important when we start the selection process on Day Three.  My philosophy is that each kid needs 200 words to find the best 100 words that represent his life.

Day Three:  I ask students to start weeding and whittling down their words to the essential 100 beautiful, signficant, personal words.  I remind them  the words should not be descriptive of senses, like “salty” or “sweet,” but concrete words like “hot dog” or “custard.” Cut out the vague words and replace them with specific. Avoid “bird;” intead say “wren” or “raven” or “blue jay.” Also, cut out words with suffixes, like – ing, -ly, -ed, -s.

Day Four: Students begin selecting words for categories. Eighty of the words need to be related to the five senses:  16 words for sight, 16 words for sound, 16 words for smell, 16 words for touch, 16 words for taste.   Add ten words for movement. Add three words for abstraction.  Then the last seven words are anything else they want.  Kids can make the below chart in their writing notebook for classification or just number their words.

Sight  (16) Smell (16) Sound (16) Taste (16) Touch (16) Movement (10) Abstraction (3) Anything (7)

Day Five: I give each kid 50 index cards, and they fold them in half and divide them into 100 small cards that create their “deck.”  On the back of the card, write your initials or some tag that indicates the card is yours.  On the front of the card, write one glorious word.  Repeat 99 times.  Presto, your Personal Universe Deck! (You can even get fancy and laminate these if you bring your media technician a nice pie and promise to clean her house.)

Teachers, how would you use this in your classroom?! Please share and add your ideas in the comments.



Family Isn’t Always Blood: A Visualization Exercise for Personal Writing About Friends

Most high school students identify more deeply with their peer group than with their family.  They value those people who are in their life by choice, not by blood, but students are often self-conscious about writing about how much they cherish someone in their peer group.  This activity is designed to place them in a hypothetical situation that is both safe and secure where they interact with one of their friends.  The writing that is produced in this sequence rarely becomes a draft of an essay, but often students discover something about themselves or about the other person that leads to an thoughtful and meditative piece of descriptive writing.

To start this activity, I ask students to answer the following 20 questions that will generate a list of people.


  1. Who are you most likely to confide in?
  2. Who are you most likely to get fashion advice from?
  3. Who is your teacher?
  4. Who knows where all the bodies are buried?
  5. Who makes you feel alone when you are with them?
  6. Who has betrayed you?
  7. Have you been Friendzone? And if so, by who?
  8. Who was your best friend in elementary school?
  9. Who was your best friend in middle school?
  10. Who is your best friend now?
  11. Which one of your friends will not make it to thirty?
  12. Who is the clown in your circle of friends?
  13. Who is your Frenemy?
  14. Who is the rule maker in your circle of friends?
  15. Who’s the most irritating person in your friend circle?
  16. Who’s the last person you shared a secret with?
  17. Who makes you laugh the most?
  18. Who truly gets you?
  19. Who would not be happy for you if you won $43 million in the lottery tonight?
  20. Who would you gladly die for?


After students answer all 20 questions, I ask them to add five more friends’ names and imagine it is a guest list for a party in their honor.At this point in the lesson, I ask them to sit up straight, place their hands neutrally on their desk or in their laps, close their eyes, take a few deep breathes to clear their minds and listen to my voice as they imagine this scene. My script:

“Okay, let’s get started.  Close your eyes and imagine it’s a beautiful day outside. You’re walking up a long drive way to a very large house.  You can hear lots of people inside, and you hear music.  As you walk onto the porch, the door swings open and someone beckons you inside.  You are led to a giant dining hall where an enormous table is laden with bread, meats, fruit, cheese, and drinks of all kinds. Seated around the table are all your friends who are happy you have arrived. This party is in your honor. You are seated at the head of the table.  Everyone is eating and laughing and having a good time.   You feel completely happy, safe and whole.  Look around the table again.  Take a few minutes to look around the table, and now let your gaze naturally fall on someone.  Focus on this one person and look at them closely. How do they talk? How do they laugh? How do they chew, eat their food, hold their fork?  What are they wearing?  Really observe them, listen to them.  Now open your eyes and describe this person.”


Students then write for about five minutes, describing this person.


“Okay, close your eyes and return to this scene.  As you observe this person, he or she gets up from the table and comes to stand next to you.  “Is there something you want to say?” he or she says, and you say, ‘Yes, there is something I want to say to you, but it’s too noisy in here.’  And this person says, ‘Follow me.’  He or she walks out of the room, motioning for you to follow.  You walk out of the dining hall into a long hall. At the very end of the hall, you see a plain wooden bench under a big window.  The person motions for the two of you to sit on the bench. You do.  You are very close to this person. Your knees are almost touching. ‘Now,’ this person says to you. ‘What is it that you want to say to me?’  Open your eyes, and write down what you would like to say to this person.”


Students then write for about five minutes, describing in first person what they would like to say.


“Okay, close your eyes again and return to this scene.  This person has listened thoughtfully to everything you’ve said to them.  He or she says, ‘There’s something I’d like to tell you also, but let’s go outside. It’s such a beautiful day.’  The person motions that you should follow, and you both walk out of the house and down the driveway and into a beautiful field full of tall grass and wildflowers.  Then you and this person face each other. The wind is blowing gently. You can feel the sun on your arms, and this person says, ‘There’s something I want to tell you also.’ Slowly open your eyes, tune into what this person wants to tell and write.”


Students then write for five minutes, describing what they believe this person would say to them.  This is often the hardest part of the writing. Sometimes the information they hear is buoyant; sometimes it is damning.


After this activity, I have students put away the writing they generated and write a brief vignette or personal essay about the person they focused on. The writing is always deeper, more complex and rich after the visualization because they’ve spent time with this person in the unguarded, mutually beneficial and communicative environment of their own brain on the page.

Writing the Vignette: A Lesson Plan for Generating Memories from Place

generating memories from a top-to-bottom space

This lesson takes about 30 minutes to complete, and it has three parts: visualizing, listing, and writing.  The objective is to generate memories from a specific place.

In E.B. White’s luminous essay “Once More to the Lake,” White writes about taking his son on a vacation to a lake in Maine that he visited with his own father during the summers of his youth. White recalls his memories of the lake, the cabin, the local restaurant, and the summer weather in clear, sharp prose. While his writing is a model for eloquent, simple style, he also tells us a thing or two about recalling memories. On reminiscing, White writes: It is strange how much you can remember about places like that once you allow your mind to return into the grooves which lead back. You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing.

For some reason, my students, who range from 14 to 18 years old, have as difficult a time remembering their childhood as many of the adult students I teach during summer workshops.  While it might seem unbelievable to adults that someone who is only 10 years removed from their 6-year-old self would have just as hard of time remembering those moments as someone who is 40, this experience has proven true in my classroom over and over.

In order to help my students of all ages to “return into the grooves which lead back,” I ask students to draw on the physical realities of a place before trying to mine that landscape for significant memories.

Visualizing: First I ask students to close their eyes and visual a small interior space from childhood—a bedroom, a porch, a hall, an attic, a kitchen.  The space should be a place they can imagine walking through and noticing things to the left and right of their walking path.

I say: “Imagine you are walking through this space. As you walk, stop often and look to your right.  Notice the individual items there –the floor, the walls, the paint, the light switches, the tables or bookcases or lockers, the plants, the windows.  Are there animals or people there? Now look to your left; notice the individual elements there – the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the furniture, the hardware, the plants, the animals, or people.”

Listing: I spend about three minutes having students silently visualize this space with their eyes closed before they ever start to write anything. Then I ask them to get out their writing notebooks and draw three vertical columns on a clean, fresh page.

I say: “Okay, we are going to walk through this space again, but this time with our eyes open and taking notes about the things on either side of us.  Imagine yourself at the bottom of this space. Maybe you are standing at one end of a hall or at the door of a room or on the edge of your grandmother’s front porch.  Walk through this space again slowly, and starting at the bottom of your page, jot down all the items that you noticed as you walk through.  Write down all the things you notice on your right in your far right column. Write down all the things you notice on your left in your far left column.  Leave the middle column open.”

Writing: I give students about seven minutes to list as many things as possible. I encourage them to fill both columns, from the bottom up, with items without describing them in too much detail. The list is only to serve as a reminder of the physical items that were present when a memory was made.

I say: “Now that we’ve recreated two lists of items that would be in this space if you were to return to it and walk through it, I want you to write, in the center column, the memories that you associate with this place. You might want to list, number, or bullet these items or you can just start describing the memories that you have of this space.   Once you have filled up the center column, continue on to the back of this page using the whole page to explore the memories that this space holds for you. If you get stuck, return to the three columns and put yourself back into that space, using the items that you noticed as you ‘walked’ through to jog your memory.”

I give students 20 minutes to write.  During this time, I creep around the room, peering over their shoulders to see what memories have surfaced.  I often jot down two or three lines that startle, surprise or tear my heart out to read to the class later when I wrap up the lesson.

This writing activity may or may not lead to a finished piece, but students have resurrected something from their past that they might choose to write about in the future.

Writing the Vignette: A Lesson Plan for Generating Sharp and Vivid Images

This lesson takes about 45-60 minutes to complete, and it has three parts: listening, listing, and writing.  The objective is to generate the first draft of a sharp and vivid vignette.

Writing about parents can be difficult for teenagers.  Students don’t know whether they should mythologize mom and dad with sugary platitudes or murder them in their sleep.  Whether or not a writer delivers saccharine tributes or murderous plots, student writers can benefit from avoiding clichés and thinking about their parents in vivid images and sharp, sensory details.  I offer the advice given to me by my favorite farmer-poet-activist-madman Wendell Berry: See clichés as an opportunity to work.

Listen: To start this lesson, I played Boston slam poet CD Collin’s 12-minute vignette about her mother, “The Vigilantes of Vance,” from her wonderful spoken word collection Kentucky Stories.  I asked students to listen actively by jotting down phrases and words Collins used to describe her mother.  They listed lines like Collins’ description of her mother dropping her Derringer in her purse “like a roll of mints” and the image of her mother’s cat who had been run over by a car, his little eyes poked out like “diced potatoes.”

List: Next, I asked students to draw a three-column graph in their writing notebooks, listing the five senses in the first column and jotting down phrases that would describe their mother both positively and negatively by each sense.  As an example to get them started, I drew a graph on the board and walked through the senses that I associated with my own mother

Sensory Image Positive Negative
Sensory Image Positive Negative
Tulips Red, flashy, waxy sharp, first up in the spring, color against a dead winter The hanging lips of petals, the yellowed stalks, ringed in a dirty car tire
Buzz saw The motion of work, never resting, always moving, working, industry The spitting, cutting buzzing, ringing, slicing sound of her voice
Sunshine Smell of sweat and sun on her skin, the clean, just washed, line-dried sunshine smell of her hands Burning heat, the intensity, the relentlessness of sunshine, glaring, blaring, jangling nerves of a relentless heat
Salt Pure, honest, clean smell of salt, preserving, conserving, familiar Bitter, salty, brackish, briny, too much salt can make you sick,
Cold Cold hands on a fevered forehead, holding my head while I puked, smooth, clean, cold, calm Withdrawn, cold, nimble, sharp and slapping, hands that cut cold onions, and shredded cold meat

Write:  The assignment was to write a snapshot of their mother using vivid language and one or all or none of the images generated in their graph. In my class, all writing assignments come with a caveat. If you want to write about this, you can; the activity may present you with a gift you would not have received otherwise. If you don’t want to write about this, you don’t have to. Write about something else.  If you don’t understand what we’re doing, fantastic; as the Mad Farmer says, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”

Here are two students’ rough drafts from this exercise:

Haley’s piece was bittersweet – a once close relationship with her mother drowned out by female competiveness.

When I was little, I thought I would be a singer. I’d walk around the house humming tunes all day long. “You have your mother’s voice,” they’d tell me.  That used to be a compliment.My mother was a songbird. Beautiful melodies would spring from her throat. But like the annoying birds of spring, she was loud, drowning out peace in the early hours. She was the reason I stopped singing. We’d stand in church following along to joyous tunes. My mother and I used to work together, combining our voices. I don’t know when it became a competition. Soon her goal became to sing louder than me, to drown out my voice, to douse my fire. I can’t hear my melody, only my mother’s overbearing one. Her voice, which used to be sweet as honey, turned sour like bad apples in my ears. Now, in church, I stand as stoic as my dad, mouthing words to lyrics as my mother joyously chirps her victory.

Serena’s poetic piece weighed on the reader with her vivid images and sharp details.

Her skin tastes different than mine, not like ashes and spice and wind, not like cares with broken mufflers and flickering streetlamps. She tastes like baggage, like the heaviness of mildewed cardboard boxes with rotting bottoms full of haggard scrapbooks that haven’t seen the light in decades. She tastes like the dust that gathers on the windowsills and in corners, like formaldehyde slathered upon freckles and dimples and creases that burns the tip of the tongue and soaks her wind-beaten epidermis until it becomes a soggy piece of paper, a wet map with the names of cities blurred by the moisture and a compass with the arrows snapped off.  She tasted like a plucked eyelashes that flutter to the ground with the lightest butterfly kiss and wiry hair.