The Fountain of Youth

If uninhibited creativity is a young person’s game, the nominees for this year’s Amazon Canada Youth Short Story category prize have more than a few nuggets of wisdom for their literary peers.

The Amazon Canada First Novel Award - Youth Short Story category finalists. From left: Annabel Li, Danielle Lopez, Caitlin Mah, Bohmie Song, Celeste Trealout, and Cassie Thompson

Depending on the day, social media can either be a welcome font of “inspo” or a breeding ground for the worst kind of comparison. It’s one thing to be jealous of someone’s haircut or salmon bowl, but another thing entirely to stand apart from the crowd when everyone is suddenly into Instagram poetry. For young writers coming up in the information age, a central struggle will be distinguishing their own unique styles and voices from those of the masses in the feed. Amid the cacophony, we asked the nominees for this year’s Amazon Canada Short Story Prize to speak directly to their peers. We asked:What do young writers need to hear most in 2022?

Creativity starts at a young age. Kids try new things, take risks, and imagine new ideas and concepts. But in school—and in life—young writers lose their authentic voices and fall into the pattern of repeating things that have been done already. It’s so important to encourage the younger generation to write about anything that appeals to them. Of course, it’s essential to teach the basics of grammar, but it’s also necessary for writers to maintain their personalities and for teachers to guide them to incorporate that into their work. Every individual has their own beliefs and experiences that shape their perception of the world. We all have something we want to say. Young writers need to be told that their story matters—whether it’s something we’ve kept buried for years, or something silly we thought about last night before falling asleep. The most beautiful and masterful writing comes from sharing a piece of you as a writer and keeping that spark of creativity alive.
–Celeste Trealout, “A Rose Once Grew Here”

During the COVID-19 quarantine, I had lost a huge amount of motivation. The world just seemed bleak and lonely, and I was unable to write. I only came out of this slump after a close friend of mine forced me to rest. I was so caught up in my burnout that I wasn’t allowing myself to recharge. I think young writers need to hear that It’s okay to feel tired, that it’s okay to take a break. It doesn’t mean that you are worthless or need to ‘catch up.’ It happens to a lot of us. Listen to your body and mind.
–Bohmie Song, “Lilacs Glow Green”

My story took me three months to write; I kept running into the same problem over and over. One section wasn’t flowing, and I had to take it apart and figure out what was wrong with it. At some points, I was pretty close to saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do this.’ But I focused and pushed past it, and it worked out. Young writers should know that there are people who need to hear their stories. Writing can be difficult and easily disheartening, especially when you’re trying to work past writer’s block or rejection. You may not find them today, or tomorrow, or even for a few years, but somewhere out there is a reader who will thank you for your perseverance. Writers should never doubt that their work can—and will—change someone’s world.
–Annabel Li, “What About the Wild Things?”

I think the first thing writers need to hear the most in 2022 is, well, themselves. We live in a unique age, where writing communities are super-accessible. I could go on Twitter and immediately be bombarded with hundreds of young poets and writers who have all accomplished great things. That wasn’t a thing 30 or 40 years ago. Authors have very specific styles and specific processes, but when I was getting into writing, I was tempted to mimic these people. I thought this is the only path to success as a young writer. We don’t all have to be the editor of our own lit mag. The most important thing isn’t to hone a very specific aesthetic on social media. Just focus on honing your craft and take autonomy over how you receive feedback.
–Caitlin Mah, “Mei-Ling, the Heavens Are Crying”

“Just keep writing what you want. I know, for me, it feels like there are so many good stories that are already out there. And you start thinking yours might not be good enough to do well, or that maybe it’s not worth writing. That thought was discouraging to me when I started preparing my short-story submission. But it shouldn’t matter if your story is quote-unquote good enough. If you have a story to share, it’s unique and super worthy of being written. You hear a lot that there are no unique ideas. But it’s your own perspective on that idea that makes it shine.”
–Cassie Thompson, “Fear Bright Eyes”

“I struggle a lot with feeling confident about my writing; I think most writers can relate. Maybe I think it has to sound a certain way, or that I don’t use advanced vocabulary or my sentences aren’t long enough. I think young writers shouldn’t be too concerned with all the details of writing itself. Pay more attention to the content. The most memorable writing advice I received was from one of my high school English teachers. She quoted Bill Wheeler, a famous American writer, who said, ‘Writing is clear thinking made visible.’ You just need to be able to convey your message to who you’re writing for, whether it’s meaningful, funny or sad or inspiring or persuasive. And that audience includes you.”
–Danielle Lopez, “The Leaf and the Ivy Vine”


Katie Underwood