This week publishYOUth spoke with Katie Grierson, an esteemed youth writer from Nevada! As a 2020 YoungArts Novel Finalist and a Presidential Scholar in Arts Semifinalist, Katie has invaluable advice for publishing and cherishing your work. She is also a prose editor for The Lumiere and Bitter Fruit Review, and a member of the acclaimed 2020 Adroit Mentorship Cohort. Here we spoke with Katie about having confidence in your work, her Star Wars-inspired dedication to writing, and her competition experiences!
What drives your passion for writing?
KG: Honestly, Star Wars. Spoilers ahead, but I loved Amidala and when she died it broke my five-year-old heart. I pledged myself to coming up with an ending she deserved and now around thirteen years later, I have that ending and a lot of my own endings to show for it. What drives my passion for writing is the brilliance, comfort, annoyance, and heartbreak I’ve found in other art; it stirs something inside me and makes me want to create.
You’ve won many accolades for your writing, such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards! How did you prepare to submit for these competitions, and what is something you learned from these opportunities?
KG: The last few pieces I’ve submitted to Scholastic Art & Writing have been very last minute and very much needing more thought; I’m really not into preparation! But the most important thing I’ve found has been to not take competitions too seriously. It’s amazing to win and less amazing to not do well, but no matter how they turn out, I think you have to separate who you are as a writer from the results of a competition; they can only tell you their decided merit of the piece you submitted, which is specific feedback and not something that determines your skills. I would also add that preparation is really important and I’m not a role model in that area, so do the opposite of me!
In 2020 you became a YoungArts Finalist for Novel, and later became a Presidential Scholar in Arts Semifinalist. How was the competition experience, and what advice would you give to students in being chosen?
KG: YoungArts was magical and life-changing. The act of submitting, again, lacked a lot of preparation but the call that came to tell me I won was incredible and beyond validating; I believe I won because I sent in my best work—work that was honest, personal, and something I was incredibly afraid of sharing. My advice on being chosen is to never filter what you create and actually run towards the ideas that you’re unsure about writing, and to submit the pieces that you’re most scared of.
At the National YoungArts week you read a stunning excerpt from your novel! Can you tell us a bit about the story, and how has your novel-writing process been since?
KG: The excerpt I submitted to YoungArts comes from a story about losing someone unexpectedly and how you rebuild after that. It’s about grief, friendship, and growing up, and it means the world to me. I’m not working on it currently but I think that’s the magic of novel-writing: these stories can continue to exist inside of you for years until you’re ready to write them.
How can students strengthen and grow their writing skills, and what was your experience like in the 2020 Adroit Mentorship Cohort?
KG: Adroit! I’ve never been so productive. The Mentorship made me uncomfortable in that I had to write exclusively shorter works; but the lessons I learned from doing so rippled through to everything I write. This experience was truly one of learning, and I recommend submitting to it! I had such a wonderful time and I still talk to my mentor!
I think what helped me grow is realizing that along with being a writer, you have to be an experimenter; some of my best writing came out of Adroit and being forced to try new things with structure, point-of-view, and premise. A lot of my problems originate from approaching a piece with the intention of making it the best work of prose ever and not enjoying creating it. When it comes to strengthening and growing, I think that’s the best advice I can give: let yourself have fun and be an artist.
You’re a prose editor for two wonderful literary magazines, The Lumiere Review and The Bitter Fruit Review! What features in pieces submitted have caught your eye, and is there anything upcoming for the magazines that you can tell us about?
KG: I’ve loved reading all the submissions I get for Lumiere and Bitter Fruit Review, but I’m particularly drawn to work that is honest, subtle, and surprising. I’m also a sucker for ghost stories, aliens, and cheesy romances.
And yes! The Lumiere Review has just opened submissions for our first writing contest, and you can submit to that until January 15th. Regular submissions are always open for them so please send us some of your work! The Bitter Fruit Review is releasing a Fall Edition very soon, which will be gorgeous like every edition is, so check that out in the coming weeks!
Finally, what advice would you have for youth writers in building confidence in their work, regardless of publication?
KG: I’ve figured out recently that you should never write or edit with the thought of making something publishable. The pieces I’ve loved the most are the ones I hope no one ever reads. Confidence comes from this same idea I think. A lot of it can stem from external validation, but the most essential kind is the one you build in yourself, and for me, that comes from reading older writing and recognizing lines, pieces of dialogue, or imagery that I adore and want to replicate.
If we acknowledge that we made something that wasn’t there before, that we like the thing that we made, and that we can keep doing that over and over again, I think we all realize we’re more gifted than we give ourselves credit for.