Jarred Thompson on the importance of Youth writing their stories

"Being a young writer in South Africa takes a lot of self-belief and dedication"

Being a young writer in South Africa takes a lot of self-belief and dedication. I started out writing poetry in high school, doodling about my teenage angst in my math workbooks, and it was an English teacher, Catharina Roux, who saw the potential in my poetry and my love for literature. It was not a big gesture but just the simple willingness on her part to be open to read my poetry and give honest feedback that laid the foundation that many young writers need in the early stages of figuring out their own work.

The path to becoming an established writer is not clearly demarcated as it is, say, for lawyers or doctors. There isn’t one clear path, and I don’t think there should be. You don’t have to study literature to be a writer, but you do have to have a passion for storytelling, reading and a genuine interest in people, histories, ideas, places and possibilities. You must invest in yourself—take writing craft courses, schedule reading and writing times, submit your work to literary journals, go to book launches, share your work with trusted readers, consume interviews with your favourite authors and look for opportunities to build connections in your literary community.   

It's so important for the youth to write their own stories because young people come into a world that dictates to them a lot of the time. The world takes it upon itself to mould young people in the home, at school, and even amongst friends. At the writing desk, however, that all changes. The young writer has the chance to mould a fictional world to their liking. Whether they’re writing in a fantastic or realist genre, every act of narration is an act of creating some order out of the chaos. And young writers have a chance to craft their own versions of order, to give fresh perspectives on old issues that their elders might have accepted as facts that can’t be changed. Similarly, young writers can give voice to what its like to be young today, which is vastly different to what it was like, for example, in the 90’s.

This difference, this evolution of cultural life (be it in language, film, music, technology etc.) affects young people and young writers differently because it forms part of the building blocks of the way they experience the world, think about themselves and others, and imagine alternative futures. At the same time, however, young writers need to be cognisant of the literary histories they are writing in. They should read older writers, work out the techniques being used in their work, but also contemplate the way older writers have approached socio-cultural issues in their art. In starting a conversation with other writers in your own literary work, a young writer engages in a larger community of understanding, one suffused with fantasy, fact and all the gradations of life that exist in-between.

The thing is, you have to build a thick skin. Some people aren’t going to like your work and some people are. You’ll get ten rejections before you get that one acceptance. But each rejection is an invitation to be tender with yourself, relook at the work and contemplate where it may need a fresh ear. The most important thing is that you get words down on the page, consistently. Things written can be changed, edited, and can work towards something greater; whereas ideas that remain in your head stay in their foetal state and never develop. In narrating your ideas, in giving them flesh and nuance, you are holding fast to the belief that focused attention on a project, an idea, or a work of art can distil a reading experience that allows your readers to put aside their busy lives for a time and indulge in the ‘no-self’ of reading—the self that is made, and nourished, by its diffusion into other lifeworlds.