Bravery and Impoliteness: What I Learn from Teaching Young Writers

Cookies on a Plate

A post by writer Margaret Nevinski:

“Who remembers where Isabel left off reading last week?” I ask, referring to a young writer’s story in progress during my Creative Writing Workshop.

Several young authors raise their hands. “When the giraffe escaped,” calls out an eight-year-old with perfect recall.

Which is just one of the reasons I love teaching young writers in mid-life. Who needs to write things down? All I have to do is ask an eight-year-old.

I’ve been teaching after-school and summer-camp writing workshops for more than a dozen years.

As my students stay the same age (8 to 12), and I somehow get older, the benefits of teaching the young keep accruing. What I see in my students are the things I want to keep in my own life.





Love of jokes.

An appreciation of the absurd.

The ability to draw, because they haven’t yet learned to say, “I can’t.”

Willingness to try out new ideas.



Don’t we want to teach children to be polite, kind, and compassionate?

Of course, and my students are all those things, most of the time.

But aren’t we adults a little too polite at times, especially we women who’ve been told for decades to be “nice?” Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to grab that last cookie on the plate?

If I had to pick one trait I most admire in my young students, it’s bravery.

The bravery to create a story.

To fill the page with words.

To read aloud, for everyone to hear, a story they’ve just written.

I also teach writing to adults. When it’s time to share our work out loud, hands tend to stay firmly planted in laps, not darting up with enthusiasm. What happens to our kid-like bravery when we grow up?

So in mid-life, with the help of the young writers, I’m trying to cultivate bravery, energy, enthusiasm, humor.

And yes, impoliteness.

At least a tiny bit.

Just once, I want to reach for that last cookie, and oh it’ll taste so good.

Margaret Nevinski is the author of several children’s books for the school market, as well as published poems and short stories. Her young adult story, “The Eve of St. Agnes,”appeared in Hunger Mountain. Currently she’s working on a middle-grade novel. Margaret has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She teaches writing and creativity workshops for children, teens, and adults. Her kid-friendly blog, Yellow Pencils, offers fun prompts for young writers.

Yellow Pencils

Margaret lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington with her husband. When she’s not writing, teaching, or reading, she loves to walk or bicycle around Bainbridge Island and in Seattle, with frequent stops for coffee. You can read more about her at


Yellow Pencil Banner: The art is by Alyssa L., age 11.

Margaret on Bainbridge Island: The photo was taken by Sue Hylen.