When I was in high school, I had a lot of friends who were readers but not a lot who wanted to be writers. Not a bad place to be by any means; I had fantastic friends who would swap books and get into debates about which Harry Potter character might die in the next book. But going to the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia was a revelation. There were people who were as wildly excited about writing as I was–from the students to the counselors to the faculty, everyone there wanted to make art. Not just fiction or poetry, either–they offer courses in playwriting/screenwriting, nonfiction, and songwriting as well. My roommate was a songwriter and it was fantastic to get to know more about her process. The students take their work seriously, and everyone I met was fiercely intelligent and creative.
Everyone was so supportive and encouraged taking risks. I tend to dislike reading in public, but every student took part in a final reading/performance series. It was the first time I’d read my work aloud to anyone and was really nervous beforehand. But after I finished everyone cheered and it gave me such a rush. The closest I can think to compare it to is the Nerdfighter community–lots of energy and passion, and a willingness to be silly or wild or unconventional.
I only went one summer (many students return for at least a few years), but the experience really stuck with me. When I came back for my senior year of high school I felt more confident and was even more committed to making writing a part of my future studies. Having enjoyed the setting so much, I ended up back at UVa as an undergraduate (and loved that experience as well)
The program lives on and continues to inspire young writers and their teachers. If you or someone you know might be interested in attending, definitely check out this video for thoughts on YWW. It got me pretty teary-eyed. Although the deadline for this year was March 1, they are reviewing late applications on a rolling basis. And there’s always next summer.
Seriously guys, can we all go back to Young Writers now?