Teen writing contest participant becomes an author

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Love My Library, By Norma Johnson-MacGregor

Schofield doesn’t let age define her writing

Each year your library holds a teen writing contest called the Ada Mingo Memorial Teen Writing Awards to encourage a love of writing among teens.

In Truro in 1982, Ada Mingo opened The Book Nook, which sold both new and used books. Sadly, she passed away on Mar. 31, 2006. Public libraries strive to promote a love of reading, learning for a lifetime and a sense of community. As a bookseller, Mingo had the same goals. To honour her, the Colchester-East Hants Public Library Board created the Ada Mingo Memorial Teen Writing Awards in 2007.

Throughout the years, many teens have participated in the Mingo Awards. One such participant, Libby Schofield, participated for several years and has gone on to publish several poems and short stories. Schofield was kind enough to share some of her experience with us:

 

Library: What year(s) did you participate in the Ada Mingo Memorial Teen Writing Awards competition?

Libby Schofield: I’ve entered Ada Mingo every year since 2009 when I first became eligible to participate in the contest at the age of 13. At this point participating in the Ada Mingo Memorial Teen Writing Awards has become a habit. February and March roll around and I start thinking of the poems I should be writing.

Out of the last six contests I’ve participated in, my work has been lucky enough to place in four of them (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014). I’m only eligible to enter for one more year, at which point I’ll be at the University of King’s College and entering will no doubt nostalgically remind me of home.

 

Library: How did participating in the Ada Mingo Memorial Teen Writing Awards competition influence your desire to continue writing and publishing your own work?

LS: Participating in the Ada Mingo Awards has really inspired me to continue writing and pursuing writing as a career. Receiving feedback from the judges and developing relationships with the contest coordinators and participants over the last six years has been remarkably encouraging.

Teen writers often struggle to have their work read by others, let alone recognized and taken seriously, and the Ada Mingo Awards have offered me and other young writers the chance to kick off our writing careers by giving us the opportunity to be heard. Being involved in this contest for so long has allowed me to think of myself as a writer — not an “aspiring” writer, but a writer.

My winning entries from 2010 and 2013 both appear in my collection The Night is Starry, which I self-published last summer. Receiving the recognition and positive feedback for my work every year from those involved in Ada Mingo has kind of solidified the idea in my mind that the poems and stories I write aren’t truly awful — rather, perhaps, they’re decent after all.

 

Library: Can you describe your experience writing your stories?

LS: Each story or poem I write is a fascinatingly different experience. Sometimes it’s easy, so easy it’s a relief to get an idea out of my head and onto paper.

Other times it’s frustratingly difficult and involves a lot of staring at the computer screen or repeatedly scratching out and re-writing one line over and over again.

Usually there’s an inspiration for each piece of my work, a moment or a thought, or something I witness in the run of the day. It might be personal or totally unrelated to my life. It might be the weather, or an old photograph, or a quote. Sometimes I write with no purpose or inspiration whatsoever, other than to come up with the most bizarre thing I can think of.

Ideally I would write every day, but with finishing my last year of high school, preparing for university and participating in my community, that rarely happens. Sometimes I go weeks or a month without setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but regardless of how much time passes between stories or poems, I’m always reminded of how good it feels to just write, even if I have no purpose at all.

 

Library: Can you describe your experience publishing your stories?

LS: Publishing The Night is Starry was quite the learning curve for me. I had been planning to self-publish a collection of poetry and short stories for about a year, but kept procrastinating and putting it off.

It was actually my participation in my 4-H club that gave me the ultimate push; I had signed up to complete the self-explanatory Self-Determined Project (for those who don’t know how 4-H works, each member completes one or more projects each year that can range from dairy to photography) and decided it would be a great opportunity to finally self-publish.

It wasn’t until about last June that I began sorting through old computer files and stacks and stacks of handwritten poems, setting aside pieces that weren’t totally cringe-worthy. I ended up with about 30 poems and short stories, some of them dating as far back as 2010 when I was 13/14, and gave each of them a quick edit.

Diane Tibert, a local author who has been a judge for the Ada Mingo contest for several years, had written some extremely helpful blog posts on how to obtain an ISBN number and other bookish fine print, and these posts were my Bible for several days.

Once I figured out all the proper “book stuff” and formatted the document, I sent the manuscript off to a local printer and within a couple weeks received back the first run of my first book. So far I’ve sold about 70 copies, mostly to people who know me through the community. I was also tremendously excited to give poet George Elliot Clarke a copy of it when I met him a few months ago at my high school.

Getting such positive feedback from people who have read my book — especially people I don’t really know — is remarkable and thoroughly fuels my desire to continue writing and to pursue writing as a career.

 

Library: Do you have any advice for others who hope to write and/or publish their own work?

LS: Besides the obvious, predictable advice of pretentiously saying, “just write,” I would encourage people looking to write and/or publish to start a blog. I began blogging two and half years ago and love it. It’s a great way to form relationships with other writers and authors and a simple way to get your work out there.

It’s a lot of work to maintain a blog and it’s easy to get wrapped up in number of views and followers, but it’s a satisfying corner of the Internet that’s entirely yours. There’s such an online community for writers in Nova Scotia, Canada and worldwide. It’s a wonderful support system and I’ve met some wonderful authors and writers through blogging.

I also recommend participating in literary events, whether they’re contests or festivals. I was part of the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Contest and Festival in 2011, where I met Sheree Fitch and did a poetry workshop with Anne Simpson. I read at church events and little literary gatherings — I’ll be performing at Calabay Café on June 12 with other poets and musicians — and every year I go to Word on the Street, the reading and writing festival on the Halifax waterfront. It’s a fantastic way to meet authors, publishers, magazines and fellow readers, and the next best thing to writing or reading is talking to someone who writes and reads for a living.

My last piece of “advice” (I hardly feel I have the age or experience to give advice sans quotations) is to read. Reading is the most important thing about writing. In reading you pick up on different writing styles, character developments, plot arcs and even grammar. Read poetry especially. Go to the library and pick out a big, fat anthology written by people who are probably dead and sit down and drink some tea and read.

LS: It’s also been a fear of mine, which I recently talked about on my blog, that I’ll be given the stigma of being a “teen writer;” that because I’m finishing up high school my writing will somehow be less valid than someone in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. For that reason I kept my age a secret from the Internet and only “came out” in the last month or so.

Despite the supportive comments from my followers, most of who are writers and authors, I still fear being labeled as a “teen writer” — which is ridiculous. I’m a writer and my age is irrelevant to the things I write, and this applies to other young writers of a similar age as me. Our age doesn’t define us or our accomplishments.

We may have a longer way to go on the road to literary success, but we started early and walk fast, and as exemplified by the quality of the work seen in the Ada Mingo Teen Writing Awards, our work is perfectly capable of being just as well-written as the work of adults.

Schofield is 18 and will attend the University of King's College in the fall. For more information, please visit her website at www.libbyschofield.wordpress.com.

Norma Johnson-MacGregor is the Electronic Services Librarian for the Colchester-East Hants Public Library. You can reach her at njohnson@cehpubliclibrary.ca.

 

Organizations: University of King's College, The Book Nook, University of King

Geographic location: Colchester-East, Hants, Nova Scotia Canada Halifax

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