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Own Voices writing with Nevo Zisin: Teen Writing Bootcamp

14 April 2022

At the Library's Teen Writing Bootcamp in March 2022, writer, performer and activist Nevo Zisin taught teens how to find their own voice and write with authenticity. Here they share some tips and reflections from the workshops.

The power of gaining confidence, finding your voice and telling your own story cannot be overestimated, especially for young people and those of marginalised identities. The ‘Own Voices’ workshops that ran online every week with the State Library Victoria, as part of the Teen Writing Bootcamp program, were a great opportunity for young people to work on their writing skills and gain more confidence in sharing their work. We had a consistent group show up every week, enthusiastic about writing exercises and sharing their work in the chat.

We began the workshops with an introduction to what ‘Own Voices’ writing is all about and why it’s important for people to write their own stories and lived experiences rather than be written about by someone else who may not understand the complexities and nuances. We created a group agreement around what would make us feel safe in the group and spoke to the importance of representation. I introduced myself and shared a bit about what brought me to writing and telling my own story. We did some short-burst writing activities, and although participants were hesitant to share at first, it was amazing to watch confidence build over the weeks and have many keen sharers by the end of the Bootcamp program.

Our second session was all about working through obstacles and tackling topics like: writer’s block, how to get inspired to write, what can research look like, how to be more observant, imposter syndrome, and overcoming perfectionism and a need to be ‘productive’. We did some introspective writing activities around these ideas, such as ‘what sparks creativity?’, ‘what gets in the way of me believing in myself?’ and ‘write a letter to yourself a week ago, two months, five years. What do you want to say to them? What wisdom do you want to share?’ The responses were thoughtful and vulnerable. 

The third session was dedicated to discussing some of the ethics and considerations of memoir and things to keep in mind when writing your own story, like ‘whose story are you really telling?’, ‘what is your process around consent for those mentioned?’, and ‘why are you writing this particular story?’. We then went into some short-burst writing activities where participants wrote some very creative pieces and short stories to various prompts.

For our last session, we did some fun and random prompts, including ‘seaweed’, ‘what sound does a giraffe make?’, ‘use all of these words in a story: a tree, blanket, sunscreen, a match’ and did some character development and wrote a story based on that character. We spoke a bit about ‘Own Voices’ in fiction, and participants shared some very quirky and exciting pieces, which I hope will be developed further. Each participant has the opportunity to receive feedback on up to 500 words of writing after the Bootcamp.

My take-away from these workshops was truly the importance of creating safe and unintimidating spaces for young people to engage with different topics around writing and have activities set for the level they are at. I had started off with a very different workshop course, but as I got to know the participants and their needs, I was able to craft content I felt they would engage with best. Although many of the young people were too shy to turn their cameras on and share their work by speaking out loud, I was really humbled to see their willingness to share in the chat and their confidence grow over time. With more of these workshops, I believe they would be able to blossom even further.

More to explore

The Teen Writing Bootcamps will run from March to June 2022. All Bootcamps are open to teens aged 13 to 18 years old from all around Australia. They are free to attend but require consent from a parent or guardian.

Don’t miss your opportunity to strengthen your creative muscles.

This program has been made possible with the generosity of Serp Hills Foundation and The JTM Foundation.

Photo by Norelle Bladon.