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Leah Thomas

“I want to study writing in college, but I know that’s probably a bad idea.” Katie (pseud.) has just handed me one of the most impressive short story first drafts I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. In a fair world, she could excel in a creative writing program and go on to write professionally in no time. In a fair world, I’d tell her, “You must pursue this.”

The trouble is, I can’t disagree with her. Katie is seventeen, about to be a senior in high school. College looms on the horizon, and as I speak to her I recall the incredible weight of those storm clouds, the immense pressure of the future suddenly becoming a tangible choice. Katie has darker clouds than I did, in some ways: she’s disillusioned. She’s seen my generation go through the wringer. I’m a textbook example of what can go wrong with college; I changed my major three times and emerged with a degree I hardly use.

When Katie says, “I know majoring creative writing is risky,” she means it. When she asks, “What should I do?” she knows there’s no easy answer.

But I do have something of an answer for Katie. I’m an author not because of what I majored in during college; I’m an author in part because I had teachers who encouraged me to pursue this field regardless of my major. Because there were educators who let me take creative license with writing assignments and add illustrations to my poems, teachers who let me write well beyond page limits and perform classroom protests and incorporate costuming into presentations.

Katie is at a delicate crossroads, and there’s no simple solution for her. But because she, like me, has been afforded the gift of teachers who value her creativity, I am certain she’ll be fine. The seeds have been planted. Nothing will stop this girl from creating art, because she has learned, from kindergarten onwards, that art has value. So I give her three pieces of advice:

  1. Find time for your art, whether or not it’s what you “do” by day.
  2. Surround yourself in people who support it, or at least understand it.
  3. Regarding confidence: it’s a constant struggle, and sometimes you really must fake it ‘til you make it.

Many times during my stay at this workshop for young people interested in world-building and science fiction, I have been reminded of CoTA and the impact it has on the nurturing of creativity in young people. Most of the students impacted by CoTA are of course younger than Katie, but that’s why encouragement is all the more necessary.

Young people are stunning. They are smart and kind and passionate, and if we give them opportunities for expression, our future really is in the best of hands. Sometimes it can seem impractical, the incorporation of arts – but art is passion, and kids who are passionate retain a thirst to do better, to work harder, to create more.

Students need to hear this from the first day of school to the last: please keep creating. Please keep growing, no matter what. That’s your pursuit.