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Benefits of creative writing in groups of youth

By Sarah Odendahl

Youth seated at a round table writing with pen and paper
The secret artist - it’s a popular media trope. A teenager who enjoys writing, drawing, or writing songs does so in private, with most of their family and friends oblivious to their talent. It can make for a compelling story, but research is showing that youth have much more to gain by performing their creative endeavors in a group of their peers.

There is a wealth of research spanning decades that shows that creative and artistic formats can help improve mental health and emotional well-being.  More recent research adds to what we know by exploring the impact of creative work that is made and shared in a group setting.

Engaging in creative writing in a group setting can help youth:

  • Develop and understand their identity. A writing group that creates a safe environment for participation allows youth to "feel free to be authentic (be how they like to be) and honest about their thoughts and feelings."
  • Develop relationships between peers. Youth have an opportunity to "get to know others in a different light through their opinions, thoughts and feelings expressed in writing." This was found to be true even among participants who already know each other.
  • Process instances of "failure" and keep them writing. Youth who experience a "failure" in their creative pursuits can experience shame or a sense that it is impossible to improve, and will often quit as a result. Feedback can help moderate these outcomes.
  • Improve their technique. Workshopping their writing with their peers can help young writers understand the gap between what they intended and what their audience perceived, which helps improve their communication skills.

For the last three years, Minnesota 4-H has run a month-long writing challenge through the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. For the month of November, youth meet virtually to learn about writing craft, take part in writing challenges, and share their writing with each other as they work to complete a rough draft of a novel. At the end of the program, students told us they felt "more confident in [their] writing" and "sad because it is ending" and that "it felt nice to talk to people that have the same interests as I do."

There are many other resources available to help you add creative writing to the programs you offer. In what ways can you imagine creative writing taking place in your work?

-- Sarah Odendahl, Extension educator

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  1. I loved reading this, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing! I never thought about how writing in a group could be helpful to the development of youth!

    1. Thanks, Jess! We have seen some really great spark and connection when writing with you, and we love to see the SEL skills that grow out of these opportunities.

  2. Thank you for shedding light on the benefits of creative writing in groups of youth! Providing opportunities for young people to express themselves through writing has numerous positive effects on their emotional, mental, and intellectual development. It fosters creativity, empathy, and critical thinking skills while also building social connections and enhancing communication abilities. Your article demonstrates how important it is to provide safe and supportive spaces for youth to explore their writing talents and develop their voices. Keep up the excellent work!


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