MS students inspired during virtual Writer's Symposium

Writer's symposium

This week, Middle School students heard from novelist Justina Chen during the virtual Writer’s Symposium. To students, Chen is best known for her young adult novels including Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), and Lovely, Dark, and Deep.

Chen always wanted to be a writer and penned her first 50 page novel at just eight years old. However, she put her dreams of becoming a novelist aside after a college professor during her freshman year dismissed her writing, telling her she was not good enough to be published. Years later, after having her kids, she realized that writing was still her dream and she went after that dream in full force enrolling in a writing class and selling her first novel, The Patch, shortly after.

She told students, “There will be people who tell you you’re not good enough. That’s just so wrong. That’s just them projecting onto you. Whatever dream you have, seize it and work it to make it happen.”

After her address to the Middle School, Chen led writing workshops with the 7th and 8th grade English classes. During the workshops, Chen had students write and reflect on their lives in 2020, writing a letter to their future selves with the prompt, ‘Dear future me, let me tell you about 2020…’ She asked them to write about the most challenging part of this year and an unexpected silver lining. More than anything, Chen believes in storytelling and encouraged students to realize that the pandemic is part of their story and if they don’t take the time to reflect, they may not remember the details and emotions they felt many years from now.

Students spent their study hall time talking more casually with Chen asking her advice of them as young authors. She shared one of the first times her writing was published in fifth grade. She had seen a news story about baby seals who were poached for their pelts and it frustrated her so much that she wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper and was the youngest person to have her letter published in the paper. It was then that she started learning that words have power.

“When you really want to make change, you don’t stay silent. You say something. You write something,” she said.

Chen encourage students interested is pursing a career in writing to keep writing no matter what, “You have to write from your heart, not your head. That’s when your writing has power and resonance,” said Chen.

Many of Chen’s books are inspired by her own life whether it be the racism she experienced as a Taiwanese-American woman living in Australia, or raising her kids. She even shared that she came up with the idea for her book, North of Beautiful on a previous visit to Overlake over 10 years ago!

This time around, the Writer’s Symposium may have been virtual, but the students had a great experience during Chen’s visit. In fact, because it was virtual, Chen was able to get up and grab books on her shelves to reference when a student asked a particular question. She was also able to show off the large sheets of paper where she maps out her plot lines, something that wouldn’t happen with an in-person visit.

Passion for empowering young people was clear throughout Chen's whole visit. She encouraged young aspiring authors to be stay encouraged, be persistent, and never let anyone tell them they are not good enough.