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Sewickley library program inspires young writers

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 8:26 p.m.

Emma Szuba of Sewickley likes to surprise herself and her readers.

The Quaker Valley High School freshman said when she writes a story, she lets the characters do as they please.

“It's always fun to see how things develop, as I rarely find myself writing what I first intended to. After all, if I'm not surprised by what happens, how will a potential reader be?” she said.

Emma, 14, daughter of Tom and Elizabeth Szuba, is one of about a dozen students in grades six through 12 who worked on writing a novel this month in conjunction with National Novel Writing Month through a Young Writers Program at Sewickley Public Library.

National Novel Writing Month is billed as an international celebration of creativity that challenges writers to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, beginning Nov. 1 and attempting to finish by Nov. 30.

The library's Young Writers Program utilizes the same challenge but with a word goal of 30,000.

Students met at the library every week during the month to listen to and get advice from authors of young-adult fiction, do creative-writing exercises, work with a writing coach and share their work with other students.

Jonathan Lape, 13, of Sewickley, a Quaker Valley Middle School eighth-grader, said he wanted to participate because it was a way “to write whatever I want and not get judged by anyone for run-on sentences.”

The son of Sharon Camhi and Jeffrey Lape said he always has struggled with his writing.

Teen librarian Emily Fear said the library hosted the program last year, and it was so popular, she wanted to offer it again.

A few of the teens — who participated in last year's program and either finished and wanted to start a new project or didn't finish — wanted to try again.

This year, the program focused more on “write-in” workshops with authors.

Participating authors included Jill Dembowski, a former editor at Little, Brown and Co., who served as a co-author on James Patterson series such as “Witch & Wizard”; Siobhan Vivian, a creative-writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh; Leila Sales of New York, who Skyped with students during one of the workshops; and Heather Terrell, an Upper St. Clair High School graduate who once was a New York City lawyer.

Some topics were idea generating, getting started, developing story structure, and heightening the character and plot stakes to make a story more interesting.

Jonathan said the authors taught him that “you can't procrastinate with your writing.”

Emma said she liked hearing the authors talk about their writing processes.

“There is no one singular way to write a novel, so I love hearing about how these published authors go about it, comparing it to mine and trying out some of their ideas,” Emma said.

Fear said there is no pressure on students to write a certain amount of words.

“The real goal is to keep writing. We encourage them to set reasonable goals for themselves and not to get defeated if they fail to write for a few days,” she said. The idea is to get those ideas out, brainstorm with fellow authors, and have fun.”

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Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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