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Taylorsville Journal

From writers to mentors: Former teen authors help current teenagers achieve their publishing dreams

May 06, 2024 09:59AM ● By Julie Slama

Students interested in writing their own books can enroll in Exceptional Pursuits’ summer writing camp. (Photo courtesy of Exceptional Pursuits)

In 2021, she penned “The Art of the A: A Guide to Earning Straight A’s in Middle and High School Without Sacrificing Your Social Life, Sleep Schedule, or Sanity.” 

It was shortly before she graduated from Alta High School herself. It was her second book she had written.

Emily Erickson, now a University of Utah student, has teamed up with Mel Torrefranca, who authored novels, “Leaving Wishville” and “Capsule” in high school. The two are offering an online summer camp beginning June 10 for aspiring teen authors called Exceptional Pursuits.

For eight weeks this summer participants aged 13 to 18 can work to complete a rough draft of their book while learning how to edit, publish, and promote it after the camp concludes.

“While the camp is focused on helping teens become authors, our mission is to give young people the sense of creative confidence which comes from having a big idea and making it a reality—an experience grade and standardized test focused schools don’t really provide and our inspiration for starting the camp,” Erickson said.

Erickson reached out to Torrefranca online to become partners in the venture. While Erickson coaches the non-fiction writers, Torrefranca, who is the founder of the indie publishing house, Lost Island Press and is working to produce an audio book of her novel, “Nightshade Academy,” helps the fiction writers.

It’s the second year the authors have coached teenage writers. While Erickson is based in Utah, Torrefranca’s home is in Thailand. Many of last year’s participants lived around the world. 

Applications are now open for the camp at Writers need to submit a couple of different essays—one on their book ideas, another on what exceptional pursuits mean to them and a third on what the experience of writing a book means to them. 

“We evaluate their writing samples, and reach out to the people who’ve been accepted, and then we meet one on one with them before the camp starts to solidify their ideas and just answer any questions they or their parents may have. We hold a kickoff week, where we meet for two hours a day, every day of the week to outline their books and get a really good structure for when they start writing. We also talk a lot about the big ideas of breaking a big project down into manageable steps, getting over the fear of perfectionism in writing,” Erickson said.

They also encourage campers to just start writing, to get over their fears or anxieties.

“We talk a lot about ‘word vomit,’ where you just get the idea out on the paper and then come back and edit it and clean it up later. This is a community where we share the same goal in getting published so when we meet, we have a leaderboard that shows word count, but it’s a friendly competition, one of support.”

At the end of that kickoff week, they hold a writing sprint.

“We encourage them to write the first two, three chapters of their book so that they have that initial momentum and success. Over the coming weeks we have more writing sprints, but the writing is largely self-directed,” she said, adding that they hold lessons such as how to tie together chapters or character dialogue. 

The camp includes weekly track-specific instruction, one-on-one coaching, author question-and-answer sessions and group sessions.

Last year, the two writing camp co-founders coached book ideas from real-life autistic experiences to fantasy stories. 

“Last year, everyone was self-motivated and passionate, and wrote at least 17,000 words,” she said. “I think it’s really inspiring for kids to see people who have written and published books as teenagers and done so successfully. Most high school teachers may encourage you, but they haven’t written and published their own books, and really can’t advise you on how to do that. This community where it’s expected that you can and you will write a book and you will be an author at the end of the summer is inspirational and with an environment of accountability you don’t get anywhere else.”

The camp costs $800. Partial scholarships are available. λ

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