Budding Writers Benefit from Sharing Their Work Online

| April 23, 2012 | 11 Comments
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Figment

By Kyle Palmer

When Jacob Lewis was growing up, he liked to write “really terrible Stephen King-like fiction stories.” Looking back on those early works, the former managing editor of The New Yorker said he’s glad they never saw the light of day. But for thousands of teenage writers across the country, Lewis has helped do the exact opposite.

The Web site Figment—founded by Lewis and New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear in 2010—gives young writers a forum to freely publish their work. The site now boasts more than 220,000 registered users and has stocked a library of more than 350,000 individual pieces, ranging from reflective poetry to multi-chapter novellas.

“We really thought at first that it would be more of a social network site,” Lewis said. “But it has been all about project creation. The amount of new content our users produce is amazing.”

Lewis said Figment users post more than 1,000 new original pieces every week, many of them only a few hundred words representing a large range of genres, from heart-tugging romance to dystopian fantasy.

“It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there like they have,” Lewis said. “We knew there was a need for this, but we’ve been surprised at the passion and the ownership our users have shown.”

“We just want these young writers to see how empowering it is to be able to share your ideas.”

Similar to Facebook, Figment users—most of whom are between 13 and 24 years old—create a profile and upload their work, giving it a title and picking from a large selection of stock images to use as cover art. Other users can read the pieces online and leave comments and provide feedback.

Not all pieces are read widely, but some works, like Diamonds in the Rough by a user from Wisconsin who goes by the screen name Fish Fingers, have received 130 comments and more than 200 “Hearts” (Figments’ version of Facebook’s Like button).

“Wow! This [story] is beautifully sad!” one user commented about Fish Finger’s work.

“Your similes are impeccably accurate,” wrote another.

“The one negative thing I’d say is that I think it would’ve been better if you had let people figure out the moral for themselves then say what it is at the end of the story,” posted another user.

Dana Goodyear, who has written for The New Yorker and teaches literary nonfiction at USC, said this kind of genuine feedback is common on Figment.

“What’s most exciting is the intensity of the usage,” she said. “These writers are getting a really deep experience receiving this feedback. Having an audience is so crucial to support young writers.”

Goodyear said Figment is beginning to explore more uses for educators, too. The site already has a “Groups” function, which can allow teachers to set up online workshops for their classes.

Meenoo Rami, a National Board certified English teacher in Philadelphia who hosts the teacher blog #engchat, said Figment is the “perfect platform” for her students.

“It’s important for students to know that their work is viewed by more than just their teacher. For my students, the idea that a larger audience is being exposed to their work is important to them,” Rami said. “This gives them an authentic reason to write.”

Goodyear said she and the other Figment staffers hope to continue evolving the site. She said they want to work on adding “in-text editing” features so that users can change their work in real time online.

She also said Figment will continue to bring in professional writers and published authors for online Q&A sessions, live chats, and blog posts, to connect them to Figment’s aspiring teenage writers.

One Figment user, Blake Nelson, has already received an offer for a book deal for the poetry he posted to the site. Figment also hosts regular contests in different genres in order to feature fresh young talent.

Yet, Lewis said Figment should remain at its heart a place for teens to express themselves.

“Our mission is to not take amateur writers and make them pros,” he said. “We don’t want to set up a hierarchy. We just want these young writers to see how empowering it is to be able to share your ideas.”

 

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  • Ebateman21

     Nice story! I’ve been promoting Figment in my school library program since its
    inception as a way for students to “use technology, including the
    Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and
    collaborate with others.” (Common Core Writing Standard 6, grades 4-12).

  • http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com/ Paul B.

    Very cool website.  Unfortunately for the many of us who teach English at struggling or “failing” schools, creative writing has been all but stripped from the curriculum.
    I like to use Google Docs to let students write and brainstorm collaboratively, which works with a variety of genres.  It’s great to see so many young people post their work.  I’m going to share this with some colleagues.  http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com

    • Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice

      Do check in at 100wc.net !00 word challenge is having a HUGE impact on writing as it is an online activity with an audience provided. It is not an addition but is used as part of the regular literacy work

  • Anonymous

    My 6 year old has a blog for her stories! She loves to get comments. It is a great outlet for her.

    • Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice

      Do check in at 100wc.net !00 word challenge is having a HUGE impact on writing as it is an online activity with an audience provided by Team 100

  • Anonymous

    I like this, but I’m wondering about a way to do something similar for the “under 13″ crew. I understand the problems sites have with the legal requirements about collecting data about kids under 13, but I have a TON of kids who would thrive given an opportunity like this (and they are all under 13!)

    • Steve

      Try kidblog to set up a class blog for your students.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks! We do have some  things we can use in our school (we have a district “wikispaces” and we can get our own page) Maybe I’ll start there :)

  • Will Fitzhugh

    Serious HS writers of history essays may be published in The Concord Review, since 1987 the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, now with 1,022 history research papers by students from 46 states and 38 other countries. http://www.tcr.org

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  • Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice

    Do check in at 100wc.net !00 word challenge is having a HUGE impact on writing as it is an online activity with an audience provided.