Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Sharing our Gifts: Writer in the Community

on November 18, 2008

My article, “Sharing Our Gifts: Writer in the Community” is published in the Winter 2008 Edition of Once Upon a Time,


Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the world of publishing. Will the agent like my work? Will the publishing company want to publish me? Or once those things happen, what are my Amazon standings? Will anyone show up at my signing? Is anyone even reading my book? And that’s when I have to stop and remind myself to “Get over myself!” and “Get out there and share my talents.” Instead of asking what’s in it FOR me, I need to ask, what’s in it FROM me?

Three years ago, I found myself drifting. I had just left an eight-year teaching career and was finishing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Although I was having some small writing successes with the publication of articles, I was checking my e-mail too often and rushing to the post office only to find another rejection for my novel.

A friend of mine volunteered at a juvenile detention center in Seattle. She suggested that I try to find a volunteer job where I could share my writing talents. This sounded like a good idea. At first I wondered if I should volunteer at the Seattle detention center, but I lived forty-five minutes north of Seattle, on a good traffic day, and didn’t want to commit to what could often be a two-hour car trip. So, I did a little searching in my area and discovered that there was a juvenile detention center near-by. Without thinking too much, I contacted the program manager and said I was interested in volunteering for two-hours a week and could lead a writing workshop with the young people in detention. I figured that I could draw on both my experience as a classroom teacher and as a writer to facilitate the workshop. The program director was ecstatic! Volunteers at the detention center are few and far between! Before I knew it, the paperwork had been filed and I was walking through the metal detector and onto the units.

Each week, I spend two-hours writing with a group of ten-to-twelve teens. Usually, I work with a group of girls and then a group of boys. During that time, we write poetry from the heart. I ask them to focus on their experience as we write poems about loss, family, and home. At the end of the hour, the young writers are asked to read their poems. Before I leave, I collect poems from any who will give them to me, and keep them in a folder. At the end of the year, I choose a small number of the poems to be published in a chapbook funded by The Miller Trust Art Exhibit Grant which is a special grant endowed to the Denney Juvenile Justice Center.

Four-years later, and I am still volunteering at the detention center. We have published two books of poetry, and a third one is in the works. I have also been awarded grants to purchase a collection of young adult short story collections, poetry, and novels for the detention center library. Although, there are ways that grants could be written to pay me for my time, I have insisted that the work remain volunteer time. Often, the kids ask me, are you getting paid to do this? I say, no. I choose to be here with you, and a visible shift takes place in the room. Not too many people choose to be with the teens in detention—including their own families.

The impact on my writing has also been significant. When my young adult novel fizzled in voice, I sat down and pretended that the young ladies in the detention center were sitting in front of me. I saw their faces, and I told the story to them. Not to the agents and publishers who might buy the book, I told the story to the young ladies who would read the book. My current work-in-progress is based on much of what I see and hear at the detention center. And again, when I write, I place the youth’s faces in front of me, and tell the story to them.

Many times I have been in a self-absorbed funk when I head to the detention center. I have received another rejection, or sales are low. However, when I arrive and greet the kids who are sitting at the one-hundred pound tables with their small, stubby pencils that the detention center allows them to have, my mood always changes and I remember why I write.

Yes, big agents and book contracts are nice. But that’s not why I chose writing for young adults as my career. I write for young people because story is a way to find answers. I write for the young people who right now are trapped behind locked doors. Locked doors of a juvenile detention center or locked doors of illness or abuse. I write for those young people who are at a bottom in their lives and are searching for a new life. But most of all, giving my time to the young people at the detention center reminds me that I write because the writing and reading of story is a way to become empowered.


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