Write Your Own Story with Teen Writer! Director Gina Catanzarite

2018 Teen Writers walk around Shadyside looking for inspiration

2018 Teen Writers walk around Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood looking for inspiration.

Developing writers have the perfect opportunity to hone their craft at Teen Writer! Camp. This exhilarating 4-day camp stimulates creativity to make fiction leap off the page and come alive. Award-winning television producer and writer and published author Gina Catanzarite gives us a look at what’s ahead for this inspiring adventure for teens who love to write.

This will be your 9th year directing Teen Writer.  What keeps you coming back year after year? 

I come back year after year because I vividly recall my own feelings and experiences as a young writer: Earnest, doubtful, passionate, ridiculous… It was so gratifying when I met a creative writing teacher who turned into my mentor and lifelong friend. He helped me learn how to cultivate my skills and not only apply my positive emotions but also confront my doubts and channel them into powerful writing. It’s the type of encouragement and validation I hope I can pass on to the Teen Writer campers.

Teen Writer! Director Gina Catanzarite leads aspiring writers through Oakland.

What new and exciting things do you have planned for Teen Writer this year?  

Each camp is different because the dynamic of the students drives the activities and interactions. We always go out on a day-long field trip and each year the locations are hand-chosen to give students an exciting day meant to spark their curiosity and imagination.

How does this field trip get their creative juices flowing?  

The most powerful tool a writer has is the phrase, “What if…?” Look at the world – and I mean really look at it – and let your curiosity transform everyday people and places and events into fodder for creative storytelling. The fiction that sweeps readers into its pages and makes them feel as if they’ve been transported to another place and time relies on finely noted details. Our field trips are designed to help them note sensory details in the environment so they can infuse their writing with powerful descriptions.

What makes the difference between a good writer and a great writer?  

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” A great writer has to have the patience and humility to write, and re-write, and re-write some more, in pursuit of the lightning. “Good” writers may come up with some decent phrasing but are too attached to the first draft to then play devil’s advocate and question what could be made better.

What skills and techniques will campers learn during Teen Writer that will take their writing to the next level? 

One of the most common comments I get from parents is that their kids start a lot of stories but they never finish them. Some parents want their kids to leave camp with the next Great American Novel finished and ready to be published. Here’s what I tell parents: If your kid wanted to be the MVP quarterback at the Superbowl, would you take him to the Superbowl on Day 1 and say, “Here he is, coach! Put him in the game!” Of course not! You would enroll your son or daughter in a neighborhood Pee-Wee Football League. Your child would learn the rules of the game, would go through conditioning exercises, would take part in drills, would play in practice games. That would go on for years as your child advanced to the school football team, maybe a college football team, and, one day, hopefully be drafted in the NFL. Why should cultivating a published writer be any different?! In Teen Writer, we focus on “the drills,” i.e. we play with language. We take our love of words and stories and flex our creative muscles in short exercises, cultivating characters, learning how to infuse writing with sensory observations to create more exciting settings, understanding how to write action sequences, understanding the components that lead to better characterizations, etc. In short, we play with techniques that will make the writing resonate. These activities give young writers more tools in their toolbox, and those tools can be applied to all of their writing in the future. Just like that young football player, our young writers build skills gradually until they’re fully prepared to play in an entire game. In our case, “playing in an entire game” means finishing a story. And just like an athlete, when they’re fully prepared and confident in their skills, they’ll attack the challenge and finish their stories.

What have some of your Teen Writer alums told you about their experience at camp?  

Writing does not have to be a solitary event where the artist is closed off from the world, typing words onto a laptop. Writers should spend lots of time out in the world, making observations and indulging their curiosity and creativity. The teens have told me over and over how much they appreciate learning how to look at the world through the lens of a creative writer, noting details of people and places that can help them paint richer, more dynamic fiction once they do return to that room and their laptops.


Sign up today for Luminari’s exciting 4-day Teen Writer: Fantastic Fiction! summer camp and feed your teen’s creative spirit. Rising 8th to 12th grade writers wanted July 15 – July 18, 2019, to learn more call 412-877-1888 or sign up now.

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