Back Porch Book Chat: Elizabeth Farquhar (Teen Writer)

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Join us as we chat with book lovers like ourselves about a topic we all love! Our guest today is Elizabeth Farquhar, senior in high school, avid writer, and avowed book lover. She chats with us about reading, writing, and more! Books are linked to RR reviews, where applicable. Interview conducted by Betsy (her proud mom).

Note: the links to Crazy Writing Week and the Young Writers Workshop are affiliate links. We are excited to partner with the Young Writers Workshop because we have been so impressed with their resources. If you click through the links and sign up, you’ll be supporting both Redeemed Reader and the Young Writers Workshop, both!

Getting to Know Elizabeth Farquhar

Before we dive in, Elizabeth, tell us what beverage you are sipping while we meet in person (instead of our usual virtual interviews!). As we sit on an actual back porch, would you prefer something warm—coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or is it still warm enough where you live that you’d prefer something iced?

Chai. Always chai. Hot, preferably with a little bit of pepper in it like they drink it in Africa and India. Even if it was 100 degrees out, I would still choose chai.

I also like chai, but hold the pepper!

Tell our readers a little bit about yourself: what your hobbies are, favorite subjects in school, etc.

I love to read, which is hopefully kind of obvious given who my mom is. I’m a violinist who plays in a string quartet and a community youth orchestra. I’m currently in the mix of scholarship competitions, preparing for college, and finishing up high school (I’m homeschooled). I also love to crochet and do other yarn crafts. I love movies, too, but that’s also something our whole family enjoys. And you should see our board game room. I’m working on a board game for Animal Farm since one of the project options my mom gave our co-op World Lit class was to create a board game over our 6-week winter break.

Ah yes… our board game room. Really. It’s a whole room.

Reading in the Midst of Real Life

What books have you most enjoyed this past year?

The most recent one I read was Scythe by Neal Shusterman*; I’m currently in the middle of the second in the trilogy. I also just finished Animal Farm for the second time and Fahrenheit 451. I loved Animal Farm even more than the first time I read it, and I also really enjoyed Fahrenheit 451. I’m currently in the middle of my yearly re-read of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

*Readers, we are finally going to review Scythe and the others in that trilogy! We promised years ago, and now that Elizabeth and I have both read it, I can assure you it will happen. But I must tell you this book comes with some significant “considerations.”

What else stands out to you this year that you read and enjoyed, Elizabeth? And I know we’ve read MANY!

The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri and Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins. I’m looking forward to meeting them both at the HopeWords conference in April! Forward Me Back to You has been very influential to me for my own writing because it covers some topics that I have been exploring in my crime fiction writing.

Ah, yes. The HopeWords Conference! Megan and I are planning to be there (as is Elizabeth). Are any of you, our readers, going to be there too?

Elizabeth’s Experience in the Young Writers Workshop

Elizabeth, let’s talk about your year-long experience with the Young Writers Workshop (YWW). You signed up last year for their Crazy Writing Week (which we first heard about from S. D. Smith’s newsletter). Can you tell us about that week?

That week was a lot of fun. The whole goal was to write as much as you possibly could in 8 days. We were all on teams, and our word count, editing, and other writerly tasks benefited our whole team’s score. Sadly, my team lost, but we didn’t make it easy for the other team to win. I had tried to do NaNoWriMo before and failed miserably. But this was more manageable and fun. I liked it so much that I begged my parents to let me participate in the YWW starting in January instead of May (like we’d originally talked about). I really begged.

young writers workshop

{laughing} You DID beg. You had a LOT on your plate in terms of school and music and we weren’t sure that you needed to add more. But we relented partly because of the “academic track” concept. Can you tell us about your experience with the academic track part of the Young Writers Workshop?

The academic track is a program within the YWW that’s designed to give high school students one credit of high school writing. They walk you through every single part of the writing process. We started with building concrete habits so that we could increase our writing productivity because you can’t produce much work if you don’t have good writing habits. They walk you through how to submit a query letter, craft a short story, approach publishers with that short story, how to find a mentor, how to accept mentorship and really learn from that endeavor. I’ve been going strong with my mentor for 6 months now. One short story might not sound like much, but it’s a project that helps focus on all the aspects of editing and publishing as well as plotting, creating characters, and more. It’s not the only thing you write.

Every weekday, you have audio or visual (sometimes text) lessons to complete and most of the days, you’re also expected to write at least 30 minutes that day. Things like plotting count towards that half hour. We kept time sheets as well. We had to report to a teacher’s assistant throughout the program so they could make sure we were following the program like we were supposed to be. I got behind two different times because of some health issues (the first time) and then a combination of big deadlines for other things (like scholarships); my teacher’s assistant was flexible and helped me get back on track. They end the program with “what’s next” and how we can take the principles and apply them to our writing life and how to grow in what we’ve learned.

I know that the academic portion has been helpful for you, but I know that you’ve also really enjoyed the social aspects of this community. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the community portion of the program?

I did really enjoy the community part of this program. Within the community, we’re encouraged to form groups: fan clubs, writing groups, and things like that. My main group is called Break a Pencil and we joke that we’re an army fighting against procrastination. I even have a t-shirt with “Break a Pencil” on it that a YWW friend of mine’s mom made for us. Our numbers have grown as the weeks have progressed with our current number being about 30 people. We have a monthly word count tracker where we keep track of how many words we write, whether it’s our current works in progress, plotting, outlining, and things like that. One of our members adds up all the words and gives us our monthly total; our collective goal is to either beat last month’s tally and/or reach 500,000 words. Our biggest month so far was November because most of us tried to win NaNoWriMo. I tried NaNoWriMo last year, but I was actually successful this year! I think it’s partly because of the writing habits I’ve developed through YWW, my NaNoWriMo group (another group on YWW), and my Break a Pencil group. Two Break a Pencil members and I led zoom “sprints” three times a week to help our NaNoWriMo peoples have a designated time to work on their 50,000 words.

Speaking of sprints, one of the spaces within the YWW community is designated for “sprints”—a sprint is a group of people working at the same time on various projects. Some people do school, some do cleaning, most do writing. We work at the same time, knowing that other people are also working on their projects and encouraging you on yours. We report back on our progress. Several of us sprint all day and just keep updating each other on our progress. It has helped me be more productive and manage my time better (not just in writing) because I have some accountability.

Groups for accountability and critique are a big part of the YWW community. I’m a member of one accountability group and two critique groups. Each critique group specializes in different styles of writing; one of my mine is fiction and one is poetry. I co-lead the poetry one and we’re about to go through some semi-important changes. We’re about to become the “sensitive topics” poetry group. Within the community, there are sensitive topics spaces; these allow writers to grapple with things that might make some members uncomfortable. We already have to include content warnings for things like violence or romance in any space. But the sensitive topics spaces are limited to ages 18 and up (16 with parental permission) and can include the harder topics like abuse, alcohol of any kind, anything related to demons, sexuality, anything LGBTQ, etc. YWW is a Christian community, and kids can join at age 13. The sensitive topics spaces help make the community safer for a broader range of ages while recognizing that Christians do need to grapple with these things in appropriate ways. (This is one of the reasons I liked Forward Me Back to You because it dealt with some hard topics in a beautiful way.) Participants don’t have to be Christian, but the resources and leaders/instructors are all grounded in the gospel. They’re hoping to encourage new writers to write with that foundation, but who aren’t afraid to tackle hard topics in their writing. You don’t have to tackle a “hard topic,” but the support is there if you want to.

Because YWW is a Christian group, there’s a space dedicated just to prayer request and praises. You can’t mention things that should be in the “sensitive topics” spaces, but you can say “unspoken.” Our encouragement space is for people who post encouraging things they’ve read or who simply write up encouraging things. And there’s a space for writing-related achievements so we can cheer each other on!

Our instructors are also very invested in the community. We have a space that is dedicated to asking them questions and they periodically go through the achievements space and the prayer and praise space cheering us on and praying for all of us.

I think that sounds like a good summary of your experience! And, in case you readers missed it, we interviewed Josiah DeGraaf earlier; he’s the program director and one of the instructors.

Last Words From Elizabeth

What tips do you have for other teen writers?

Tip #1: Find a writing community because the support and encouragement you get from other people in the same position as you are some of the greatest resources for your writing career. I have a friend who’s been part of The Habit with Jonathan Rogers and she says the same thing. She and another friend of mine will be doing the Author Conservatory program this year (which is a college-alternative program that includes many of the same people who are involved with YWW).

Tip #2: Find a mentor. A mentor can be a writing teacher at your school, a published author, someone you trust who’s further down the writing path than you … someone who can help you grow in your craft and who’s willing to read your terrible first drafts and offer feedback during every step of the process. Even moms like mine who teach writing don’t have time or enough objectivity to do this well for their own kids. It’s helpful to find an outside mentor.

Tip #3: Write. Write consistently. To quote my brother, “One word doesn’t add up, but one word one thousand times does.” If you can cement good writing habits, even if it’s just 100 words a day, you will make more progress than if you just sit and stare at a blank document, achieving nothing. Everyone says you have to just write. It’s true.

Book Recommendations from Elizabeth

Are there any books or resources you would recommend to our audience?

Fiction recommendation, in addition to what I mentioned above:

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (this is my FAVORITE book)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy (I also love the movie with Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy.)
  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (this has LOTS of language; I wish it didn’t, but it’s still a really interesting story.)
  • Anything by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Daniel Nayeri’s books (I loved both Samir and Everything Sad Is Untrue)
  • Mitali Perkins’s books (my favorites are Forward Me Back to You, Bamboo People, and You Bring the Distant Near)
  • Shakespeare’s plays! (my favorites, so far, are: Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Henry V, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

My favorite writing resources are:

*we’re affiliates for these classes on Compass. They’re AMAZING.

Thanks, Elizabeth!

And remember, readers, if you think your son or daughter (or students) would like to sign up for the upcoming Crazy Writing Week (which is free!), we’d love it if you also support Redeemed Reader by clicking through our affiliate link for Crazy Writing Week.

You can read the rest of our Back Porch Book Chats here (our guests have been writers like Elizabeth, bookstore owners, teachers, and more).

Elizabeth Farquhar is a high school senior who spends most of her time pretending to write while actually procrastinating and wishing she was writing. When she’s not procrastinating, she enjoys playing an instrument, writing, reading, leading her writerly friends in their fight against procrastination, planning various projects, and getting stuck with library fines. When not playing one of the various instruments, she listens to one of her many Spotify playlists, especially her writing list. She dreams about sword fighting, her dream college, and the FBI. She lives in South Carolina with her family and their two dogs.

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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