Interested in submitting your work? Try these suggestions to help get your thoughts flowing and on their way to being published in Early Excellence. Keep in mind that we receive more poetry than any other type of writing, which means your chances of being published with a single poetry submission are much less than if you submit in any other category.
We’re always looking for well-written reviews of books, music, concerts, movies, television shows, websites, and video games. When writing a review, concentrate on exactly what you liked or didn’t like. Give examples of strengths and weaknesses, be descriptive and provide background information on an author, director, actor or musician, if possible. Find professional reviews in magazines or newspapers and see how reviewers tackle their topic, but be sure to express your own voice in your review. Plagiarism is a serious offense.
Grammar Hint for Reviews: When describing a book, movie, album or anything else, use the present tense.
Discuss an author’s technique, strengths and weaknesses – don’t just summarize the plot. Does the story flow? Is there a strong sense of character and place? Did you stay up until dawn to finish it? Is it good reading for teenagers? What impact did it have on you and why? If you’ve read other books by the same author, discuss how this book compares.
Think of the major Oscar categories and consider the performances, costuming, music, lighting and setting. Do these elements work together? Did some hold up while others didn’t? If the movie is based on a book, discuss whether one is better than the other and why. If the movie is a sequel or a remake, compare the film to its original.
Remember that a well-written movie review should discuss strengths and weaknesses, and not simply rehash the plot. Some readers may not have seen a movie yet, so don’t give away an exciting scene or the ending!
Consider an album’s overall tone and message. Does the artist or band fit into a category or do they do their own thing? What is the music’s appeal? There’s no need to review every song on the album; if a few are similar, discuss their themes and why you think they’re emphasized. If there are wildly different songs, compare and contrast the style and artist’s handling of the variety. If you’re familiar with the artist or band, discuss how the album compares with previous albums.
Begin by providing an overview of the college, including location, size and a description of the campus and/or dorm life. Think about all aspects of your college visit. What academic, athletic and extracurricular programs are available? What are the students like? What makes the college different from others? Every school has strengths and weaknesses. Be objective. Consider what the school has to offer and who might enjoy or benefit the most from attending there.
Discover more about the life and history of family members, friends, neighbors or anyone else who interests you! Learn about different professions, lifestyles and backgrounds.
Who/How to interview
Everyone has a story; it’s up to you to get it! Remember, you don’t have to interview a famous person. Interview a grandparent or neighbor, or ask your parents, teachers or friends to introduce you to someone interesting. Then do your research – find out as much about your subject as possible before the interview. This way you’ll know what kinds of questions to ask and be a better interviewer.
Writing the interview
You can talk for as long as you want, but when writing the interview try to keep it between 500 and 2,500 words. Begin with an introductory paragraph explaining who you interviewed, why and what conclusions you have drawn from your discussion. Use a Question and Answer format and make sure the answers are accurate quotations. Edit out ramblings and extra words.
More teenagers than ever before are involved in community service. Here’s your chance to share your experiences with teens across the country. Submitting an essay describing your volunteer work not only gives you a chance to be published in Teen Ink, but also automatically enters you in our annual Community Service contest. Winners receive a $100 check for their charity!
What to say
Your essay can be about a one-time experience or an ongoing activity. Elaborate on an especially compelling moment or simply describe what you do to help others. Give details of your experience, both in terms of the volunteer work and its effect on you personally. Why did you begin volunteering? What impact did you have? How did the experience change you or others? What did you learn?
If you are writing about a particular issue or organization, give background information. This is your chance to tell your peers about the cause. Let them know why it is important or meaningful to you. Also, be descriptive and give examples of your experience. How did you feel on your first day? What was it like to meet new people and learn new things? Make your story as compelling as possible. Remember: what you write may inspire other teens to get involved!
Are you barred from your favorite beaches by signs warning of toxic waters? Do you watch the trash go by as you cruise the highway? Are you overwhelmed by how many people there are running around this little planet? Submitting an environmental piece not only gives you a chance to be published in Teen Ink, but also enters you in our annual Environmental essay contest.
Be creative. Write a descriptive essay or poem. Use your imagination and write about any aspect of the environment, including its relationship with humans. Did you spend a favorite afternoon hiking in the woods? What did the birds sound like? How did the sun feel?
Write an educational piece. Recall an encounter with nature that affected you. Remember how close that whale came? It was beautiful! But then you found out its breeding grounds and future are in danger. Write about your experience and how it changed your outlook on life and the environment.
Offer a solution. Have an idea on how to save the world? Your solution may be practical, impractical or a dream. Any idea will be considered.
Be sure to do your research. Talk to your science teacher or environment club advisor. Look for information online or at the library. Don’t be afraid to give details, but make sure all your facts are correct.
Providing good feedback is like writing a good review. You should think about exactly what you liked and disliked, and not just whether you liked it or not. If someone likes your poem or disagrees with your view, don’t you want to know why? Be specific in your feedback, even cite specific sentences or passages.
Give reasons for your opinion. Use examples and relate your own experiences if it will make your point stronger. If a story reminds you of something that happened in your life, talk about it. If a poem touches you in some way, describe how and why. Keep in mind there is a teen like you behind each piece of artwork and writing, so be fair and considerate.
Brainstorm for ideas and make an outline of what you want to say. Remember who your audience is. Get your ideas and main points down. There’s plenty of time for revising and polishing.
Writing your piece
You’ve heard it before: every piece of writing needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Is your first sentence an attention getter? Is the body of the piece tight and coherent? Is your ending balanced with the rest of the piece? Did you get all your points across? Does your writing read the way you want it to?
Watch out for redundancies, clichés or obvious statements. Don’t be afraid to get rid of excess adjectives, entire sentences or paragraphs (scary thought, but you can do it!). Ask someone else to read your writing to see if it makes sense to them and to check for errors.
Revise, revise, revise
You’ve got something that resembles an article or a story. Now find a red pen and read it out loud like you’ve never seen it before. Make sure your verbs are active, not passive; check for flow, clarity, sentence structure, smooth transitions between paragraphs, tense consistency and spelling errors.
You’ve written, proofed, corrected, proofed and proofed again. Now it’s time to let your polished piece shine. Follow our submission guidelines and send your work to Teen Ink. Congratulations on all your hard work, and good luck!