We sat down with the founder of PublishYOUth to talk competition, creative joy, and the constraints of a pandemic on literary productivity.
Novel Minority (NM): What inspired you to found PublishYOUth?
Aybala T. (AT): In the summer of 2020 I looked back on my very first writing competition experience, an opportunity that I had only heard of from a teacher, and I realized how difficult it was to find youth publishing opportunities in an applicable way. Many of us have to sift through lists of writing opportunities to try and find those that are for our age group, reliable, affordable, and not already expired—let alone actually intriguing to us. Based on this desire to make writing opportunities more accessible and organized, I created publishYOUth through The Big Sisters Project, an amazing entrepreneurship program for young girls! Since publishYOUth's launch we've added over 150 opportunities to the website, interviewed acclaimed youth writers, and reached over 2,700 followers on Instagram! It's been amazing to hear from youth that have benefited from the platform, and we can't wait for what's to come.
NM: What advice do you have for teen writers who want to compete, but in a healthy way?
AT: I think the healthy part of this question is extremely important. My advice would be to first write for yourself, your taste, and your own enjoyment. From there use resources like publishYOUth as avenues to share your writing, but not as a requirement or pressure for yourself. Writing to compete can feel extremely draining and unnatural, and so it's really important to write out of an inner passion for the craft.
NM: How do you believe BIPOC teens can make the writing world a kinder place for each other?
AT: I think a big part of that is mutual support and not viewing one another as competition. Competition culture in general can make it seem like there are limited spots, and that somehow another person similar to you may take it away. I think it's important to keep in mind that there are many outlets through which you can share your voice, and also that there are spaces you can join or create for BIPOC teens to build a supportive community around you (like Novel Minority!).
NM: You have one sentence of advice to offer BIPOC teens. What will it be?
AT: My advice would be to know that your story is important, and that your story does not have to fit what is "mainstream" at the moment—it just has to be true to you.
NM: You created PublishYOUth entirely by yourself, which is a phenomenal feat. How do you talk to your "inner artist" when things aren't as productive as you would like them to be?
AT: Thank you so much! How I talk to myself during those times is definitely something I'm still working on, but one of the biggest things is just giving yourself that time. Instead of placing pressure on yourself to always be productive, know that a lot of your real impact and strength comes from caring for yourself. Therefore, I try to be understanding with myself during those times. However, if I get a feeling that things aren't as productive as they could be due to something holding me back (whether it be fear, a lack of motivation, etc.), then I find it really important to uncover that inner feeling and figure out ways to work through it. But either way, the moral of the story—writer pun not intended!—is to check in with and be understanding of yourself.
NM: How can students get involved & what has PublishYOUth planned for the future?
AT: You can always find opportunities or advice on our website, and we hope to host a competition of our own sometime later this year so stay tuned for that! We also have some collaborations coming up with the amazing Novel Minority team that we're very excited for!
NM: Where does your passion for writing come from?
AT: My passion for writing comes from my adventures with creative writing when I was younger. I think that feeling of sharing a story, whether nonfiction or fiction, was a really powerful and genuine form of expression for me. I find writing to be a very creative and community-based craft, and so my passion comes from the fact that there's always so much you can do—and learn— through it.