As an aspiring writer and avid reader, I never miss the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival on the National Mall. This year, the best part was seeing one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood.

Atwood, author of The Blind Assassin, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other wildly popular novels, is a best-selling writer and environmental activist. Her engaging writing style connects readers with the plight of her characters and challenges them to think about social dilemmas.

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Ars Electronica/Flickr

After treating her audience to quick-witted comments and satiric critiques of today’s society, Atwood gave young writers this advice: Spend more time on the Internet.

Really? Teens are already hooked on the Web. One recent Pew Research Center survey indicates that 95 percent of American teens use the Internet at an average of about 16.7 hours a week, excluding email. Doesn’t that mean the generation now coming of age lacks interest in reading and writing?

Quite the contrary — it’s actually helping creative writers hone their craft.

The explosion of Internet usage among teens promotes greater collaboration among young writers. Members of the online writing community provide fellow novices with writing exercises, positive feedback, and constructive criticism. Another benefit of online writing forums is anonymity. Teens who may be otherwise hesitant to share their work are able to confidently contribute to discussion boards namelessly by adopting screen names and avatars — modern nom de plumes.

Teachers agree with Atwood. According to another Pew Research Center study, 78 percent of the advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers surveyed say that digital tools such as the Internet, social media, and cell phones “encourage student creativity and personal expression.”

In fact, several new nonprofit organizations and initiatives encourage writers to connect with each other online.

Take National Novel Writing Month. Established in 1999, it’s a nonprofit that encourages anyone who has ever been interested in creative writing to participate in its annual event. This year, half a million participants are anticipated to take on the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in November.

The organization will maintain a support network that includes access to online discussion forums, pep talks from authors, and local events. Over 250 National Novel Writing Month novels have been traditionally published, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.

This year, I’m participating in the challenge for the first time, and I couldn’t be more excited. I can already say that the organization has enhanced my own novel-writing experience.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee, settle down in front of a laptop, and connect with the online writing community. By November 30, maybe you’ll have penned your first novel.

For more information about National Novel Writing Month, visit

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Colleen Teubner

Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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