Literacy research: Is writing cool? [VIEWPOINT]

Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers is Managing Director at IPR License.

Is writing cool? Actually is the word cool cool? What exactly is cool anyway? Well not writing, at least according to 8-16 year old boys.

Recent research compiled in the report “Children and Young People’s Writing in 2012” by the National Literacy Trust suggested that one in five boys said they would be embarrassed if friends saw them write, compared to one in eight girls, and boys were less likely to say writing was “cool” (26.8% compared to 35.2%).

Out of the 35,000 8-16 year olds surveyed for the report, 8.6% of the boys said they didn’t enjoy writing, compared to 20.9% of girls. And while 32.6% of girls said they write outside of class on a daily basis, 30.2% of boys said they never or rarely did.

Now I’m certainly not having a go at the National Literary Trust but including the very 90’s word of cool is indicative of how publishing, writing and reading is reflected amongst the 8-16 age bracket. Maybe if words such as sick, dope, the shiz, nasty, or even awesome had been used percentages might have risen.

However, getting more children to write and/or making it ‘cool’ is only part of the problem facing the industry. Of course it would be great to get a larger proportion of today’s ‘youf’ writing but at the same time it’s important to encourage people from all walks of life, backgrounds and ages to write. Apologies for some stereotypical casting of aspirations but whilst it might still be cool for a twenty-something English graduate from Oxford to embark upon writing a novel, it would be the shiz if a teen from a troubled inner-city background penned a ground-breaking story to inspire his or her generation.

And let’s not be ageist. It’s dope that an IPR member in her late sixties (I’m really hoping she won’t mind me referencing this) was recently snapped up by Pan MacMillan in a whopping seven book deal. And in doing so she offered a virtual two fingers to the attitude of an editor at a writing event she attended who said that she, along with many others around her age-bracket, stood no chance of being published as they were too old.

The truth is that relevant writing from all ages, colour, creed and life experience that truly engages with their particular audience remains key to the future of the book market. Technology, including platforms such as IPR License, is certainly making its mark in helping people to not only write but have a writing career no matter how old they are. The challenge remains getting those with a real story to tell to do so and make writing sick rather than something that is avoided like the plague.

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