Explaining The Young Writers Initiative: An Interview with Riya M. Cyriac.

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Today I have the opportunity to talk to Riya M. Cyriac, founder and executive director of The Young Writers Initiative. This is an exciting new organization geared towards young writers, run by young writers and creators. I happen to be part of the board as an Editing Team Leader and it has been such a fun experience. I’m thrilled to be able to talk about it with the founder herself. Thanks so much for coming on the blog, Riya!

R: Thank you so much! I’m excited to be on the blog today.

L: First things first, please tell us a little about yourself! I’m sure people will want to know all about the founder of TYWI!

R: Of course! I’m a junior in High School and a Texas-based writer. I love to write fantasy, short stories, and poems and I've been published in a couple of anthologies. I also love to dance, sing, and run TYWI!

L: Sounds busy! Can you explain what exactly The Young Writers Initiative is?

R: The Young Writers Initiative is an organization dedicated to helping young writers develop their writing craft, build their resume, and get access to resources. We run a lot of programs, like our bi-monthly contests, our literary journal, and upcoming editing, beta reading, and writing workshop programs.

L: I’ve personally never seen anything like this before, especially something geared towards younger readers. How did the idea come to you? Can you give us a little bit of background?

R: As a young writer, I have been very passionate about trying to get my work out there, to get published, to get help to develop my skills, mostly, but much of that requires one of two things: experience or money. Editors are integral to a writer’s development of their manuscript, but they are expensive. At first, I wanted to offer personal editing at a cheap price, but as I delved deeper into the problem of not getting the resources we young writers need because of financial barriers, I realized that young writers need beta readers, contests, publication opportunities, and accessible workshops for them. Thus, I thought of the name, contacted a friend, and The Young Writers Initiative was born.

L: That’s a really good point. A buddy of mine offers editing services for non-fiction and the prices are...well, she has to make a living, but for young writers paying those kinds of fees is unrealistic. TYWI is a great opportunity for people to get the help they need. What kinds of services does TYWI offer?

R: We are developing our editing and beta reading services at this moment, along with weekly virtual workshops. Our editing program is meant to be a one-on-one experience between the writer and the volunteer editors. It is free of cost, and we have two great editing Team Leaders, one being Lev! To make sure that our editors are qualified, we have a two-week boot camp where volunteer editors are trained to give young writers the feedback they need. We are super excited about this program. We are also in the test phase of our beta reading program. Running a beta reading project is so hard sometimes, I know because one of my past attempts failed. Then, with help from our Beta Reading Team Leaders, we have developed a great system that is organized by TYWI. Writers can either bring their own beta readers, or we can assign some of our volunteer beta readers that are contracted with us. This is also free of charge, and we are very flexible to the author’s and volunteers’ needs.

Finally, we are developing virtual workshops that will be streamed through Instagram and maybe YouTube, but that is still in the planning phase. Our first scheduled Virtual Workshop will be run by Sophia Kunkel on April 3rd!

L: It’s all so exciting! If people want to get involved, volunteering wise, where should they go?

R: On our website, we have a whole tab dedicated to volunteering. You can volunteer to be a judge for one of our contests, an editor, or a beta reader. Here’s the link to our website, where there is information about what it means to be an editor. Then, there’s a simple application. https://www.tywi.org/ We typically check for applications twice a week, so if you don’t get an email about your application a week later, contact us. If we decide that you would be a fit for the Initiative, we will send you our volunteer guide and put you into our Bootcamp program. IF you are beta reading for another author that is not doing it through TYWI, we strongly recommend you refer them to us. Then, you will automatically be a volunteer after filling out the application, and if your author elects to skip the Bootcamp, you may be able to skip the Bootcamp phase.

L: If someone wants to have their work beta read or edited, is there a similar process?

R: Yes. We are hoping to launch those applications on our website by Saturday, March 28, 2020. The authors would fill out an application, and if we have an available and fitting editor or beta reading group, we will pair you. If not, authors will be put on a waitlist until a fitting volunteer is paired with them.

L: If someone is not interested in being involved in those aspects, there are other ways to get involved as well. Can you explain the literary journal and the contests?

R: Editing and beta reading services are not the only resources that young writers have little access to. Publication opportunities and contests are an amazing way to get your work out there. I have been submitting to literary magazines and contests for a while, and I always thought that it would be cool to have one by young writers. The literary journal was one of the first ideas me and our Artistic Director, Brent Freeman had because we wanted to start one at our school. Unfortunately, that isn’t allowed at our school. Getting your work out there, representing the young voice, is so important. Our literary journal is bi-annual, meaning twice a year, and is based around a theme. The theme of our first literary journal, scheduled to launch in July, is centered around human emotion: Persona. We have submissions for the literary open until Friday, June 12th, 2020. There are four sections we have: love, anger, sadness, and joy.

Corresponding with our lit journals are our contests, which are bi-monthly. Our first contest was in February 2020, themed around Enamor, the seven types of love. We got amazing entries that will all go towards our literary journal. Our upcoming April contest will be Vexation, anger/frustration. We are excited about the entries we will get from that. All our genres are open for the lit journal submissions at all times. More information is on our website, specifically under our contest and lit journal tabs.

For any artists, we are always looking for beautiful artwork to feature in our lit journal and to judge in contests, so we urge you to submit your digital art, 3d art, 2d art, and photography!

L: TYWI has a growing place on social media as well. Can you tell us where to find TYWI online and what kinds of things you offer on social media platforms?

R: Of course! Our Marketing Director, Sophia Kunkel, has done a fantastic job with social media. We offer a bi-weekly newsletter that covers all our future programs, contests, and exclusive writing tips. I’ll link the sign up for that here: https://mailchi.mp/745927e876d0/tywinewsletter. We’re also on instagram @youngwritersinitiative, which I’ll also link here: https://www.instagram.com/youngwritersinitiative/. On instagram, we are currently running “Prompt week”, where we provide prompts and accept submissions for that microcontest. The entries get featured on our page and in our gallery on our website.

Instagram is also where our Writing Workshops will be, and possibly on YouTube. These things are specifically on our social media accounts, so we prompt you to follow them! All the entries submitted are considered for our lit journal. Finally, we do collaborations with writing accounts to get writers writing. This month, we’ll be partnering with @highschoolwriters for our short story month.

L: Also, I hear we are opening board applications! What does that involve?

R: Yes, we are opening up board applications, specifically for 2 Beta Reading Team Leaders, 1 more Marketing Director, and some more Art Board members. Board members are the core of our organization. I’m constantly astounded by how much we are able to accomplish, especially considering we only started at the end of January of this year. It’s because our board members are so dedicated to what they do, and they contribute so many fantastic ideas, that we are able to do so much. Aspiring board members will have to complete an application and a possible interview with us. Once they become part of the team, board members must join Slack, a free application for workspace collaboration and be passionate about the organization. It isn’t a super easy task, but it’s worth it. I’m so thankful for our board members because of their constant hard work, but as we expand our operations, we want to open up and allow for some more bright minds to get involved. This looks great on college apps, for any college loving folks like myself.

L: Being on the board certainly is an opportunity like no other! I just have a few more questions for you, Riya. What has made you proudest so far, regarding the organization?

R: That’s a hard one! I think it’s going to be the effective completion of our February Contests. It was a wild chance, for sure. We were a fresh organization with no funding, so planning something so large scale as our first contest was stressful. We got some fantastic entries, though, and we also got so many volunteer judges, so many that we had to ask some of them to sit this round out! Our judges all finished their duties at the deadline, so we had no problem there. It ran so smoothly, and the entries were fantastic! It was the first thing that we finished from start to finish, and I’m so proud about the way it went. We posted the winning entries on our website, and the first place winners on our instagram, and people loved them. I am so excited for what we have in store though, and I have some great feelings about the future.

L: It definitely was fun to see all of the winner’s reactions! I can’t wait to see what the next contest brings. Final question, what is your dream for TYWI? Expanding online? Building up in other locations? What do you hope the future holds?

R: That’s a great question. I’m a big dreamer. I hope to take TYWI out into the physical world, into schools, helping teachers, things like that. I know that my love for creative writing stemmed from my 4th grade experiences, so I want to do the same for other kids. Our nearest goal is to become certified as a non-profit, which takes money and time, but hopefully, donations with help with that cause. I want to be able to charter TYWI out as a club to various schools. We are already considering starting it up as a club in my school, where we promote the writing contests, hold weekly meetings, and visit with local elementary schools to help young kids develop their writing skills. I would love for it to amass into an organization that would hold summer writing camps, have chapters in different places around the world, and to expand our services to have some paid editing options as well.

L: I love that so much! I really admire your drive and all of these great ideas. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

R: Only one thing: we hope that you all check out TYWI! Even if you’re not a young writer (which we classify as up to 27), there is still a place for you to volunteer and help out. We are always looking for donations so we can run our programs with maximum quality, because there is only so much that we can do for free. We want to keep everything we do for free, so we would appreciate any donation, whether it be $1 or $100. We hope you all like what we do and support us as we grow to help young writers all over the world.

Thank you so much for having me, Lev! Thank you for reading this article and learning just a bit more about The Young Writers Initiative. If you want to visit our website https://www.tywi.org/, just click here, and if you want to know more, shoot us an email at theyoungwritersinitiative@gmail.com.

L: Thank you for coming and talking about TYWI! I’ve had a great time working with this organization so far and I’m really excited to see what happens next. It was great having you on the blog and you are welcome back anytime!

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