I don't remember how old I was when I won my first writing contest, but I do know it was before I was in fifth grade.
My hometown chapter of the Daughters of the America Revolution awarded me a check for $2 for an essay I had written. I was rich.
There were a series of obstacles impeding my becoming a writer, but that recognition encouraged me to forge ahead. It was in a time when writing was appreciated and valued.
What do young writers have nowadays, in the era of text messages and cryptic e-mails, encouraging them to take more time honing a craft that technology seems to be suffocating?
Well, young female writers in grades 9 through 12 have the Young Women Writers Program at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.
Entering its eighth year and sponsored by the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the program selects the 15 top applicants who then can explore and improve their writing skills with the hands-on help of adult writers in a variety of genres: cultivating imagery, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry and young-adult fiction.
Starting Jan. 30, participants will meet on five consecutive Saturdays for four hours, including a catered lunch period. Everything is free.
There was a time when 50 to 70 young women applied, and folks at the center selected the cream of the crop. This year is not one of those times.
Is it because young people prefer the inventive shorthand writing styles used in texting to the longer, more difficult style that is held hostage by stricter rules?
"The English teacher in me is saying yes," said Bianca Spriggs, a freelance creative-writing instructor at the center who will teach the first four-hour session, on Jan. 30.
"But English is a living language, unlike Latin, and it is meant to change," Spriggs said, who said she text-messages.
A more probable reason for the small number of applicants, she said, is that the center attracts a high caliber of young women who might have interests in several areas.
"Writing may not be their only love," Spriggs said. "There is so much for young people to pick from, they may not have time for this commitment. Probably that is more of what is happening."
Young people today are our next generation of writers, Spriggs said, and they are writing in the language they speak.
Even so, Spriggs said, it is important for young people to know the rules. "Picasso said it is important to know the rules in order to break them," she said.
Purposely breaking the rules encourages the fluidity of creative writing, she said.
Those who want to apply must submit by Friday a cover sheet, found on the center's Web site, plus a letter explaining why they want to participate and a creative-writing sample.
"The thing we look at more closely is the cover letter," said Katherine Greene-Owens, the program coordinator. "We're looking for students who aren't doing it because a parent says they must participate. We're looking for students who are pursuing writing in college, who are interested in journalism or in getting something published."
Greene-Owens said the program is not looking for polish as much as for potential.
"We're looking for something that shows a lot of promise," she said. "If we took that (sample) piece and put it in a workshop with an accomplished writer, where could we take it?"
After participants graduate, they will be asked to read their work during the Downtown Gallery Hop on April 16, and again during the Kentucky Women Writers Conference in September.
For more information or to download the application, go to www.carnegieliteracy.org or call (859) 254-4175.