I started writing around age 7 and haven’t stopped since. Despite all the amazing things that come from writing at such a young age, there are cons too, like the weird sort of complex young writers often develop around their work. Here are just a few of the things I wish I’d listen to and taken more seriously as a teenaged writer.
“You will have to edit more than you think.”
I remember when I was eleven years old and finished the first draft of my first book. Picturing all the high-points in my head, riding that wave of excitement, I thought it wouldn’t need any editing at all. In my head, my writing seemed absolutely amazing. Then I printed it all out and looked over everything–and cringed. Well, maybe one edit would take care of everything… right?
I ended up editing that book 13 times before I put it out into the world, and even then I still think about un-publishing it. Now an adult, I talk to other young writers who also believe they won’t have to edit. I can’t help but shake my head. I’ve learned the hard way that only after multiple edits will something truly begin to shine–and those who think otherwise are either kidding themselves or are too deep in the trees to see the forest.
“You will exclusively write garbage for the next few years. Write anyways.”
On the opposite side of the coin, there are times I’d looked at my writing and wanted to give up. I hated every word, every letter of what I’d written, and wanted to throw in the towel. Why keep trying when I was so clearly bad at it?
Because everyone who’s good at anything, they once sucked. You don’t see their first drafts, their worthless scribbles or junk-drawer ideas. It took my time to learn this, but once I did, everything changed. The only way you’ll improve is by constantly, consistently trying. And if you don’t? If you give up? Then you will have missed out on so, so many opportunities to improve. I wish I’d spent less time agonizing over my failures, and more time instead building my skill from my mistakes.
“You’re not the exception.”
I say this without any judgement, but teenaged writers seem to think they’re special. (Heck, I used to, too. We all probably did.) Now, I love writers. We’re a creative, thoughtful, and determined bunch. But that being said, artsy people often have a sense of superiority amplified by whatever it is they find unique about themselves. Teenaged writers doubly so.
I can’t tell you how many times I read advice telling writers x, y, or z and thought “that doesn’t apply to me/my work doesn’t have that problem/I’ll never encounter this”. I thought that me and my experiences were somehow outside of others’ knowledge-sphere, as if there had never been someone in my shoes before. (See the ‘you’re not the exception’ paragraph above.) How shortsighted– and how dearly I wish that I’d listened. Who knows how much sooner my writing would have advanced?
“There’s a legal reason why no one works with young authors.”
Sure, publishing deals for young writers happen. There are those exceptionally, exceptionally rare cases in which an agent will sign a young writer–but they’re almost unheard of for a reason. (To be clear, I’m talking about full book deals here, not magazine or contest entries, which are far more attainable for teens.) Why is this?
Because before the age of 18 in the US, you are unable to sign a legally binding contract. No large publishing house, nonetheless agent, is going to risk taking on a client they can’t sign a contract with. It’s difficult enough for them to find writers they want to collaborate with, and when you throw in the age issue? It’s a no-go.
*I know that someone is going to throw out the example of Christopher Paolini in the comments, so I’m going to go ahead and preemptively mention that he published under his parents’ own company.
“Listen to the advice of other authors.”
When reading up on advice from older, distinguished authors, I came across a tweet from a favorite author of mine that said almost verbatim “young writers, you shouldn’t self-publish your book. You’re going to think it’s good, and it’s probably not”. After being mad about it for a hot minute, I scoffed and wrote it off. I listened to that ‘I’m the exception’ mindset. But she was 100% right.
These distinguished writers are distinguished for a reason. They’ve been in our shoes, have gone through our struggles, and have come out the other side. If they’re charitable enough to share their insight, we should listen. On an even larger scale, it took me years before I read books like On Writing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and whatnot. I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t think that far ahead. But if the nuggets of wisdom are valuable, then so is the whole chicken.
The above only covers a portion of what I wish I’d known as a teenage writer, but what it all boils down to is that I needed to be more open to then advice of others, to be more realistic, and to know just how much more growing I had left to do. (Which I’m still nowhere near done with, mind you.)
What do you wish you knew as a teen?