On Turning 18 and the "Young Writer Deadline"

A few days ago, I turned eighteen.

Now, there's a culture among young writers where 18 is THE DEADLINE. As in, if you're not traditionally published by eighteen, you've failed. You'll never be that child prodigy that wrote a bestseller. You'll never be the next Kody Keplinger or Christopher Paolini. Your most unique selling point is just ... gone. Now you're just a normal writer, like everyone else.

Honestly, I used to feel that way. I thought I'd have to be a super megastar author by the time I reached the age of majority in order to be successful. I hoped I'd be that seventeen-year-old who got a six-figure book deal and sold her movie rights and had a gazillion Twitter followers hanging on her every word. As a fourteen-year-old, eighteen seemed such a long way off. I was sure I'd be successful by then.

And here I am, at eighteen, and -- surprise! -- I'm not traditionally published. I don't have an agent. I even stopped querying my completed MG manuscript so I can knuckle down and work on drafting my current YA project. I haven't released a new book myself since 2016 (and none of my self-published books have been bestsellers, unless you count this). Fourteen-year-old me would consider my current self a failure.

But eighteen-year-old me doesn't.

Eighteen-year-old me knows that there's no deadline to be published. There can't be, and there shouldn't be -- these things take time. Those mega bestseller teenage writers are major outliers.

Eighteen-year-old me knows that being a young writer isn't as huge a selling point as she previously thought. Obviously it's cool to be young and published, but it's far more important to have a great book. Your book is the selling point.

Eighteen-year-old me knows that eighteen actually isn't that old. It's just as impressive to publish a book at eighteen as it is at seventeen, or nineteen, or twenty. The only difference is that now I can sign contracts myself instead of having my mom do it on my behalf.

Eighteen-year-old me knows that I still have so much to learn. But I'm learning more every day. With every word I type, I'm becoming a better craftswoman, a better plotter, a better pacer, and a better writer. And one day, that will bring success.

A lot of us have been writing since we were tiny, but that doesn't mean publication is right for us yet.

My overall point can be summed up with a quick anecdote. When I was eleven, I attended a swim camp at the University of Texas. I got to meet the legendary men's swim coach, Eddie Reese, whose amazing leadership and guidance has led many swimmers to the Olympics. In the speech he gave, he said something that has stuck with me ever since: "The hard work always pays off. You just don't know when."

That is as true for writing as it is for swimming. For some, the hard work may pay off at sixteen, and that's great! For some, it may pay off at fifty, and that's great too! Getting published is not a race. There's no deadline. There's no such thing as "too late." It doesn't matter if you're a great-grandparent by the time your debut hits the shelves -- your age does not determine how much your achievement is worth.

To my fellow young writers: your talent does NOT have an expiration date. Don't rush. Let things happen at the right time for YOU.

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