A Message to Teen Writers

It seems somewhat odd that I'm writing a message to teenage writers, given that I am one, for now. But I'm turning twenty later this year, so I've basically accepted that I won't be published as a teenager, even if someone handed me a book deal right this minute. Over the past couple of months, I've been realizing some things about my identity as a writer and the goals I set for myself, and I think teen writers might find the lessons I learned useful.

My self-examination started back in December, when I saw a Twitter thread from Isabel Yap that really resonated with me. It made me realize that the reason I've been getting so frustrated in my publishing journey lately is because I'm already telling myself it's too late.

I highly recommend scrolling down the thread ... but back to my story.

It's pretty well-documented how labeling kids as "gifted and talented" in schools can backfire when they grow up basing their self-worth on how smart/successful they are compared to other people. I was homeschooled, so I didn't experience an institutionalized version of this, but I still grew up being told how clever I was -- particularly because I wrote stories throughout my whole childhood. People were always telling me what a great novelist I'd be. Some of my friends called me "J.K. Rowling."

Of course, I'm not saying that it's bad to encourage kids to follow their dreams. But I grew up with a kind of inflated ego that had me half-convinced I'd be traditionally published with a massive book deal before the age of 18. I'd be the next Kody Keplinger or Christopher Paolini.

And then ... it didn't happen. Turned out, I wasn't as good at writing as I thought. When I go back and read the first novel I queried back when I was 15 or 16, I cringe at how stilted it sounds. I just wasn't ready for publication at that age, and I still don't know if I am now.

I know you teen writers don't want to hear it, because I really didn't want to hear it at sixteen -- but sometimes, there's no substitute for experience and maturity.

Don't plug your ears up yet, though, because this comes with a massive caveat. I've seen so many adult writers giving advice to teen writers that pretty much runs along the lines of, "You're still a kid, so don't worry about publication now -- just write!" I think that advice comes from a good place, but it still makes me cringe because I find it super condescending. Some sixteen-year-olds are ready for publication -- not a lot, but some.

So instead, I want to take some weight off your shoulders. Look, I get it -- I was in your position, dreaming of being published before eighteen (or twenty-one or whatever other arbitrary age limit you've set for yourself). Fact is, I wasn't ready. That doesn't mean you aren't ready, but prepare yourself for the possibility that you might not be. Know that it's not just you -- many writers decades older than you aren't ready either.

You might not get published until you're an adult. And that is still just as amazing an achievement as if you got a book deal today. Yes, write with the intention of getting published now; yes, learn how to query now, because you never know what might happen. And even if every one of your queries gets rejected or ignored, you're still a step closer to learning how to pitch effectively. Every word you write brings you a step closer.

Know that you don't need to be a baby genius -- you just need to keep chasing your dream. Stop thinking that you're a failure if you aren't published in your teens, or even your twenties or thirties. If it happens that early, then that's awesome, but some of the greatest writers on the face of the Earth didn't get published until much later in life. If it takes you twenty years to get published, that just means your prose is going to be absolutely cracking when you finally get there.

And for those of you who are worrying you'll be published "too old" and won't get to use your young age as a selling point: trust me, it's not as big of a selling point as you think it is. Besides, which would you rather have people say about your work -- "Wow, this person writes so well!" or "Wow, this person writes so well for their age!"?

I think we can all agree that the first one is far preferable.

Keep writing. Keep trying. You are never a failure, no matter how old you are.

No comments

Post a Comment