I figured it’s better to say this now, because in a few months I will be too old to claim direct authority on it any longer.
Being a teen and a writer is probably one of the most wonderful things I have ever experienced.
There are sucky moments, of course:
1. Nobody takes you seriously. “You’re too young to be doing that.” “You don’t have enough life experience.” “You’ll never be successful.” “You’re not talented enough.” “You’re such a nerd!” “It’s all teen angst slop.” You’ve heard most of these before. You may even be used to them by now.
Writing takes a thick skin, and the younger you are, the thicker that skin has to be. Lucky musicians. I was just told the other day not to take up violin because I was too <i>old</i>. It’s the same level of bullshit of course. If a five-year-old can play violin, so can I. It’s just that I look more pathetic when I mess up. Well, if a fifty-year-old can write, so can you. You’ll just have a different set of problems then an older person would.
2. Everyone in your English class is jealous of your ability!
Wait, no… that was a dream I had last night.
3. There are very few venues available to interact with other writers of any age.
I’ve never been in a face to face writing situation as far as fiction is concerned. All my interaction has been web based. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but communication is easier face-to-face than post-to-post.) My school district never had authors come in to give presentations or readings. Most of the people who shared my interests were too shy to own up to it, and most other people didn’t care.
I was fortunate to have a fantastic AP English teacher who let me do an independent study in novel writing, but due to my schedule, I could only meet with them once a week after school to turn in my word count. Sure, there was a school litmag I worked on, and we had some writing group stuff before we got down to business, but there were four other people in the group and our interests and skill levels did not jive.
Cons are expensive, and that means not only do few teenage writers go, but even if you have the time and money, most of the other con-goers aren’t on your wavelength.
4. Nobody wants to play you at scrabble.
But there are many benefits, too:
1. My classmates may not have been jealous of my writing skills—I was in an advanced track—but those skills certainly came in handy for assignments. I got A’s in my class even though I was a bit sloppy and a lot lazy, and for those who are familiar with AP tests, my score of a 5 will tell you I could write under pressure. Essays may be boring, but being a writer outside of an educational environment certainly has its advantages while we are in one.
2. Writing is damn fun. Bored in class? Space out and plot events in your current WIP. People will think you are doing homework when you write purple fantasy poetry in class. Tired of your annoying little brother? Lock yourself in your room and make scene maps on your wall with silly colored string.
3. Being a writer—that is, thinking and acting like a writer—opens up a million new levels of perception when you’re reading. It may limit the list of authors you can read without a nosebleed or vomiting up your small intestine, but for the books you do enjoy, you have a whole new way of experiencing the story. Now for some cold hard truth: Most teen writers do not get published. I can think of maybe three. I imagine you know who they are. Young writers like to hold them up as exceptions to the rule of “young writers can’t get published”. While they make for great stories and I have a lot of respect for their accomplishments, they are not your average young writers. Everybody else will have to spend their time in the trenches.
And despite how it may seem, that time is very valuable, and it will make you a better writer in the long run. You will be less likely to get a story published that embarrasses you later. More practice=better stories. The business end of writing is a pain in the ass, and more so when you cannot sign your own contracts. It’s tough, it’s sharp, and most of the time it hurts like hell. There are a few bright spots, but you’re better off waiting until full emotional maturity kicks in. Trust me.
Okay, that’s all I got. Maybe being a teen writer really doesn’t totally rock. But I still think the experience was worth it, and I hope other young writers out there can stick it out. There’s no shame to be had in getting published in your twenties, or thirties, or even sixties. You may not be quite there yet, but you’re a lot farther down the road than most people get. Perseverance and tenacity and patience. Invaluable tools, and all things learned from being a teen writer.