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Being a Teen Writer

29 Jul

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.

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13 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2010 in atsiko, Writing

 

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13 responses to “Being a Teen Writer

  1. changered

    July 29, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Haha. Cute post 🙂 I completely understand where you are coming from and totally relate since, I am a teen and a writer.
    Keep Updating!

    Ruku x
    http://rukutaneja.wordpress.com/

     
  2. April

    July 29, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    I think a lot of writers, teen or not, can understand the pros and cons. People still don’t always take me seriously when they hear I’m a writer. It’s like a pipe dream, being published. Or at least, that’s how a lot of people who aren’t writers look at it. Especially if they aren’t readers either.

    I’ve mostly interacted with writers on the web only. My mom’s well-read, so scrabble isn’t an issue. Plus, she can spell better than I can. 🙂

    As for the pros – writing when I’m bored – I’ve always done that! I had a job for a few years as a receptionist, without so much as a computer on my desk! All I did was write in a notebook or read. It was great! My skills did help a lot in school, and I know exactly what you’re saying about reading and the levels of perception – how they grow and change. I wrote a bit about that on my blog today, actually!

    Good luck as you join the world of writing 20-somethings! (Of which I am in my last year.)

     
    • atsiko

      July 29, 2010 at 5:26 PM

      Yes, many of these things hold true even for adult writers.

      And thanks. I’ll need the luck. 😦

       
  3. zornhau

    July 29, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    Ho ho! Sounds familiar. At least you have the Internet and access to good writing books. Back in the 1980s, I had the added problem of not having the technical skills to write the stuff in my head – painful.

    From painful memory, I think you could add a downside Number 4: Your project time is measured in months at a phase of life when change is measured in days. E.g. in the time it takes you to struggle through a handful of chapters, your guitar playing mates have learned to play Stairway to Heaven. The feedback lag is even more disheartening.

    Oh, and #5: Outgrowing the themes of your project before it’s complete.

    Fraternal greetings across the generations
    Z

     
    • atsiko

      July 29, 2010 at 5:29 PM

      Zornhau, very true additions. Although my guitar playing mates were more likely to have learned Wonderwall. 😉

      The issue of change is definitely an important aspect of being a teen writer–not just internal change but external, as well.

      I know it’s a bit spoiled to say, “All I had was the internet.” when ten years before my teenage years, you didn’t ven have that.

       
      • zornhau

        July 29, 2010 at 8:13 PM

        Wonderwall!

        Argh. (The other day, I found I was teaching swordplay to somebody young enough to be my son, had I had an incautious Freshers Week…)

         
  4. Nicole Grotepas

    July 29, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    I’d never thought about the contract stuff, but yes that’s crap for a teen writer. 😉

    Being an older writer, I feel like the writing community is always difficult to find. Perhaps during college it’s not that evasive, but from my experience the people there who write are trying to be the next Salinger and have little respect for speculative fiction and fantasy.

    I’m sure you’ve done it, but have you tried the NANOWRIMO write-ins or write-a-thons? I tried that for the first time last year and there were some teen writers in the group. It was cool to meet people who want to write, and that led me further into the Nashville writing community.

    One thing I struggle with is finding a writing group that meets my needs, and whose dedication complements my own. It seems like you’re pretty dedicated and ambitious, so if you keep it up, I’m sure the results will be what you want.

    p.s. I wish I had been as dedicated as you seem to be when I was a teen. 😉

     
    • atsiko

      July 29, 2010 at 5:38 PM

      I did NaNo last year, but never a write in. It’s true that the writing community can be hard to find for anybody, especially amateur writers. You don’t have a lot of offline connections like a lot of published authors do, and they have it easier for cons as well. There’s a creative writing class for fantasy at my college, so I don’t have quite the issue with litfic elitism at my school, but of the few writers I knew in high school, only one did spec fic, and it was short stories with a literary bent by the time we were in our little writing group. When we did prompts, it was a bit awkward to read my SF/F inspired fragments, and then everyone else in the group would read their literary YA fragments. I tried to sneak my stuff by them by making it poetry. It’s not that they were rabidly anti-genre, but just that genre writing stuck out there.

      I can’t imagine trying to find a stable writing group. Most of what I write is spec fic, but I write peripheral and interstices stuff, too, so it might be hard to find a genre group.

      The fact that this post is getting so much response right off is actually rather depressing. Every time I do a general post about writing, I get a ton of comments, but when I do the spec fic posts that were supposed to be the main focus of the blog, I can here the spiders and millipedes skittering through the closet where wordpress keeps unused drafts. 😦

       
  5. Nicole Grotepas

    July 29, 2010 at 7:21 PM

    You should find a writing group online. I’ve heard of several newly published fantasy and spec-fi writers doing that. Or am I suggesting something you’ve already done?

    My younger sister went to a college that offered a science fiction class. I was so jealous. Still am. 🙂

    The Nano write-in was interesting. It took a lot of courage for me to attend, because, well, writing isn’t a group sport. But I met loads of interesting people. This mattered to me especially since I’ve only lived in Nashville a few years and don’t have a readily available way of meeting friends or like-minded individuals (it’s easier during college, trust me). When I meet someone who reads the types of books I love it’s tough to not turn into a drooling idiot. haha.

     
    • atsiko

      July 29, 2010 at 7:34 PM

      I don’t have an online writing group. I’m on three or four forums, but I don’t so much post for critique as enjoy the general discussion areas.

       
      • zornhau

        July 29, 2010 at 8:12 PM

        Critting is useful at different stages, but has problems with longer works.

         
      • atsiko

        July 29, 2010 at 9:08 PM

        Yeah, most of the critique I’ve gotten online has been for poems, though I’ll give critique on almost any format except non-fiction and screenplays.

        For longer works ready for others’ eyes, I’d prefer beta readers.

         
  6. Jared

    August 1, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    This reminds me of Stephen King’s little “On being Nineteen” essay. When I was getting swamped in the drowning weight of overthinking whilst writing my friend would direct me to it, and it helped a lot. I remember thinking ‘oh darn, I’m 20 now, can’t follow that advice anymore!’ but, as a kinda-new-not-really-amateurish wannabe writer, I look forward to even the harsh and annoying experiences that will hammer into me everything I need to know.

     

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