I’m beginning the post with a rant from my teen self. Bear with me.
Ok, so I read a lot of posts like this when I was a teen writer, and they almost all irritated me because they felt condescending and should’ve been titled “Advice for Beginning Writers.” At seventeen, I’d read dozens of craft books, written three novels, worked my a** off to balance writing with my education, and then some blogger would tell me that I was better off writing articles for the school newspaper and learning the parts of speech (i.e. well-intentioned posts like this one). I felt pretty irritated.
Granted, I took myself extremely seriously (as I’m sure you can tell), but it was articles like these that made me paranoid that no one else would take me seriously.
If you’ve made it to this post, if you participate in some way in the book community, if you read craft articles like what we post here on Writer’s Block Party, you don’t need someone to tell you to read and write a lot. You already know that.
So instead, we’re gonna talk real questions that I actually wanted to know when I was a teen writer.
My background as a teen writer:
- I signed with my first literary agent at 18, while I was balancing college and writing. It was the second novel I’d queried and the fourth I’d written.
- When I began querying, I lied and wrote in my bio that I was an English major at the College of William and Mary, even though I had just accepted my enrollment and was months away from beginning any of my classes. I didn’t want people to know my age.
- I wrote kissing and sex scenes before I’d even held hands with a partner (Don’t worry. They’ve been heavily revised.)
- When I was 12, I told my language arts teacher I desperately wanted to be published before I turned 20 because that mattered a lot to me for some reason (Sorry, 12yo me).
- I cried when I found out Christopher Paolini’s parents published his book because that felt unfair (I’ve since forgiven him).
Question #1: Do people care that I’m young? What do I even put in that bio?
Most people won’t care that you’re young besides praising you for it. However, you will 100% encounter people who don’t take you seriously. I was paranoid about it. It happened. Numerous times. I got over it. You’ll also encounter people who won’t know your age and will make an offhand comment about your generation’s incompetence or laziness that will offend you (This still happens).
Also, most writers don’t have anything to put in their query bios. Your age might feel like a defining feature right now, but you don’t even need to mention it. Do not lie about it if someone asks, as that’s pretty unprofessional. But, at the end of the day, the person your age matters most to is you.
Question #2: Should I take creative writing classes to improve my writing?
Being a young writer has a lot of perks. Mainly, you’re currently in school and potentially have the opportunity to take creative writing courses if your school offers them and/or you studies permit it. Creative writing classes are a great opportunity to share your work, meet other writers, and be exposed to authors you’ve never heard of it and who aren’t dead yet.
However, creative writing classes are definitely not necessary. I took one in high school and several in college, and although I think I got a lot out of the pieces I read, on a craft level, I still learned the most from craft books. You can find them online, at bookstores, and at libraries. Read as many as you possibly can, no matter how old or experienced you are. If you get one new thing out of a book, then it was worth reading.
My craft book recommendations:
- Writing Irresistible KidLit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole
- Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton
- Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed by Donald Maass
- The Entire Write Great Fiction Series
- Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Question #3: How do I balance writing with school/activities?
I treated my writing as seriously as I treated my homework, and gave myself specific writing goals and assignments for each night to keep myself on track. I’m a to-do list kind of gal. But I mainly wrote my books over the summer, and in high school, when I was focused on maintaining straight As, becoming captain of every club, and getting into a top university, I didn’t have a lot of time to write. Set your priorities, know your limits, keep everything in perspective, and keep at it.
Question #4: Is it important that I major in English or creative writing in college?
No! Not at all. I felt weirdly pressured to major in English in school because it felt like the writerly thing to do. I might have loved my creative writing courses, but I loathed my literature ones, and I would’ve been better off taking the writing classes just for fun. Now I turned my accounting minor into an accounting masters, and I’m much happier for it.
In fact, a lot of writers would argue that it’s beneficial to pursue another track besides writing. As you might have heard, not only is publishing incredibly competitive, but it’s extremely difficult to be able to write full time financially. One of the reasons I chose accounting was because it is dependable in ways that publishing is not, so it takes a key stress out of my life (so I can stress about my writing career instead).
One of the most advantageous parts about being a young writer is that you’re at a time in your life when you have a lot of options available to you. You might be in school, where you can opt to take creative writing courses. You aren’t set on any one career path yet, so you have flexibility to plan for what lies ahead. It can be a little hectic (I am starting my first real adult accounting job and debuting as a novelist in the same week), but ultimately, I’ve been lucky enough to plan both careers to complement each other and my lifestyle. I only wish I’d been more comfortable working writing into my five year plan a little earlier.
Question #5: Who should I ask to read my work?
I was always very intimidated about finding CPs and betas because they all felt so much older than me–as old as my teachers and parents! Though I did manage to find some other teen writers to swap chapters with, I think my intimidation was rather silly. Plus, older readers could’ve been a lot more help for me during those kissing scenes!
I would avoid asking friends/parents. They can give you helpful feedback, perhaps, but they know you too well and, frankly, writers usually give stronger feedback. So find some writing friends via social media and swap work (there are CP matches happening all the time if you look out for them)!
Also, even if your parents tell you otherwise, it’s super unlikely that some stranger on the Internet will steal your work.
I hope, teen writer, that you found this post a little more helpful than the ones you might’ve read before, or that you at least find my experience amusing. So keep writing. Keep being determined, weird, and cool. And don’t let the awkward questions from relatives get you down.