Dear Teen Writers... Here's What You Need to Know
You've heard it all before. You're too young. You're too immature. You lack experience and perspective. You haven't found your "voice." yet. Nobody takes you seriously. Blah, blah, blah. Instead of dissuading you from the tough road ahead, I'm here to cheer you on and share some tips on how budding writers like you can grow.
Start calling yourself a Writer
Sometimes we're tempted to think that committing to the label "writer" means we have to think about publishing right away. The truth is, it doesn't. You don't have to be published to call yourself a writer. You don't even have to be pursuing publishing to call yourself a writer. If you pick up a pen and write out what's on your mind with at least a small degree of consistency, then you are a writer.
Don't think about publishing right now
If you dream about having your words in print one day, you're not alone. However, I don't want you to stress yourself out about it because the truth is, it's really, really hard. I've been writing fiction for over ten years, have a writing degree, have written three books, queried dozens of agents, and I'm still not published.
When I was in high school, I told myself I wanted to be published by the age of 20. When I turned twenty, I told myself I would be published before I graduated from college. It's been two years since I graduated, and I'm still not published. I still don't have an agent.
I won't discourage you from submitting to literary magazines or pitching your novel to agents, but try to have realistic expectations. If you don't get published for another ten or twenty years, this is normal and this is okay. You might be waiting a long time, so buckle up.
Write for yourself first
Instead of focusing on publishing, focus on writing for yourself. This means you write for the pure joy of writing. You're not trying to please anybody. You're not writing what you think anyone will want to read. You are writing what you want to read. You don't even have to share it if you don't want to!
Don't worry about finishing anything
I know this sounds like terrible advice, but trust me on this one. When you're just starting out, you're going to be doing a lot of experimenting. You'll try out lots of genres, perspectives, and writing styles, which means you're probably going to outgrow your projects in a matter of weeks or months.
If you abandon a project, don't feel bad about it. If you force yourself to keep going with a project you've lost interest in, you run the risk of quitting not only on your project, but on writing altogether. At the very least, you'll have a months- or years-long dry spell where you don't produce anything because you're hard on yourself for not finishing a project.
Don't do that. If you lose interest in a project because you don't like it, move on. You're going to find out that not all your ideas are sustainable, especially if you're writing novels. Sometimes you'll simply change your mind about the genre you're writing in. Maybe you don't feel great about the prose or the characters. Whatever the reason, feel okay with abandoning projects.
You might be tempted to think this mentality does not encourage commitment to a project. You may fear that you won't finish anything when the going gets tough. I suppose this could be the case, but this has not been my experience. When I started out, I wrote plenty of short stories and books that I didn't finish. As I grew older, however, my endurance grew. Even when I wasn't finishing projects, I lasted a little longer every time. Eventually, I was able to write whole books.
Also, it isn't that important to finish projects if writing is only a creative outlet for you and you don't intend to publish. In this context, writing serves you. It's serving your whims and your creative energy. As soon as your writing stops pleasing you, you stop. You write something else.
It's a little bit different when you want to write professionally. There's more than yourself to consider, but going back to my previous point, don't worry about publishing. Work on finding the genre you like to write in and work on discovering your voice. Besides, if you want to publish because you love writing, then you should eventually find that intrinsic motivation to finish a project.
Connect with other teen writers
It might not feel like it, but there are plenty of people your age who love writing just as much as you do. Where are they, you ask? They're everywhere! I really appreciated Wattpad when I was in high school, but these days I've been on the NaNoWriMo website since I'm participating this year.
Wattpad is a great space if you want to share your writing anonymously in a low-pressure environment. Most people I encountered on there were really kind and encouraging.
Pay attention in English class
Yes, really. Don't roll your eyes (Just kidding, I'm sure you already love English class). This is a great time to study the kind of things most people twice your age have forgotten by now (like obscure grammar rules, or the names of literary techniques). Tuck it all in your back pocket, my friend.
I imagine you're also reading those lofty literary classics written by some dead guys (and a few ladies! Shout out to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte). Don't skim over those. Study them. Think critically about what makes them good (or why you think they're not). Is it the prose? The structure? The characters? The themes? The symbols? There's so much to appreciate about the classics. They're challenging, but let yourself fall in love with them.
Think about the kind of books you gravitate toward
Speaking of books, what do you like to read? If you like to read it, odds are you'll like to write it, too. Again, think about what you like about a certain genre. The worldbuilding possibilities of fantasy? The intensity and fast-paced nature of mysteries or thrillers? The quiet depth of literary fiction?
Try your hand at writing in a genre you like, and don't worry about copying your favorite books or authors right now. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and you'll find your voice in time (as long as you keep writing, of course).
Check out some books and blogs on writing craft
You probably get the idea now about how important books are. This tip is optional and depends on how serious you are, but what really helped my confidence was diving deep into craft. K.M. Weiland is my absolute go-to for all things writing. I even have a few of her books, too. Of course, there are endless options at your library too, so head on over to the non-fiction section.
You might be intimidated or overwhelmed when you first start studying craft, but the more you read about it, the more you'll internalize it. At one point it'll be intuitive--hardly a second thought.
So, what are you waiting for?
Click off your phone and open a blank document. It's time to write!