Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Best Advice for Teen Writers

So not too long ago, I had a Tumblr person ask me to give advice on what to tell a teen who is a writer and who wants to seek publication. I posted it originally in Tumblr, but I thought you guys wouldn't mind if I posted it here, too.

(OK, OK, I didn't have a topic to post about today.)

My Advice for Teens who want to be Published

  • Whenever given the choice between staying home and writing versus doing something new and experiencing new things, always go for the adventure. You’re already at a disadvantage because you’re young: you need to soak up as much life as possible. Living life is the best training for telling stories.
  • Have someone OTHER THAN a close friend, family member and/or teacher read your work. 
    • A friend or family member is probably not going to be objective about your work. I don’t show my work to my family members or friends even now, not unless it’s close to be done. Even if you have a family member or friend who is IN publishing in some way, they’re not objective because they love YOU. 
    • Likewise, a teacher can’t be objective. I know. I’ve been a teacher. And even if the person’s work is great, a teacher has as a moral imperative & desire to encourage the student. The teacher doesn’t want to crush your creativity or discourage you. 
    • But if you’re seeking publication, you need to have readers who don’t care about you as a person—because publication is a business, it’s not personal. So you need to find other writers who are willing to read your work and help you see what needs to be improved (and I guarantee something needs to be improved).
  • Know that once you finish the book, you still have a crap load of work to do. I finished my first book when I was 18. I thought I could drop it in the mail to NY, and it would be published. I thought “editing” meant “changing the grammar and adding new scenes.” It was inconceivable to me that “editing” might mean “rewrite the whole &^*%$ book in a month, please.”
  • Be prepared to keep writing through rejection. YOU WILL BE REJECTED. YOU WILL BE REJECTED. You need to be at an emotional state and confident enough in yourself to know that even if WHEN you are rejected, you will continue to write.
  • Don’t ever ever ever ever think that just because you’re young, you deserve extra credit. The concept that “this is good enough for a XX year old” is anathema. Would you rather be published because you’re young, or because you wrote a good book? Don’t think you can rely on your age as a crutch. (Likewise, please don’t think that your lack of education, if you lack education, will be excused. The idea that “the grammar’s bad because I haven’t been to college yet, but that’s ok, right?” is a bad idea.)
  • If at all possible, leave your age out of it. Be SUPER-professional, SUPER-polite, and SUPER-gracious, and don’t bring up your age—let people meet, judge, and work with you on your own merit, not your age.
  • Don’t self publish. Don’t put your work online. I know it seems tempting and you’re impatient and it’s easy to publish online and it seems like it’s a good idea. It isn’t. You will regret it. You will be setting yourself up for failure. SOME people do make it by self publishing (see: Amanda Hocking). Even those people admit that it is HARD WORK. Beside, more than likely, right now what you most need to do is:
  • Learn your craft. Writing seems easy for some people. It was easy for me. I cranked out stories and poems and even novels as a teen. And I thought they were all brilliant. But when I look back at them now, I think “what a pile of crap.” Just because you’re writing doesn’t mean you’re writing well, and you still have a lot of learning to do. Everyone does.
  • Once you’ve written tons, edited more, and sent your complete novel through a few critique partners, THEN you need to start focusing on finding an agent. In 99.99% of all situations, finding an agent is the best possible thing for a fiction writer to do. Approach finding an agent as anyone—teen or not—would do.
And I didn't include this with my original post, but I think it should be said:
  • Don't take anyone's advice--even this--too seriously. If you want to be a published writer, you're going to make it happen some way or another.


Malika Horton said...

Thanks for this post! I figure it's never too early to start working toward what you want to do for the rest of your life.

I love all your tips (the family uncle wants to critique for me and I'm like you'll be too nice about it! Hee.).

I especially love the last one. I've decided to do this seriously over a year ago. I've been churning out novels, even ones I know I don't want to publish. Still sent through critiquers. Still learning about the business every single day. And even if this 'getting published' trek doesn't happen soon...that perfectly fine because I know it will happen. It's just a matter of when because I'm going to get better and I'm going to keep pushing.

Long comment is long, but thank so, so much for this post! <3

ali cross said...

This is a great post, Beth! I have a teen author friend--she just scored an agent, so your teen readers have got to know that even though they are still young, they can still make it happen!

I loved your advice to KEEP ON HAVING ADVENTURES. That's what life is about, right? And it's certainly the stuff that makes our stories sing. :)

Liz said...

I love this post like whoa. Seriously. I remember being fourteen and wanting to be published only when I told my teacher she laughed at me and said it was impossible, because I wasn't wealthy and didn't live in New York.

(I seriously wish you had been my teacher. And not because we almost kind of have the same name, either.)

One thing I want to touch upon is the education thing. In the same way a lack of education shouldn't be used as an excuse for bad writing, it also shouldn't be used as an excuse to not try. I dropped out of high school when I was fifteen, but I can tell one heck of a story at twenty-eight. My friend Linda, who's 58 and had the reading level of a first-grader when I met her six years ago, just got a full manuscript request from Harlequin. Let me say that again for emphasis: she went from not being able to read to writing a book someone might want to buy.

So, for those out there who think they'll never have a shot or they'll always be a product of their circumstances, chin up.

Valia Lind said...

Bless you Beth! You always post exactly what I need to hear. And sure, I'm not a teenager anymore but hey, I'm still in this crazy "am I going to make it?" process! :-)

Elena Solodow said...

All so true, especially the last one. All writers go through things differently, and all advice is just advice. The important thing is to be patient, allow your work to blossom. And READ. Know your genre. I was writing YA before I had even spent time in that section of the book store. Once I did, it allowed me to focus on something unique, but something that fit within the norm of the genre.

Sashi said...

As a teacher, who gets asked to "read my stuff on fan fiction" all the time, I couldn't agree more!!!
Teachers can't be honest readers, and shouldn't be honest readers. Supporters? Yes! Encouragers? Yes! But honest, it's just not the framework for honesty. Plus, I'm usually just thrilled that my students are writing and enjoying writing. That's what matters to me. And this might have been in your advice and I missed it, but I would add read, read and read some more!!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is excellent advice, Beth! I think we can ALL benefit from it, teens and adults alike. :-)

Kelly H-Y said...

Great advice, Beth ... even for non-teens! :-)

Claire Dawn said...

I'm only a teen at heart, but I thought this was useful. Thanks!

Research Paper said...

Wonderful advice..

PurpleMist. said...

I'm a teen writer and this post helped a lot. THANK YOU!

barmybex said...

Good Advice, I'm not actually a Teen but i'm not far past it (22) and trying to get published, it's very hard but this gives me something to look at and I know I'm not alone.

thanks for the post. :D