On Teen Writing
Life as a writer is full of rejection, but it's full of anguish for teen writers especially. Unlike teen visual artists, who have extensive contests, outlets, camps, workshops, and seminars, teen artists of the literary variety have a harder time getting taken seriously. Too often have teen writers attempted to take part in critique groups like Critters or joined adult post boards, or submitted to adult publications, only to be belittled for their age and inexperience. Since writers generally are creatures of low self-esteem, it isn't surprising that a few feel the need to make other, younger writers feel worse about their talent.
Look! A light at the end of the tunnel! Despite of all these dire signs, teen writers have never had it better. Today, there are many places online a teen writer can feel at home, publishing houses that will consider manuscripts from younger writers, and most of all, teen writers are finally being recognized for their talents. Ever heard of Christopher Paolini? His young adult fantasy book, Eragon, has made a splash on bestseller lists everywhere, a book that Kirkus Reviews calls '[A] solid, sweeping epic fantasy' and New York Times declared it 'An authentic work of great talent.' Christopher's book is only the first of a trilogy, although Eragon has already sold over a million copies. To top it off, Eragon will be coming to a screen near you. How old and grizzled of a writer do you think Christopher was when he started on Eragon? Twenty-six? Thirty? Forty-one with a bunch of book awards hanging on his wall? He was 15, home-schooled, and self-published the book before it was nabbed by Knopf. Surprised? Christopher isn't the only teen writer to have made it. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes with an extensive listing of horror books to her credit and, muscular dystrophy sufferer Mattie J.T. Stepanek's heart-felt collections of poetry, Nora Coon's how-to books for teens and story collections, and Teen Writer's Dream teen fiction and poetry anthologies, just to name a few.
How did they do it? All of the above-mentioned people got there with perseverance, a little humor, a hard shell, and a whole lot of typing.
You have a genius idea that will blow them all away. This is gonna be bigger than Harry Potter! You reach three hundred words after half an hour of furious typing, and now you're stuck. The little blinking cursor is mocking you. The world is mocking you. You're never going to get anywhere with your writing at this rate. At this point, you think it would be a good idea to do something more worthwhile with your time, like ping-pong. Nothing irritates a hard-working writer more than a fellow writer who goes kaput, moaning about his/her problems and the futility of it all. If the above description sounds like you, it's time to get off of your petard:
1. Find writer friend and talk your problems through: Then figure out what you want to do, or where you want to go. If you're aiming to send off your epic elf wars poem to that writing contest in your community, then get your friend to bug you mercilessly about the impending deadline, to offer you some constructive criticism on the poem, and to give you an ego boost when you feel particularly down. A writer friend is an invaluable resource for support and common complaining about how much life sucks. It may be a good idea to find a friend who is more experienced in writing, so that you have someone to ask if you have a question, or are seeking advice. Such a friend's value is not to be underestimated.
2. Set your goals: Find a big calendar, and figure out what you want to do when. How many words will you try and bang out this next week? Where will you squeeze in the editing? Most importantly, set a specific time during the week where you'll just write, without interruptions, and the Internet disconnected, so that you can get into 'the flow.' Make it painfully clear to your siblings what happens if they do bug you during this hallowed period of time. The calendar you then can hang above your desk as a reminder to your writing projects. Highlight important deadlines and dates in eye-hurting fluorescent colors, lest you forget!
3. Find a writing group: You're already misunderstood by your parents, but you trying to explain your writing to your parents will only make it worse. Find other people who also are a little obsessed with writing. This can be both online or in the real world, with adults, or with teenagers, or both. It's usually a better idea to get to know other teen writers first, and get their support and input before you go to an adult group. Among teenagers, you're better understood, but in an adult group, you're expected to take criticism and your role as a writer as an adult, which can come across as condescending or cruel.
- http://www.writepage.com/groups.htm: Writer's Groups index with all known writer's groups in the USA listed, as well as information on several international and national writing organizations.
- http://www.critiquecircle.com: Useful and friendly international writer's group, where you critique other people's work to get credit to submit your own to be critiqued. Includes post board for teen writers, private writing groups, writing tools, and useful links.
- http://www.teenwritersdream.com: The original gathering place for teen writers. Includes an extensive teen writing post board, contests, and a newsletter.
- http://www.geocities.com/writestuffclub: The original Write Stuff Club, launched in 1996, this monthly newsletter for and by teen writers includes peer-edited work, your own submissions, writing advice, and information about other successful writers. An out-dated website, but a useful and regular newsletter.
4. Post your work online: Since you're reading this article, you probably already have a writing gallery in Elfwood. However, don't limit yourself to the fantasy/sci-fi genre. The benefits of baring your heart and soul to the wide world are vast. Other people get to see and comment on your work, which gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling deep down inside, and you have the beginnings of an online portfolio. Say that an editor wants to see your writing credentials and some writing samples for the columnist application you sent in. Send him/her the URL to your gallery, and viola, instant writing samples. Many a teen writer have had a real following online, with people begging the writer to post the next chapter as soon as humanly possible, or to take a story further. There isn't a better feeling in the world than if you get an email from a person who's stumbled across your work and was blown away by it.
- http://www.fictionpress.com: 'FictionPress is a growing network of over 80,000 writers, hundreds of thousands of readers, and home to over 380,000 original works.' A place to upload your original fiction and poetry, check out other people's work, and receive feedback.
- http://www.fanfiction.net: Sister site to FictionPress, where you can upload your fan fiction work, give and receive feedback on your own and other people's work.
- http://www.xenith.net: 'Xenith was started in 1997 by a bored 16-year old who just wanted to see what other people her age were writing and to give herself and others a place to showcase their work. In the six years since, Xenith has attracted a devoted following of teen and young writers from across the globe and has published a total of 1080 pieces of writing.' An anti-censorship website, this is definitely a place to express your views across all genres.
- http://www.n2arts.com: A haven for teen artists of all stripes, including teen writers, post your writing in your own gallery, read other teens' work, post on their writers' postboard, and read their teen writing articles.
5. Expand your mind: Get some formal training in writing, may it be taking an online course for teen writers or taking elective creative writing at school, or joining an online literary magazine staff. Getting out there, learning how to stick to deadlines, learning from knowledgeable adults and fellow teens and interacting with teenagers as crazy about writing as you, will help you gain insight about your writing and others. Start dabbling in other genres of writing, like hardcore sci-fi or journaling or non-fiction writing.
- http://www.teenink.com: This monthly magazine and book series of the same title has a huge teen readership, and is actively seeking non-fiction, fiction, and poetry submissions from teens. Includes a teen writers' board.
- http://www.kiwibox.com/kiwijobs.asp?id=2: Kiwibox is an international online teen magazine with 1.5 million members, seeking qualified teen fiction and non-fiction writers for the position of Reporter. Includes a teen writers' board.
- http://www.studentbylines.com: A magazine produced annually with student entries from all over the world is seeking fiction, non-fiction, and poetry submissions. Includes a teen writers' board.
- http://www.gothamwriters.com: An expansive resource for online writing classes, including teen writing classes.
- http://www.dmoz.org/Kids_and_Teens/Arts/Creative_Writing/Teens_Only/: Extensive listing of teen-oriented writing sites and publications.
- http://www.sff.net/people/davekirtley/teenwriter/Contests.html: Definitive listing of teen writing contests, workshops, short story markets, as well as writing advice. Highly recommended.
A Little Humor
You have to be able to laugh at yourself as a writer. What's a writer's pride and joy today, can send the same writer moaning over it a year later. Yes, you'll get better, and you'll be able to look back and see how badly you wrote compared to the excellent stuff you write today. Laughter is the best medicine, and a day without it is a day wasted. Everybody has a low point in his/her writing career, where the writer comes to a point where he/she has been made to doubt about his/her writing ability. In such a situation, seek out a friend, and have fun. Read Dave Barry, watch badly made B-horror movies, anything to get the backslapping and tear-shedding routine going. Or, read a fantastic piece of literature, or reread your favorite book from way back when. Write the book's author and say why you've become a writer. Try and feel good about being a writer. Still not feeling better? Simply laugh at other writers' misfortunes.
http://www.rejectioncollection.com: If you think you lived through a bad rejection, you haven't seen anything yet! Read hundreds of accounts about the rejection from hell, and why it sent the writer into fits of laughter or into a flood of tears.
A Hard Shell
As John Osborne once so elegantly said, 'Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.' You won't survive as a writer if you have thin skin. You'll face constant rejection, developing thick skin takes practice, but in the end, ye shalt be victorious!
1. Give your manuscript to complete strangers: In terms of critique, you won't get any useful information out of your parents or friends; they all think that it's wonderful because you're wonderful. Instead, give it to a member in your writing group, or submit it to an online critiquing forum. You as a writer will not get anywhere without someone taking an objective look at your work, and telling you how it affected them. Disregard any 'critiques' which are simply criticisms of your work, because the critiquer is having a bad day. A good critique shouldn't bring you to tears, as it should be polite, pointing out both the good and bad, with insightful suggestions how to improve.
2. Don't reveal your age: Critique is hard to take at times, but only the lowest of the low of writers will tear apart your work for the sick pleasure of getting an ego boost. Remember that your age will probably play a decisive role how you're treated. You don't need to let anyone online know how old you are, so let them assume that you're an adult writer. This way, you'll get an unbiased critique from the said critiquer. However, critique isn't all; revealing your age in a query letter is probably a good idea if the organization is seeking submissions specifically from teens. Check the guidelines if there are any rules against submitting if you're under 18. Otherwise, there's no reason to include your age in either a query letter or in a submission.
3. Do some critiquing yourself: The best way to find out what makes up a good story is to critique other people's work. You'll learn to pick a story apart and put it back together, in terms of dialogue, plot, setting, characterization, style, and grammar. Best of all, you'll learn what it's like to play editor, the ones sending you rejection slips. Soon you'll be able to critically look at your own writing and see where things went astray and need fixing.
4. If you're still in tears: Sometimes a writer will wish he/she could curl up and die from shame or disappointment. This usually results from a rejection letter, an unusually harsh critique, or a huge writer's block. If all else fails, simply print out the offending document, douse in lighter fluid, and burn in a well-ventilated area.
A Lot of Typing
Don't lose your perspective. It's important to realize that life goes on after this particular rejection letter or writing rut. You'll still be able to spew wonderful things from your fingertips next week. It's important to keep writing, no matter what.
1. Life happens, keep writing: The car died, the family cat was run over by an SUV, your little sister has chicken pox, you have a fever and that project that counts for half of your GPA is due tomorrow. Think Bohemian ideals: Writers rock and have always rocked through the ages. What you're doing is in a time-honored tradition, and it would be a shame for you to stop. Keep the pen moving, you'll be able to laugh about this later.
2. Start new projects: As with expanding your mind, take on new writing challenges, keep pushing yourself. Find out about new contests, job openings online, and stay active in your writing group. This way, you can switch writing projects if you get bored of one.
3. Look forward: Is writing something you want to do for the rest of your life? Check out colleges and universities that have strong Creative Writing/English/Journalism majors. Find out about their summer programs. Many of them offer creative writing courses that are for-credit during the summer. Look into the possibility if you want to get a taste for the stuff you'll encounter in college.
- http://www-as.phy.ohiou.edu/~rouzie/569A/compcreative/University.htm: A comprehensive list of the best US colleges and universities with strong creative writing programs. Includes direct links to creative writing pages on the college websites.
- http://webdelsol.com/CWP/: 'The Creative Writing Programs Project (CWPP) website is an initiative sponsored by Web Del Sol --an established literary arts complex on the WWW--aimed at highlighting and promoting creative writing programs at select colleges and universities.'
Writing isn't easy, and being a teenager is even harder. However, you have a duty to get those artistic angry teenager vibes out there, to be heard. It is important that you have a say in how things are done, how you perceive the world, how you plan on changing it. It is the hardest thing to put out your masterpiece out there to be torn apart, then glued together again, or rejected outright. However, you can become a stronger writer out of it, and don't forget that all the people offering advice and giving judgment are mortal too. Their stories are also put out there on the altar of the Writer Gods to be sacrificed. Keep at it with writing, and don't let your age or relative inexperience daunt you. You too have a story to tell.
FARP Article Guestbook
|20 May 2008|| Jenni "Stardragon" Schimmels|
Great article and great encouragement. I also recommend nanowrimo(dot)org, which is the site for National November Writing Month. They encourage you to write an entire novel, with a word limit, in the month of November. This teaches you to just write-write-write without nitpicking. It’s a great way to get started (although I’ve never had the time/guts to try it...). I’m still in high school, but I love writing, and I just try to ignore the people who look down on me. Keep up the good work!
And while Paolini did an excellent job on his books, I was disappointed by the movie.
|1 Jun 2008|| Anon.|
thanks!! this helped me loads! Really inspiring thanks again!
|21 Jul 2008|| <Megapeg>|
THANX I WANNA B A RITER GOTTA GO THANX SO MUCH! DANG IT IVE GOT CAPS LOCK ON OH WELL
|23 Jul 2008|| Lizzy M. S.|
that was so much help! ok, so i may be only 12, but i have already started my first novel. i never really realised my mind was totally focussed on becoming a writer and nothing else. thanx!
|8 Aug 2008|| Ari|
I’m a teenage writer who is currently in the middle of writing a fantasy novel (it’s about 22,000 words so far) and this website - your article especially - has a treasure trove of wonderful information. Thank you so much, and good luck with your own writing. Make sure to remember my name when I’m a bestselling author.
|10 Sep 2008|| Anon.|
Wow! This is fantastic. I’m definately going to follow this
|16 Sep 2008|| Hailey|
Well this place from what i see only shows places where you can put your poetry is there any kind of teen anthology? that are over the internet and safe? please if anyone knows will you e-mail me at email@example.com thanks sooo much...
|25 Nov 2008|| Kanna|
Also for anybody out there i heard you can publish your work in some companies
just pointing that out...for anybody who reads these thingys down here at the bottom of the page...
|25 Nov 2008|| Kanna|
Oh yeah i almost forgot
if you reaaally dunno what to do you can alwayz just stop wherever you are and start the next morning... i have been known to spend a few dayz staring at my screen and then get up at like one in the morning to scribble down some insane idea... it works, seriously...
|6 Mar 2013|| Terry|
Thanks for this article! I’m writing a fantasy book and have completed thirteen chapters so far. It’s very inspiring and educational.
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