On Being a “Teen” Author/Writer (or just really-friggen-younger-than-everyone-else)

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[One of the most interesting articles I’ve come across discussing being a “teen” author (or twenty-something/just so young that if you entered a writer’s conference you’d realize everyone else is old enough to be your parent and/or that cool aunt & uncle) is E. Kristen Anderson’s, so I also recommend checking that out.]

Ned Vizzini raises an interesting point that “teen author” can become a stereotype that follows you throughout your entire life. He says:

One of my writer colleagues when I was younger, Amy Sohn, told me that if I weren’t careful, I would be in my 30s and would still be labeled a “teen author.” Now I’m 32 and the bio on the forthcoming paperback of THE OTHER NORMALS says “Ned Vizzini began writing for the New York Press at the age of fifteen.” So Amy was right — it’s a difficult label to escape.

Then he also adds, “But there are much worse problems to have.”

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Mainly, the biggest criticism I’ve encountered when reading critiques of teen authors is that frankly, we’re just not that good.

Okay, scratch that. Too blunt? “Right now, your writing sucks.”

(To be fair, Scalzi also clarified – you don’t suck, your writing sucks.)

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And you know what? He’s got a point.

Writing gets better over time. Practice makes perfect. I firmly believe in both statements. Scalzi’s getting at the idea that our writing will only improve the more we practice. He’s not saying NO TEEN AUTHOR EVER CAN EVER BE GOOD, EVER. He’s saying, “Keep writing, guys. It gets better.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that’s my biggest takeaway from being a teen author. It’s one of the most amazing parts about writing as a teenager and also one of the most terrifying.

If you’re a teen author/writer/poet/creative artist, know this: Your writing will change.

*collective gasps heard from around the room*

I’ve been writing/trying to write/writing badly novels since I was twelve. And goshdarnit, I submitted that novel I wrote at twelve to multiple publishers and agents and everyone else in the industry.

I’ll always love that story. It helped me realize I could do it; it was possible; I can do it again. But upon reading it again, I’ve realized how much my writing style has changed in just five years. (And frankly, how glad I am that novel never saw the light of day. Excessive use of adverbs was apparently a favorite of literary device of mine at the tender age of twelve.)

Especially for teens, when everything else about us will change – what career we want, what our favorite color is, what on earth we’re going to do with ourselves when we leave college – it’s not that hard to contemplate that even our writing style and ability will alter over the course of time.

We’ve got tremendous potential to grow. We’re going to be shaped by all of life’s experiences and tremendous milestones that have yet to hit us; we’re going to be influenced by whatever our favorite book is in the year 2025; we’re going to travel to a different country in our late twenties and become so inspired that most of our story settings will take place there instead of the country we currently live; in a million years we’re going to one day get married and have kids and that’s going to affect all sorts of things.

Because we have yet to experience so much of life, there’s so much we have yet to write about. Adult writers already in their 40’s or 50’s or 60’s are much more established in their writing style. While it’s possible their style will change as well, it probably won’t change as much as that of a teen author.

I know this; I’m constantly aware of it. I already see my style alter in each story I write. But I don’t see “starting young” as a disadvantage. There’s no hard-and-fast rule that a teen author must translate this hobby to adulthood. But if a teen does continue creative writing over time, the writing will mature and improve over time as well.

There’s also the critique that we just don’t have enough life experiences to sustain a novel. I fully understand this point; that’s why all of my characters are usually either my age or younger. I can comprehend and write about my perspective as a teenager and young adult; I’m not about to veer off and write about a middle-aged father any time soon. It’s easier to write about an experience you already know.

Sure, my style will change. Yes, I’ll be influenced by everything that happens to me over the next seventy years. Anything could happen to affect my writing and alter its course forever.

And I can’t wait.

On another note, there’s already a multitude of teen authors/college-age authors out there! Anna Caltabiano and Hannah Moscowitz are two others. Anna’s younger than I am and Hannah’s a student at the University of Maryland. They have many loyal fans and adoring readers. To all other teen authors/aspiring teen authors – it can be done!

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11 thoughts on “On Being a “Teen” Author/Writer (or just really-friggen-younger-than-everyone-else)

  1. Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. Id prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you dont mind. Natually Ill give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

  2. There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moments pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  3. Haha! Love this. As a 19 year old myself, I can totally relate. But teen writers are the best 😉
    By the way, would you be interested in participating in a writing process blog hop? I would need a bio and picture from you in the next couple days so I can post it at the end of mine. Let me know 🙂

    1. Yes we are! Who better to represent our generation than the ones currently living through it? We know how we talk and how we act; we’re the ones who can best capture it into writing.
      And I would love to participate! I’ll e-mail you soon.

  4. Well said! I think an advantage to starting writing as a teen is that you get to experience everything earlier; you stumble with your adverbs at age 12 instead of age 20, so by the time you’re at Prime Publication Age, whenever that is, you already have a whole lot more experience than everyone else, which is nice. 😀 And that’s wonderful analysis of the quote… I’ve seen it been taken the wrong way many times, and it’s not nice when it is. I like your version, though. I think I’m going to stick that analysis in my back pocket and look at it in a few years.

    I started writing my current novel three years ago. Now that I’m revising it, I find that the voice in the rewrite is a lot more cohesive and the MC has a lot more personality than she did back then. It might be because I know her better, or because I’ve been writing longer, but, hey, any improvement is good! 😀

    1. Oh, adverbs. So convenient to use, yet so frowned upon.
      Yep! So many studies have proven that practice really does improve writing quality – or at least the writer’s perception of his or her writing quality. I’m glad I started now versus waiting, honestly. There’s a lot of prolific authors who say they don’t read their early works just because they prefer their writing ability in the most recent publication. Maybe that’s what will happen to us when we’re much older, but that’s fine! As long as our writing keeps improving, you’re right.

    1. Yay! Love meeting other young writers out there. One day, our blog posts will probably stand as a testament of how our writing USED to be, but until that day all we can do is keep writing and improving (:

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