Friday, May 20, 2011

Writers Who Are Teens

Notice how I didn't put 'teen writers?' Being considered a 'teen writer' or even a 'young writer' has always had a negative connotation to me. To me, it implies your writing will suck, no matter what, and your experiences are somehow less than of an adult's simply because you are young.

Adults will tell teen writers their writing sucks because they are teens and don't have the mature experiences of an adult. My problem with this statement is it infantalizes teens as people who cannot think reasonably on their own, who have to somehow grow up and step into the magical world of adulthood to suddenly get everything. I'm almost twenty-one, so I'm definitely not that far from being a teen, but I can tell you even as you grow up, you still aren't going to get everything. You never will. Adults will tell you that you must experience more, do this, do that, in order to be a great writer. While I will admit experiencing something often produces better writing, this is with anything. I certainly cannot write about the Igbo people in Africa, even though I've read about them, because I have never met them or even been to Africa. Research could help me write about them, but research and experience are two very different things, and it shows in your writing.

The great thing about being a teen is you can make an excellent young adult writer because you are young adults. You are experiencing your life as a young adult, you know what's in, you know what's out, you know what teens say, do, think, and feel, and you don't have to go out of your way to experience being a teen. It's just there for you. Now I think I hear the condescending writers exhale deeply as they say 'But they're biased about their experiences and can't articulate them well!' You can never articulate an experience immediately after it happens. I had a huge fight a few years ago that took me five months to be able to accurately convey on paper. I haven't found a magazine for it yet, but I have been receiving positive rejections that personally tell me why they liked my story but couldn't accept it because they either already had something similar, or it was between me and another person. Plus, I've been lazy about submitting anything lately.

Yes, it does take experience to be a good writer. This is a given. Someone who just starts writing in their thirties is going to be in the same boat as a teen who just starts writing. The only difference is they have more experiences to draw upon and perhaps a better grasp of grammar (but as a writing tutor, I can attest to the fact that I know more young people with a better grasp of grammar than many of the adult students I get. This isn't bad. This is just to say these adults have been away from school long enough to forget things.). I was also stubborn as a teen and taught myself everything there was to know about grammar in middle school, so sentence structure was never a problem for me.

Now the condescending writers step in and ask, 'How were you as a teen writer?' Well, I published a short story that wasn't in a teen magazine, but when I first began, of course I sucked, and I don't attribute this to my being a teen. I just attribute this to my being an inexperienced writer, just as I would attribute any poor writing to being inexperienced. A friend of mine recently submitted a short story to our magazine, and I'll readily admit said friend is in mid twenties, and said friend's story was how I pretty much wrote in high school. Said friend also experienced far more than I did in high school, but said friend is also an inexperienced writer who just needed a good critique. I just needed a good critique back then, and I do regret not realizing writing books existed back then, or that there were people who actually *gasp!* critiqued your work for no money. I'd probably be querying my novel by now if I had realized there were those resources available for me, but I'm ashamed to say I didn't discover them until my senior year of high school! The internet wasn't so easily available to me throughout middle school and half of high school.

Age doesn't matter, oh writers who are teens. It's experience that matters. Writing experience. Read lots. Get lots of critiques. You may be published in your teens. You may not. That doesn't matter. How well you write has nothing to do with your being a teen.


  1. Too true. I often wish I had started writing when I was a teen. Age is irrelevant. There have been a few rather successful authors whose first books were published in their teens (or at least whose first contracts were signed in their teens.)

    Great words of encouragement for young writers. I know a few people I'm going to send over here to check out this post.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. We all stink when we start out! Doesn't matter if you're fifteen or fifty-two. Sometimes I'll go back and look at stories I wrote in school and think to myself "Wow, my writing has changed SO much". Writers who know what they want to do and start writing really young have it the best. They have time to develop their craft and become very talented!