Since starting this website and my YouTube channel, I've realized that a large portion of my audience is under 18. (At least that's the demographic where most of my interactions come from...so there's probably a portion of my audience that's underrepresented on that front. I digress!)
This led to a realization that a young teenager's writing woes would be totally different than mine. So we're going to time warp (you aren't, I am, you just get to watch) to my middle school days so I can dig deep and give you some good advice.
Watch my YouTube video below!
Ask any established author how long they've been writing. No really, go ask! Likely they're going to say since they were in grade school, be that elementary or middle school. They were avid readers from a young age and once they figured out that an actual human being wrote those books (we all have that realization...come on!) they wanted to become a writer.
I wrote my first book when I was in third grade and my mom illustrated it for me. We made the cover out of cardboard and strung together the inside pages. Was the story any good? I'm not a child prodigy, so it probably looked like something a third grader would do. But that's not the point. I had fun writing it and it's an awesome memory I have from my childhood.
Like so many things in life, starting something at a young age has its benefits. But it also has its challenges.
A lot of them.
When I was younger, doing things like writing or reading in school were super nerdy and no one thought it was cool. I don't know how it is nowadays but I hope things have gotten better for those of us with an inclination for words.
If you skip reading the rest of my post, please please read this next bit.
It is so important to nurture that inner word monster. Devour the books you want to read and practice writing whenever you can. That inner word monster could be the next J.K. Rowling (let's be real, though, no one can replace that woman) or Stephen King. Is that a little far reaching? Probably, but that's what dreaming is for. So reach!
Side note: To any parents out there that might be reading this right now, if your child likes to read or write, please support their love of the written word. My dad always told me that if it was a book, he would buy it for me no questions asked - that's something I plan on doing with my children one day as well. Reading was important to him and it's important to me now, too. Reading makes us smarter and nicer and why wouldn't you want that for your child?
So we've got the smart thing and the nice thing in the bag, so what else do we need as young people to make sure we grow as writers?
I know, don't be mad, this seems like a terrible tip. But it's not. To be good at anything (unless you're Jesus) you need to practice. Even people who are amazing at something always find things they need to improve upon.
Take basketball for example. How does someone who's amazing at basketball improve their skills? (I'm not a basketball fan by any means, obvious by my lack of basketball jargon) They improve by knowing what they're lacking. How do they know what they're lacking? They watch other great players. They ask said players. They stalk them and figure out what it is that's working so well for them.
They're doing their research.
Reading is your research. Writing is your practice. Read things you want to read but also branch out. If you don't normally read thriller novels, give one a go. You may find you enjoy it a lot. You also need to read about the craft, though. This is so much easier these days as there's people like moi who write novel length posts on tips and tricks. Get a few daily doses in when you get home from school or work. Go to the library and check out books on dialogue or publishing or outlining.
There's a wealth of information for us to learn from, and trust me, you always need to be learning. So start young and your writing will improve dramatically by the time you're older.
This is a hard one. No one under the age of 20 is a patient being. We see something online and we want it now (thank you Amazon Prime), we go to a restaurant and get angry that they have to cook our food because it's taking forever, we drive to school/work and we're upset because other people are doing the same thing, damn them! Most of us will always be impatient, but I strongly advise you to be patient with your writing, particularly when you're young.
Did you just finish a book that's got you in a book hangover? Are you wishing it was longer or the next one was out already? Do you wish you lived in that magical land where you're best friends with the protagonist?
Do you fantasize about being as successful as the author who wrote it? About giving interviews for your one-day-bestselling-novel?
Don't worry, that's totally normal! ...no? ...I'm the only one?
You have a beautiful idea for a story pop into our heads and then we want to write it immediately and get famous overnight.
That's not how it happens. At all.
One thing that actually stopped me from finishing my stories was the fact that it was taking too long. I wasn't being patient. It takes a while for most of us to write, especially if it's our first full length novel. My gusto would peter out and then I'd move on to another story months down the line.
It takes hard work, and that hard work takes time. It is so worth it! So take a deep breath and know from the get go that there's no hard and fast way to be a famous author in such a short time. Be realistic with your goals and keep trucking forward!
You're going to have a full schedule if you want to take writing seriously. If you're in school and you already have extra-curricular activities and friends you want to hang out with all the time, then you need to learn how to juggle.
We all have things to do. The number one excuse I hear for people not writing is that they don't have time. None of us are sitting around with nothing to do. Time doesn't pop its little meercat head up and beg to be taken.
With that, you need to learn what's worth your juggling efforts. If you love getting home and playing a video game, do you really need to play it for three hours straight? If you love staying late with your friends after school, do you really need to do that for two hours?
Something I learned in college (don't laugh that it took me this long) was to make an excel spreadsheet with blocks of time in it. Put down everything that you need to do in one day. Eating, sleeping, bus ride, school, workout, shower. Literally, everything. Now see what you have left.
I found that I had larger blocks than what I thought I had and I wasn't taking advantage of them well. An extra hour every day of Netflix doesn't seem like a lot, but it ends up being 15 whole days in a year!!
Prioritize what you really need to do versus what you want to do. Any left over time you have you can choose to do whatever you want with. If you're serious about writing, though, you already know what I'm going to say you should do with that time.
We all have them. Those people that are cynical about everything and shoot down our ideas as soon as we have them.
You don't need them! I don't tell those people I'm writing anything at all, because I know that nothing good is going to come of it. I might be friends with them for other reasons, but know I can't go to them like I can with a true friend.
What if your true friends are the ones that think you won't be able to do it?
...get new friends...
Really though, make some writing friends that you can turn to when you're excited about a new story or character. I don't hit up Steven for girly advice because he's not a girl (who am I kidding...I hit him up for everything)! Don't hit up friends to talk about writing if you know they don't like it. They may like cars and you don't. That's cool.
The important thing is to find friends that are supportive. You don't need to replace the ones you already have, just find other friends you can go to for writerly topics. Hopefully these are also friends that will give you helpful critiques and advice when it comes time to share your story!
Most of you might not get that reference, but chill out! No, I'm not telling you to chill out about not getting it, I mean that's my tip: chill out.
You're young, you've got time to enjoy your writing career and enjoy your teen years. Don't set goals that are too tough and then stress over meeting them. I tend to do this a lot because I want results fast, but I have to take a step back and breath.
It's not a race. No one's going to beat you to the punch. The writing industry will be around whenever you decide to publish your work.
School can be stressful enough as it is. Don't pile too much on your plate because you think you're superwoman/man. You're going to have to take time to study and tests will stress you out and what Bobby Sue did to John that makes Maria so upset will ruin your week. That's not me making fun of teenage problems either, because we've all been there. It's hard to see past the end of high school because every problem seems like it's the end of the world.
But your world will get bigger little by little each day. And then your problems will seem a lot less like the-end-of-the-world variety.
So make it easier on yourself. High school can be stressful and there's a lot of pressure on students that can make it worse. Don't turn something you enjoy into another point of stress!
Enjoy it and take it easy. Goosefraba!
I realize most of these tips could be applied to anyone, but I wanted to take the time and try to spin them toward the younger crowd. There's a lot of stress and pressure growing up, and that can become a hurdle when it comes to developing your writing career.
Just keep writing! Even if you only write one hour a week, doing a little is a lot better than doing nothing at all. Developing a habit can be the hardest part, and until then, just do it whenever you can! Break out your laptop on the bus ride or type into your phone (I've done this plenty of times before...waiting for dentists to call me back, sitting in bumper to bumper traffic).
We're all writers here, and it's up to your to develop and grow as a unique young writer!
As always, I hope this was a very helpful post. If you ever have any questions, just ask away! Also, feel free to leave anything you thought was helpful when you were a young writer. We're all learning from one another and there's no better way to do that than telling others your lessons!