I felt like banging my head against the wall that everything I wrote got rejected. In some ways, I'm glad that it didn't get published, because I know that I'm a better writer in my forties than I was in my twenties.
This post is aimed at teenagers who have the desire to become writers, and it should hopefully help them in their long, long, long journey. I wish there was a shortcut, but there just isn't. Formal qualifications may help, but they still don't guarantee that you'll come up with that spark of any idea any sooner.
Anyway, these are just some of the things I've learned along the way, and they go a long way to explain why I wasn't published until a few years ago.
10 things teenagers should know about writing
Isn't it weird how many writers are old? That includes writers who write for teenagers. You'd think that to write for young adults you'd need to be a young adult or at least be of an age where you can remember your youth. Right? Actually, that's not the case and for very reasons, which I'll explain.
No. 1 - Build a bridge and get over it
When you write fiction, the basis of the story is to dump a character in the middle of a situation, place obstacles in front of him/her, and get the character to develop solutions to overcome these obstacles and think about how he/she will solve all the problems in the world.
When you're writing fiction, the characters must have issues to overcome and solutions to find. Yet, the reality is that the majority of young people have limited exposure to problem solving. Teenagers really only begin to sort out their own problems when they become adults, and that's only if their parents have allowed them or encouraged them through this transitioning period. This means that most teenagers don't even get the chance to make a decision, so how will they solve an imaginary issue when fiction is still based on fact? So, while a young adult writer might have fantastic ideas and a well written novel, the fundamental mission behind a novel is to problem solve, and teenagers are limited in this area. It's through no fault of their own, the law usually prohibits teenagers from making decisions, society doesn't fully trust them yet...so for a broad range of reasons, young adults are in that middle stage of life where society wants them to be responsible, but doesn't want them to be responsible at the same time. It's weird, I know.
No.2 - Mirror, mirror
So what did you learn as a baby that you'd do differently? Might seem like an odd question, but hindsight, or wisdom, is what happens when a person looks back over their life and analyzes what they'd keep the same and what they'd change. Wisdom comes from life's experience. Now, this isn't to say that teenagers don't have life experiences. Heck, these are some of the most turbulent times of a person's life and they form the foundations of who we become as an adult. Teenager troubles also form much of the backbone of many a great fiction novel whether it be young adult or adult fiction. But wisdom is also about reflection.
Wisdom is something that is bestowed upon old people for a very obvious reason. They've just about seen and done it all. Yes, the next generation will do it differently, but it is easier to reflect upon something when you look at it from afar. When you're living in the mirror it can be hard to see the reflection of the other side. And let's face it, when you're young, life is about experiencing things, not stopping to disect every little facet of it. That comes later. Though, I do recommend that you keep a diary because it may be a valuable tool when you look back on your own teenage years.
No.3 - They love me, they love me not
Writers will get rejected many, many, many times. Even as an adult, I find rejection hard to deal with. Add teenage hormones and rejection letters might provoke you into sending harsh emails or writing rants on Facebook.
Fact - Rejection is part of the publishing world. Publishers are the gatekeepers in ensuring the world reads good stuff though occasionally bad stuff gets printed and it drives a writer insane that their work gets rejected and not the rot they've just spend 15 bucks on.
Here's how I look at a rejection letter. It tells a writer that their work is not good stuff. So as a writer you should be thinking on how you can make it good stuff and not worrying about the fact that you've been rejected. Everyone gets rejected. J K Rowling. Stephen King. Every writer does! But if you take that letter as constructive critisicm and perfect your writing, then one day, when it's good stuff, it'll get published. And you never know when an opportunity will open up and present itself. Publishers are always opening and closing their doors. When it's open, you'll need to be ready to jump. Hence why you should never ever engage in rants when you get rejected. Publishers keep files on submissions. If you've written a vicious retaliatory letter, you'd pretty much need to change your name if you ever wanted to get published.
No. 4 - A writer writes
No matter how early or late you start writing, a writer writes. And publishers look for what has been published. If you write a poem, submit it. If you write a short story, submit it. If you get something published, keep a note of the publication date, where it was published, keep a copy of the story or article or whatever in a folder.
The other thing as a writer I hear often is that a person wants to be a writer. Again, a writer writes. Now, if they're talking about being a published writer, well that's another thing entirely. So if you want to be a writer, you need to be writing something every day.
It's okay to have multiple first chapters that never see the light of day. That's good practice.
No. 5 - Mad men
The publishing world may seem like a big bad world, and it probably is. There are over 75 million books listed on Library Thing. This is a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. But whoa...75 million!! And many more writers these days are heading straight to self-publication. Do I encourage this? No. Not for start out writers at least. What you publish stays published and bad material may come back to haunt you later on when you've finally honed your craft.
Learning about the publishing world is a huge task. If you immerse yourself in it, will you learn to hate it? Is it better to be naive about the publishing world so you don't give up? It's tough work getting published. If you can attend writing courses or conferences, these can be great ways to gain some exposure to the publishing world. You do need to know how it operates, but the more you know, the more you may become jaded.
I once worked in the music industry and I believe this was a catalyst in my decision to give up music. Hence why I never learned anything except what I needed to know about the publishing world.
One thing you'll need to be aware of if the submission guidelines. All publishers have them. You MUST follow these guidelines. No exception.
No. 6 - Write what you love
There are many writers that state you should write what you know. And as a teenager you might think, "Hey I'm a teenager so I can write a young adult book." Yet the key to successful writing is writing what you LOVE, not just what you know. I know about accounting and that's soooo boring.
I was always fascinated with the supernatural so it makes sense that I write paranormal novels. I need to scream from the rooftops about my work, and this is easy to do when I love what I write. Imagine if I didn't love my work. It'd come across as a meek suggestion that readers enjoy books that I don't particularly believe in. This dishonesty would come across in my writing for sure. And I'm passionate about writing great stories for young adults. I love what I write and readers and reviewers can see this.
No. 7 - To embellish or not to embellish
Now most of what I've talked about is based on fiction. But there are many forms of writing. You may not even want to embark on a creative writing career. Hard facts might be more to your liking. There are literally dozens of writing styles that you can choose from. Here are just a few:
Good news stories
Reference books for training colleges
Articles for websites
Articles for blogs
Policies and procedures for businesses
How to manuals
Position descriptions and employment contracts
Young adult fiction - the genres are many
Adult fiction - the genres are endless
You get the picture. There are multiple styles of writing you can do, and there are many writers that flit between a few. I know of many writers that supplement their novel income with magazine articles. Sadly, I have tried and they require two different approaches to writing so I always give up and focus just on the novels.
No. 8 - Aint nothing gonna break my stride
A successful writing career won't come easy. It takes years to perfect your craft. It's upaid work. You have to also do your own promotion. The reward is that you'll work really hard at one thing only to then work really hard at something else. It never stops. Writing, promoting, writing, promotion. But you ask a writer if they love it, and if they answer yes, then they're a writer. Writers never give up.
By all means, take breaks, and gain some perspective or just get on with life for a while, but don't give up.
No. 9 - Get a life!
People have different interests and writers aren't exluded from this need to gather knowledge and experiences. In fact, we need these two things more than most people. How else can we write about something if we don't know about anything. Lock yourself away in a tower and you'll write anovel that won't relate to anyone.
Writers have mortgages, we want to travel, we have families, cars that don't run on air, appliances that break. We need jobs to pay for the internet to keep your blog running, postage to send the manuscripts to publishers, it costs money to attend conventions and courses. Stephen King was a full time teacher until he sold his first novel Carrie. John Marsden was also a teacher and he wrote young adult fiction because he didn't like what was in the market place.
The other reason writers need to do something else is to enhance the world of literature. Many crime writers have held a career in law enforcement or criminal psychology. If writers didn't experience real jobs, then every character would work in a book store. We need to know how the rest of the world operates.
No. 10 - You wanna write best sellers, read best sellers
This may seem self-explanatory, but some writers say to read everything, even crap, because as writers we need to be able to detect the good from the bad. Sorry, but in my view, reading crap produces crap writing. If you want to write best sellers, read best sellers. Read the classics to understand great plots and character development. The Hobbit, Lord Of The Flies, even Black Beauty is a stunning example of character and plot development. Read current best sellers to understand techniques and how the language has changed. The Hunger Games and Tomorrow, When The War Began are great examples of best sellers that are unique and have a vastly different writing style to The Hobbit for example.
Read good stuff and burn the bad. Use it prop up your table. Don't even bother to analyze it.
I hope you enjoyed these 10 things teenagers should know about writing. If you have any others to add, be sure to leave a comment and I'd be happy to discuss my experiences.
Please note that these are my experiences. You may have different opinions and some of thes may not apply to you. One thing writers do is take everything they learn and use what they want. That's totally okay to pick and choose what you want to take and run with.
D L Richardson