Sunday, February 10, 2008

Young Writers - The Tumultuous Teenage Years

Ordinarily, I would handle this topic differently, but I had an experience about two days ago that put the whole teenaged writer conflict into new perspective for me.

What, you ask, is the teenaged writer conflict?

Publishing is a competitive business, and as we all know, everyone likes to think that their book will be good enough for publication. That's why we're all here, yes? For the most part, writers are wonderfully accommodating and supportive of all their writing collegues. But there's a rough patch when it comes to age.

People know writing takes experience and practice. I know writing takes experience and practice. The problem is, the fifteen year-old who has been writing for two years has just as much experience as the forty year-old who has been writing for two years.

And people can't grasp that.

"But," they cry, "surely the forty year-old has been alive for longer, and thusly has more experience in everything?"

Yes. Yes, they do. When I ask for advice on life, the universe, and everything, I'll probably ask my forty-ahem year-old mother instead of my sixteen year-old best friend. But what if I want writing advice? Do I ask the forty year-old who has been writing for two years, or, say, the eighteen year-old who has been writing for five? (Note: the forty year-old who has been writing for twenty years trumps both.)

When young writers (we'll say under 25-ers) seek publication, so many people tell them to wait. Wait ten years, until you're twenty-five, and then put yourself out there. Your prose will improve so much! You'll be stunned! The writer you are now is nothing compared to the writer you will be!

Yes, but doesn't that apply to the forty year-old, too? If she waits until she is fifty, then her prose will have improved exponentially. She'll be stunned. The writer she is now is nothing compared to the writer she will be.

I don't want to preach anti-ageism tripe because I doubt any of you lovely readers thinks this way. I mean, if you did, you wouldn't be reading a blog whose members are 80% under 25 (guesstimate, please don't check my math). I just want you to think:

Why would a teenage writer not want to be published? Why should she not seek publication with her first book, like many adult writers do? If she should approach this business differently, why should she do it, what should she do, and why shouldn't everyone approach it this way?

"But! What about the business aspect of publishing?"

Ah yes. This is where my happy little rant was sidetracked by recent events.

Kiddies. Publishing is a business.

This means that, while talking to your prospective agent, you do not conduct yourself like you're stuck in your God-awful Chemistry class and you just want to get out. You attempt to retain some maturity at all times. You do not insult people. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever.

Because immaturity, inability to cooperate with others, and plain ol' obstinate stubbornality make you look bad. Just as bad as an adult who would act this way. Your age is no excuse to behave badly.

I shake my (index) finger at you, you son of a silly person.

Hm. I think this became a two-pronged rant aimed at both sides of the argument. My problem is that I've seen this debate played out multiple times and I always have the same thing to say:

Young people should conduct themselves just as well as older people, and they should expect the same amount of respect from their collegues that adults do.

My name is Sophie, and I am a sixteen year-old writer.

Peace to the world. :)


althrasher said...

LOVE this post, Sophie! I agree with you 100%.

Although, I have to say, my experience (in writing and out) is that YAs who want to be taken seriously generally conduct themselves better than adults in the same situations do. We're aware that we HAVE to earn our respect and know we have to say our opinon three times as eloquently as adults to be considered equal.

hannah said...

Sixteen year old writers UNITE.

Your post made me happy.

The cartoon made me weep a little bit.

Calvin will NEVER be too old for Hobbes!

althrasher said...


Meggy said...

I love this post and totally agree.

If I can get published now, if I'm good enough, why would I wait? The sooner I'm building up my writing career, the better, and I'll be doing it professionally too. Being fifteen does not impair my ability to do so. Lack of writing talent and being an unprofessional idiot--that might, but those things are just as common in beginning adult writers.

Sophie W. said...

Alt - I was going to say something to that effect (we have to act more mature than adults) but I didn't want to sound like a whiny little bitch. :D

Hannah - Why thank you.

Meggy - See, it's just not fair that you can be more coherent than me whilst commenting on MY blog post. The post < your comment. It's sad.

Meggy said...

Aww, Sophie, your post at least equals my comment. Your greatness scale must be broken.

bethany said...

I shall have my literary club, all of whom are obviously young writers, read and worship your youthful greatness.

bethany said...

I will also point out, in agreement with you, that all ages and all experiences have different advantages. I do feel that my age gives me added perspective that I certainly didn't have at 16 (but I was a moron at 16). On the other hand, you are so much closer to your subject matter, to the angst and the hormones that I'm just faking (um, mostly- for an old folk, I have lots of angst). Oh and since I am referring to myself as an old person, might I point out that I am nowhere near 40, though my husband is.

SuzanneYoung said...

heh heh, Sophie. As a YA writer that is neither young nor old, I will step in. lol.

My age helps me because it's given me the ability to meet lots of people, experience a lot things. Now, some YA's get the chance to do amazing things(Hannah)and have the talent(Sophie, Hannah, Meggy) to write good stories.

But just because someone is a YA does not mean they can write YA. Just like it doesn't mean that because someone is a woman, they can write Chick Lit.

Writing is a talent. It's not something possessed by everyone. Whether you've been able to use your talent at 15 or 50, I believe it's something you're born with. It's just that some people discover it later than others.

Personally, I've been writing since 7th grade, majored in Creative Writing in college, but never considered writing a novel. I wrote short stories. But over the past year, I discovered my passion and as many of you know, I've completely immersed myself in it. My experience now comes from writing. Each book I write is better than the one before.

So there's a difference in writing experience and real life experience and one does not equal the other.

I think it's important to remember that for some people, it is a competetive business. So take advice with a grain of salt. And be happy because you are sixteen, so you do have a lot of time. But that doesn't mean you stop and wait. That is terrible advice.

Write my children! Write! haha.

Love ya, Soph!

Vanessa Concannon said...

Well, I think this is a good post. Totally valid. And I agree that young adults have to be twice as eloquent as adults.

It is a benefit that we are experiencing the teen years firsthand, but that can also be a detriment, because of that whole...perspective thing. Then again, our audience doesn't have that perspective either.

~grace~ said...

that cartoon was awesome. in a sad way.

you know that maxim (by some famous dead writer) that writers have to write a million words and then throw them out, then they'll be good enough to write actual good stuff. (paraphrasing.) I hit my million before I hit college, I'm sure. I'm not waiting 'til I'm old and 35 ;) to try to get published. It really is all about the Writing Craft experience, not the Life experience. (well not all. but I know lots of old interesting people who wouldn't be able to write an interesting/readable story to save their souls.)

SuzanneYoung said...

Hm. I know Grace was joking about the old 35, so this isn't to you grace. lol.

But um, seriously, the "old people" shit is sort of getting on my nerves. :D I'm 31.

Once again, writing comes down to talent. I know a lot of teens (teacher) who claim to be writers. Guess what? They are. But is their stuff publishable. Not now.

So just because you're YA, does not mean you can write YA. Write in your diary.

Writers are born that way. Life experience adds to the story, but it doesn't give you the ability to write it.

But if agents and publishers do not want underage authors, maybe it's more legal issues than anything. I don't know. But I live by one rule, since I am notorious for never following rules.

If you're good enough, the rules don't matter. So just get good enough.

courtney said...

Great post, Sophie!

I never know what to do with an author's age. I can never tell if I'm supposed to applaud them for their work or forgive them for it based on that number, when I'd much rather just read their work and draw my own conclusions based on that alone.

At the end of the day, good writing speaks for itself. All people, regardless of age, should conduct themselves professionally in matters of business. Sounds reasonable to me.

Alainn said...

That's right, Shades! Tell the people. It's true about experience. If you've written for five years, you've written for five years, whether you're seventeen or thirty-five.

Anny said...

speaking as your "sixteen year old best friend"...

nanny nanny boo boo. and thats all i have to say about that.

Donna said...

A person's age doesn't not automatically dictate their level of talent with writing. If you're honing your craft, yes, as you age you will get better but that's true of any profession. If you start honing your craft at 13, and I mean seriously honing it, you're going to be farther along in craft than that forty year old with the two years of writing experience.

Personally, I've been writing since I was 9 but haven't really serious about it until the last year and a half or so. I've had oodles of education, have a BA in English with an minor in creative writing. I've always been learning and working, just not as diligently. I'm glad that I wasn't published at 16, regardless of how good I was writing (and to be honest, it really wasn't half bad) because looking back at it ten years later, it still kind of makes me twitch.

Granted that'll happen to anyone at any age when they start publishing. If I were to publish now and in ten years I look back, I'll cringe because I would have improved from the first book. It's only natural.

Age itself means nothing if you're serious about learning and working on the craft. You make lack personal experience as a younger person which can add to your writing but there's always the old addage write what you know. You have years ahead of you to learn that and experience it all.

And regardless of age, you need to know how to act when confronting agents. That's just common sense. I've yet to come across an agent that's discouraged by a writer's age. In fact, since the won't know the age of the author until they're at the stage of acquiring, they're usually floored that such talen can come from someone so young and are even more excited to take them on. The only hinderance would be parental consent if under 18, which I think agents are more than willing to deal with if they're determined enough to get the writer.